Mad Max: Fury Road (****): Same glorious road, different driver

Mad-Max-Fury-Road-Poster-Posse

Director George Miller
Starring Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron, Nicholas Hoult, Hugh Keays-Byrne, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Riley Keough, Abbey Lee, Courtney Eaton, Zoë Kravitz
Written by Miller, Brendan McCarthy, Nico Lathouris

The critical love bestowed upon George Miller’s Mad Max series has always been somewhat puzzling. His style is visually remarkable and has improved each time out. Beautiful, frantic and grotesque at once, no one has ever come close to duplicating him. The thing is, story-wise, he’s now made the same movie three times in a row. There is often some deeper meaning ascribed to the film, sometimes deserved, sometimes a stretch. Ultimately, the story is about how Max and a few stragglers survive and a lot of bad guys don’t.

The film starts with Max (Hardy) getting chased down by another group of terrorizers. They bring down his car, pick him up, inscribe some vitals on his back via tattoo, then, after a brief attempt to escape, use him as a “blood bag” due to his type-O universal blood type.

Elsewhere in the group, Imperator Furiosa (Theron), is readying a big rig for a trip to the nearby gas depot. Only she really is plotting her escape with The Five Wives of the leader Immortan Joe. Once Joe discovers that Furiosa is driving off route, he rallies the troops to chase her down.

Among the troops is the War Boy Nux (Hoult) who is ill and is connected to Max for his blood. Off he goes with Max prominently displayed in the front of his car to join the pursuit. If everyone had been caught in the first big chase, the movie would have been pretty short. Needless to say, Max ends up on the side of the pursued and they get some distance, but not much, from their pursuer.

All of this is caught within the framework of some of the most gorgeous imagery ever presented in a desert action film. And yes, I am including Lawrence of Arabia in this group. There is an abundance and depth to the color, explosions, slashes and even the sounds within the chase presented in the film. The variety of nut jobs pursuing is quite impressive as well. This time, though, there is more to one of them than drug fueled rage. Hoult’s character receives an act of grace from one of the wives and is converted to the cause. It’s a quick turnaround for a guy who was getting a transfusion and following it up with spray paint to the face. Very little of the Mad Max series is done with a long build up, though.madmax-guitarist

One of the most brilliantly insane images of the film has to be the vehicle consisting of rows of drums on one side and then the other with a Pete Townshend-worthy stacks of speakers behind a masked man in red playing a double necked guitar with an extra spout for a flamethrower. Yes. It’s just that. It’s the best thing since Tim Cappello grunted his way through the sax solos in Tina Turner’s videos for the last movie.


Sax guyIt’s when we reach this point that we realize the George Miller Mad Max experience is not necessarily for telling stories with a moral. Sure, we are all against humans being held in bondage, female and male. We don’t like terror in any way shape or form. Monsters are created in these films as a backdrop for the rest of these wild events to occur. The one film in which compassion tipped the scales, Beyond Thunderdome, is the one for which fans have the least affection. More compassion is represented by those tilting head looks where people are learning, and learning just slows everything down. Not that it’s ever a mis-step to inject some of the better qualities of humanity in the midst of the carnage. Thunderdome is still my favorite due to the time Miller took to show how stories are passed from generation to generation. Miller had a connection with Gibson that made compassion amidst chaos a believable concept.

This aspect has translated successfully into the capable hands of Tom Hardy. His Max fits comfortably along side Gibson. He shows the fevered want to survive at almost any cost. He also can re-evaluate on the fly with the same perplexed look that his predecessor had mastered. There never has been much more to Max than this in any of the films, aside from the original that showed him to be the father and husband that we see flashbacks of now. I thought that his kid was a boy originally, but now flashbacks keep harkening back to a little girl, but he is tortured either way. There is something to the fact that their collective character is so limited, but it fits so well in the environment, fans of the series will find little about which to complain.

Theron’s character, even more than Hardy’s, is limited in scope. She seeks redemption for these beautiful women being held as breeders against their will. Theron committed, letting her delicate visage appear more beaten and gaunt than ever as she personifies the rage of the violated.

Immortan / Toecutter...the same actor, but the same guy?
Immortan / Toecutter…the same actor, but the same guy?

As Immortan Joe, Keays-Bearne makes his first appearance in the series since his performance as Toecutter in the original. Toecutter is presumably killed in the first movie, but Immortan Joe is so disfigured in Fury Road, one can’t help but wonder if the casting means Joe and Toecutter are the same. He’s much less a cook and more menacing this time around, as much for the mystery surrounding his character as anything.

The five wives have a presence that stands out in the film. That we are able to distinguish one from another five times over is in itself a feat of no small proportion. Curiously, there were also many other, larger and older women left in equally destitute conditions, but apparently there is no room for them in the escape semi. None of this is the fault of the women they do show heroically, but if anyone is looking to make this story some sort of equal rights statement, they ought to have sympathy for the “milkers” too.

The product of Fury Road is polished, for something presenting such a ragged cross-section of the dregs of the post-apocalyptic world. All of the folks involved in the chase, aside from Hardy and Theron, look like they spent a lot of time getting their makeup right. Such is the case when one is making pop art, however. This is not so much a complaint as it is an observation. It’s enjoyable all the same.

Of the films, this is the one I enjoyed more than any, outside of Thunderdome. For a series that is such complete and all out high-octane, they keep going down the same road over and over. Unlike George Romero’s zombie films, or Scorsese’s real crime repeats, the craft is getting more refined with each trip. And unlike Spielberg tinkering with E.T. or Lucas messing around with the original Star Wars movies, these films feel more organic, instead of messed with. It’s like a painting that grows in one’s esteem as it ages. Don’t be fooled, though. This painting is closer to Dogs Playing Poker than it is to The Last Supper.

(**** out of *****)

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