A haphazardly constructed post-apocalyptic vehicle explodes inside a monstrous sandstorm, scooped up into a whirling tornado as bodies cascade out one by one, lightning crackling in the background. As I sat and watched this gonzo shot in
Mad Max: Fury Road I could only think of one phrase to sum it up, and in the end the whole movie: “poetic chaos”. Its erratic, car-chase-fueled mayhem plays out like a graceful ballet…with lots and lots of violence.
Like a super-charged Mustang
Max goes from 0-100 in about 3 seconds and never takes its foot off the pedal, ultimately becoming one with the metal. The electrifying opening offers a car chase, explosions, hairless desert people, beautiful landscape shots of a vast ocean of sand and one lizard death, along with a narration explaining Max and the present situation of the world, for those who haven’t seen the previous three movies. So on top of being ungodly badass it’s also very considerate, if that matters to you.
The story that follows involves a nearly hairless Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) liberating an asthmatic warlord’s five wives so that they may find a future at the Green Place. Caught up in all of this is Max Rockatansky (Tom Hardy) who is literally strapped to the front of a car (so he can be used as a blood bag for the driver, naturally) and thrust into the situation.
Soon Max and Furiosa join forces in hopes of giving these girls a brighter tomorrow away from a tortured life as “Breeders”. In order to do so they must escape a band of savages who are completely bonkers as they smash the most elaborate vehicles you’ll ever see on-screen into each other.
It’s stunning how much of it is real. Granted, there’s nothing wrong with CGI. James Cameron and superhero movies have done wonders with the format, making audiences revel in awe. But the practicality George Miller infuses into “Max” not only causes awe, but the realization that these are real people on real gas tankers next to real explosions chases that awe with
a magical sense of “how the fuck did they do that?”
Miller has injected a sense of wonder and ingenuity back into big-budget summer movies that, though not dead, has been so easily diluted by computers and CGI. He is a man who has known how he wanted to make this movie for years and, when he got the chance, he already knew how every shot would be orchestrated—and “orchestrated” is truly an appropriate word.
Max is like a symphony of fire and metal on crack, propelled through the harshest landscape on Earth at 200 miles an hour. Every explosive, brutal shot is given room to breathe so the audience can witness the full effect of the carnage, sometimes on the scale of scenes from
The Ten Commandments and Ben-Hur . Cars weave and glide like dancers on a sandy stage. Never is a moment obscured or too close to get full view of. You can just picture Miller on the back of a Jeep, filming from the perfect distance while shouting to his crew, “Don’t worry. I’ve done this before!”
But for all the action and destruction there is a heart, and it lies inside a giant souped-up gas tanker. The characters in this film symbolize in their struggle the will to survive and seek redemption in what is indeed a mad, mad world. No matter their race, sex, or level of craziness they all have a reason to live and fight: So they can live and fight another day.
Theron has never been more stoic and cool as Furiosa, while also exhibiting immense heartbreak as she cries out in anguish on the windy, sandy plain (more points for Miller for shooting this dramatic sequence with breadth and beauty). She’s strong, independent, smart, calm, yet immensely badass; in short, the perfect woman warrior…who also has a robot arm.
Hardy, with a voice that sounds like a mixture of his characters in
The Dark Knight Rises and Bronson , does a perfect of job mixing respect and uniqueness in replacing the original Max (Mel Gibson). He exudes enough , strength (excellently coupled with Theron) with the right balance of unaware humor and unpredictability to bring us the Max we know and love and still make it his own. And he knows how to kick some ass, to boot.
If the movie has any flaws they exist simply when there is no destruction to be had. Obviously there needs to be a moment of pure dialogue and character building, and when it happens towards the beginning of the climax the brakes are slammed so hard it feels like whiplash. But this moment of “here’s the situation, now this is the plan” is necessary to the story ark, so its hardly considered a flaw. Consider it one red light on a highway with no speed limit.
Quentin Tarantino once said that the best action director is the best director because of all the meticulousness that goes into crafting an action movie. In that light, George Miller deserves at least an Oscar nomination for Best Director because of how effortlessly he strings all the insane set-pieces together. Plus, if you bundle all this fine acting and resonant storytelling into one of the most balls-out action movies ever made, you have a movie worthy of not only big-league awards but of legendary status and all the praise in the world.