Mad Max: Fury Road is the best film of the franchise, the best film of Geroge Miller’s career, and the best film of 2015 so far. It is a throwback to the era from which it was born as well as an envelope pusher by today’s standards. It is a testament to the magic of the medium – a perfect amalgamation of talent on every level of production – in which everybody involved seems to be tapping into something much bigger than themselves. This is why we go to the movies. This is why the term “movie” even exists. To squander any opportunity to see this film on the biggest, loudest screen you can is to miss one of the great cinematic experiences of our time. Simply put, Fury Road is as close to a perfect action/adventure flick as I’ve seen since the heyday of Indiana Jones. Let’s talk about it.
You’ve probably heard this film referred to as one long chase scene, which it is, but unlike the large majority of modern action flicks in which frenetic action pieces serve as a break from the plot, Fury Road uses the action to further the plot. By dropping us in without wasting time on exposition, it may be easy to dismiss the film as “mindless”, yet it is anything but. Classically, Max Rockatansky hasn’t been too deep of a character. His defining characteristic is that he’s mad. And who wouldn’t be? The world of these films is pretty depressing. However, Miller has always cleverly surrounded Max with extremely colorful characters, which is what allows our hero to be something as simple as “bad ass dude,” and elevates what could what could have been ‘just a big chase scene’ into a smart, current narrative.
It actually feels incorrect to refer to Max as ‘our hero’ because despite acting heroically, his initial motivation is simple survival – he trusts no one but himself, and feels so burned by the world that he feels no qualms acting selfishly – and by giving him a heroic turn, Max ends up having a solid character arc that mirrors his initial descent into the titular madness. No, the real hero here is Charlize Theron’s Imperator Furiosa, a one-time high ranking soldier who has now gone rogue in an effort to free the harem of sex slaves from the tyrannical Immortan Joe (a deliciously disgusting Hugh-Keays Burns). George Miller famously had Eve Ensler on set to advise the cast on the politics of gender-based oppression, and it shows. This is very much a woman-driven narrative, and each of the female characters are just that – characters. There are no archetypes here. And with some calling 2015 the “year of women in movies” it’s pretty awesome to see a film that could, with the slightest tap in the wrong direction, become a basic male power fantasy. It does not. In fact, it very much condemns the notion. In the world of Mad Max, machismo seems to be what lead to society’s downfall. Even Furiosa, who is a terrifying force to be reckoned with, isn’t some mannish woman. She is very much a feminine presence, and I would never, EVER, cross her.
Every year, we movie nerds have a half-conversation about how stunt work needs to be recognized at the Oscars, and Fury Road is perhaps the best example as to why. Too often in films like this the spectacle is pretend. How we got to “making it look like we blew something up” from “actually blowing something up and filming it” I’ll never understand (money, almost assuredly), but a handful of effects shots aside, Fury Road features the most exciting and complex stunt work of the last decade outside of The Raid series. With REAL bodies flailing around, REAL cars bursting into REAL flames REALLY crashing, and REAL motorcycles flying through the air throwing REAL firebombs, it’s a wonder that nobody died in production. This kind of stuff hearkens back to the dawn of cinema itself, channeling much more Buster Keaton than Stephen Sommers. This is The General with a budget and a mean streak.
And to think, sitting behind the camera is a 70 year-old man. This is perhaps the most exciting and inspiring thing about the film. If a man of that age can make a film with this much energy, life, and creativity, there is no limit to what can be achieved within the medium. This is Miller’s masterpiece, no contest, and it exists because of his commitment to each and every shot. Even the way a chain whips past the lens, or a tire kicks up some mud feels like it was designed for maximum levels of visual interestingness.
Not an ounce of the film is phoned in. Even the design, a sort of Terry-Gilliam-had-he-made-Dune feel, doesn’t seem tired. There are elements in the DNA that are naturally in sync with the franchise so far (bondage villains, unite!), but even so, it looks modern … and not in that shaky-cam sort of way that I just cannot abide.
Do you get how much I love this yet? I could bang out another 5000 words on why this movie demands your attention, but why waste your time reading my thoughts when you can better spend your time watching the damn thing? Mad Max: Fury Road will be the film to beat for a long time coming, and the new high-water mark against which to judge action and blockbuster filmmaking. This is, quite simply, how it’s done.