Directed by George Miller.
Starring Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron, Nicholas Hoult, Hugh Keays-Byrne, Zoe Kravitz, Riley Keough and Rosie Hungtington-Whitely.
R, 120 minutes.
I first saw The Road Warrior when I was eleven years old. On a steady diet of high-octane action movies even prior to this (mostly starring Arnold Schwarzenegger), I thought I had seen all manner of thrilling set pieces and cultural reactionary loners. That all changed upon my first brush with the post-apocalyptic Australian desert.
I can still remember my stomach in knots, holding my breath as the camera swoops in on a caravan of motor vehicles all seemingly intent on crashing into each other. Not to mention the fully realized yet minimalistic vision of the future as a barren wasteland where law and order are meaningless and there’s no room to hope for a better future, which must survive or else we’re just doomed to kill each other.
The movie had me hook, line and sinker. I still consider it to be one of the best, if not merely my favorite, action movies there is. After seeing it, I immediately had my mother take me to the video store to rent the original Mad Max. I think that’s a really good movie, too, but I didn’t get the same breathless feeling I got while watching The Road Warrior. I also watched Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome around that time and, outside of a few cool sequences, thought it was merely okay (although that Tina Turner theme song is a real banger).
It was also around this time that I was discovering movie sites to follow news and reviews of everything coming out in the near future. Sure enough, I saw there was a new Mad Max sequel coming out sometime in the future. Needless to say, I was ecstatic.
This weekend, I got to see that movie. Twelve years later. Judging by the finished product, all I can say is better late than never.
Mad Max: Fury Road recaptures that wonderfully anarchic sense of vehicular mayhem I enjoyed so much when I was younger (I guess I’m a sicko, but whatever). It steamrolls us from one action set piece to the next with a ferocity rarely seen in action movies even today while, most surprisingly, maintaining the thematic richness in simplicity that The Road Warrior achieved.
The film begins in surprising fashion, with the Road Warrior, Max (Tom Hardy), being captured by minions of the tyrannical warlord, Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne), who keeps the poor, disenfranchised souls of this wasteland under control by withholding his vast accumulation of water. Mounted on the fronts of vehicles as a human shield/ready and waiting source of blood transfusion for the maniacal and honorable-death-in-combat obsessed warriors in Joe’s convoy, Max soon breaks free and strikes an uneasy alliance with Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron), who’s trying to deliver a group of women Immortan Joe considers property out of bondage.
Filling in for Mel Gibson, Tom Hardy really makes the character his own. Not having much to say, his overall demeanor speaks to a man who really has nothing to live for beyond his continued survival. Haunted by visions of people he hasn’t been able to save in the past, this is very much the “broken down shell of a man” we saw in The Road Warrior who’s gotten even more demented as his time in the desert goes on. The film itself doesn’t seem to be operating in any sort of concrete continuity, so his portrayal works on its own and as an extension of what came before, kind of like whenever a new guy is tapped to play James Bond.
So, Max is basically the same as always, which is fine. He’s the soft-spoken yet big rig driving speed demon who eventually comes to the aid of those who need it most. This is to say that, as a character, Max isn’t the most interesting. What he does sure is interesting, but he himself is not.
That’s fine, because Charlize Theron really steals the show as Furiosa, a decorated war rig driver with a prosthetic arm and a killer shot. In fact, you can easily argue that Charlize Theron is the star of this movie, its heart and soul. It’s her actions that drive the plot and it’s her plight to find a better place that really gives the movie its sense of direction both thematically and narratively speaking. The respect building between her and Max, both hardened fighters acutely aware of the madness going on all around them and in themselves, is a real treat to watch unfold.
The action sequences, over the top and completely balls to the wall, hit us head-on like the collisions that befall many vehicles throughout the two-hour runtime. Director George Miller, now pushing 70, has this demolition derby staged with such graceful chaos that the movie even feels like it’s revving at to two hundred miles per hour. This is pure spectacle in the best way. Smart and simple while being fast and furious.
I felt compelled to stay in the theater through the entire credits. Not that I expected there to be any post-credits stingers, I just needed that extra time to process what I had just seen. Walking out, my ears were buzzing, and not just because of all the noise.
After twelve years of anticipation, Mad Max: Fury Road is even better than the eleven year-old version of myself could have imagined. In the annals of action/car-chase movies, it deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as The Road Warrior. Hell, is it too early to call this the best action movie of the decade?
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