Mad Max: Fury Road (Australia/United States, 2015)May 13, 2015
Mad Max: Fury Road delivers. There's no clearer or more succinct way to put it. 30 years after last appearing on the big screen, Max roars back with a vengeance. Part reboot, part sequel, and part something entirely different, Fury Road takes us on a trip that is both like and unlike the earlier excursions. George Miller uses a new cast and a sizeable budget to deliver the Mad Max film he always wanted to make but was never quite able to. Talk about taking things to a new level… Theaters showing Fury Road should have seat belts installed.
The three decade gap between Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome and Fury Road was more a product of circumstances than a lack of effort on Miller's part. During the hiatus, he tried numerous times to get the project started but issues related to Mel Gibson's rise (and later fall) as Hollywood's biggest star and problems with finding a location kept the picture on the shelf after several mis-starts. One can make a compelling argument that the movie may have been helped by the long delay - not only did it allow a younger man (with less baggage) to take over the lead but it gave Miller more time to refine the "spectacle" aspect which, in the final analysis, is by far Fury Road's biggest selling point.
When we consider summer action films, this is what we think of. Constructed as an almost-two hour chase sequence (with only a 15-minute cooling-down period about halfway through), Fury Road combines the pyrotechnics of a Michael Bay extravaganza with the physics-defying razzle dazzle of a Fast and Furious outing. The post-apocalyptic setting is the test tube in which adrenaline and testosterone combine into an explosive cocktail. However, despite all the action, excitement, and mayhem, the characters come across as well defined. Miller spends just enough time on their background and interaction to breathe life into what easily could have been (as in Bay's films) cardboard cut-outs. As is always the case in an action movie, things work because we care about what happens to the protagonist. Too often when special effects rule the screen, this doesn't happen. Fury Road is a welcome exception.
The movie transpires in the same blasted, Omega Man-style future where Mad Max, The Road Warrior, and Beyond Thunderdome took place. When all the world's a desert, water becomes a precious commodity. And, when freedom comes only from long distance transportation, gasoline is a close second. The storyline is straightforward: Max Rockatansky (Tom Hardy), a loner haunted by the deaths of his wife and daughter (events told in the first Mad Max movie, released in 1979), joins forces with Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) to defy a warlord (Hugh Keays-Byrne) by stealing his five wives: Splendid (Rosie Huntington-Whiteley), Toast (Zoe Kravitz), Capable (Riley Keough), The Dag (Abbey Lee), and Fragile (Courtney Eaton). Joined by "war boy" Nux (Nicholas Hoult), they seek to free the women from captivity and deliver them to a green land to the east. The warlord, however, is unwilling to let the potential mothers of his children go and mounts a massive manhunt to kill Max and Furiosa and bring back the women. The odds would cause most men to quail but Rockatansky isn't called "Mad Max" for nothing.