Like a bat out of hell and twice as angry, Mad Max: Fury Road is a proudly wild-spirited return-to-form for director George Miller, who makes one of the most vibrantly electrifying blockbusters in years. Stunningly choreographed and ferociously well paced, it’s also the rare tentpole feature with a brain, a continuous care for characters and an endless desire to please. It’s basically everything you want from an action film but never expect to actually get — except, for once, you do.
Salvaging the wasteland as always, Max (Tom Hardy) is kidnapped and taken into a frantic apocalyptic society known as the War Boys, whose leader Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne) who makes his citizens believe water is a commodity. Designed to become a universal blood donor, plans are changed when Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron), sent to drive her truck to Gas Town to get, what else, gasoline, abandons her orders and sneaks away Joe’s breeding wives (Rose Huntington-Whiteley, Riley Keough, Abbey Lee, Zoe Kravitz and Courtney Eaton) towards independent salvation.
As a result, Max is taken along on their wicked off-route joy ride with Nux (Nicholas Hoult), Joe’s son Rictus Erectus (Nathan Jones) and the rest of the War Boys, only to soon find himself on the other side. In true Max fashion, he tags along on their adventure across the barren desert, where trouble continues to come full of fury.
Although astounding in many ways, what’s so captivating about this new installment is how they revitalize the series while staying true to its initial history. The effects are rigorously as practical as possible, and in a day-in-age where everything’s done with computers and green-screens, it’s wonderful to see a filmmaker willing to push himself and his film beyond simple conventions. The stunts are immensely enjoyable and always impressive, never afraid to push themselves and constantly engaging even when they start to become repetitive. It’s the kind of movie that’s unafraid to get its hands dirty and dig its teeth in the dirt, and that such enthusiasm still exists in a $150 million production is heartwarming and immensely gratifying.
More than that, however, it’s also a surprisingly strong feminist piece. Theron’s Furiosa is a dependable, clearly focused character with layered depth, skills and determinations, and is guided well by a variety of hard-knuckled gals who carry this film along with its titular character. While some, primarily Kravitz’s Toast the Knowing, Lee’s The Dag or Eaton’s Cheedo the Fragile, feel overlooked in favor of the movie’s continuous need for adrenaline, these palpable and strong-willed characters are both identifiable and engaging, and build on the movie’s emotional weight, particularly Keough’s Capable.
Add this with its firm messages on feminism and geopolitics, and Fury Road is a movie never deterred to both glamorize the explosions and mayhem it created and study the humanity in a forgotten world —a key component to the best Mad Max features. Much like The Road Warrior — still the series’ best feature to date —Miller’s latest feature finds a wonderful balance between character motivations and astute commentary alongside its grand action stunts, set pieces and touring visuals. Miller always seemed most at home as a filmmaker with this series, and at 70 he’s not only as inspired as ever but filled with more crazed energy and enthusiasm than most filmmaker nearly 50 years young than him. Although the feature does somewhat forgo its political drive in its action favor as it progresses onward, it never loses control of what it wants to be or where it wants to go, and it continues to impress and invigorate as it drives onward.
Miller created a delightfully delirious rock ballad of an apocalyptic action-thriller, one with transparent intentions but beautifully visceral and astoundingly realized results. Its loud, but with a reason, and its packed to the brim with action but it never grows dull. It’s the kind of film that has no right to be as good as it actually is, and that it works with such surefire results is impeccable all in its own.
Oddly enough, the biggest weakness this new Mad Max has is, well, Max himself. Taking the reigns from Mel Gibson, Hardy’s steadfast and well-concentrated performance is a bit too angry at times for Fury Road’s own good. The character also plays a smaller role than he ever had, and in fact at times it feels as though he’s an afterthought to the story at large. This takes away from his individual growth, but then again the characters that ultimately become his ensemble are so well realized and cared for that this is hardly a problem. He helps to stop the bad guys and it’s also refreshing to see he’s not the only one who can save everyone.
An amazing achievement all around, Fury Road is an entertaining reminder of how envisioned and empowered blockbusters can be. Miller’s latest is fearless, thoughtful, joyfully goofy, heart-pounding and exhilarating, and half of those alone are enough to make a satisfying summer feature. It goes the extra mile, full throttle and is a celebration for modern high-spectacle filmmaking.