Format: Carmike Market Square Theater.
I knew that I’d be seeing Mad Max: Fury Road in the theater. When I found out that men’s rights activists, the misogynist clods who complain that men are discriminated against in a male-dominated society hated this movie because of the prominent roles of women and pro-women plot elements, well, I knew I had to go on opening weekend. I’m a long-time Mad Max fan. I saw The Road Warrior in the theater at the tender age of 13. And when the reviews started coming in, I knew this was going to be the film I had to see if I saw no others for the rest of the summer.
So let’s get through the plot nice and quickly here. Max Rockatansky (Tom Hardy) lives in a blasted post-apocalyptic wasteland. He is captured by the War Boys, the military arm of a place called The Citadel, run by Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne). Designated as a universal blood donor, Max is used as a way to get injured and sick War Boys back into battle. Meanwhile, one of Immortan Joe’s main assistants, Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) has headed off to bring more gas back to the citadel. But this is not her plan; instead, she’s running away with Immortan Joe’s five wives (Zoe Kravitz, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Riley Keough, Abbey Lee, and Courtney Eaton) to get them away from him. So Joe rounds up the troops, including Nux (Nicholas Hoult), a war boy who is using Max for a transfusion. To keep going, he straps Max to the front of his vehicle, and the chase begins.
One chase and massive sandstorm later, Max has gotten himself detached from Nux and has joined Furiosa and the wives. Nux rejoins the pursuing group, which soon becomes three groups—that of Immortan Joe and those of Joe’s nearby allies, Gas Town and the Bullet Farm. And, as was the hope of action movie fans the world over, pretty much the rest of the film consists of chases punctuated with high speed battles between Furiosa, Max, and the wives and everybody who is trying to stop them. And the wildcard in all of this is Nux, who seems to always pop up in one place or another.
So let’s talk about what Mad Max: Fury Road gets right. First and foremost, this is all about the action. Certainly there are places where we get a few quiet moments (we need those. Even Black Hawk Down has a couple of quiet places), but the movie more or less pressed down on the accelerator and keeps it pressed until just before the final credits come up. This is how you do an action movie. What we in the audience want is not a couple of great action sequences but a lot of them, and we want them to get bigger and wilder and crazier. The pursuit and battle sequences here are in the same vein as The Road Warrior but are amped up for a modern audience.
Another thing that the movie gets right is the mythology. The Citadel is a world with three basic social classes. There are the people who live there who are entirely dependent on Immortan Joe and his occasional gift of water to the people. Above them are the War Boys, Joe’s army of insane warriors who fight with religious fervor. At the top is Joe himself and others who are more or less in a class of nobility. It’s the religious fervor that is fascinating here. The War Boys fight with no concern for their own safety because they have been filled with a religious view that Immortan Joe will lead them all into Valhalla. It explains a lot of their behavior and actually works as religious myth—one of the few things done right and similarly in the otherwise regrettable Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome.
This is naturally a movie that doesn’t trade a lot on dialogue, but nonetheless we get a good sense of our main hero characters. The five wives all have unique personalities. We get a good idea of why Furiosa acts the way she does, and even Max’s motivations and those of Nux as well. These are real characters and real people. They may be mildly (or seriously) insane in an insane world, but all of their actions end up making sense to us.
I also love the connection back to the original Mad Max. Hugh Keays-Byrne, who plays Immortan Joe, played Toecutter in the first film. It’s a nice connection back to the history of the character and the Max Rockatansky mythos.
I also like the update of the look of the world. The costuming here is fantastic. We’re a good step beyond the biker punk chic of The Road Warrior and the 1980s version of post-apocalyptic fashion of Thunderdome. The film looks fantastic, as do the incredibly inventive vehicles. All of these vehicles are so completely insane and yet so recognizable that it all works within that same mythology.
Last, but definitely not least when it comes to this film’s massive upside is the cinematography. I saw this in 2D, but there are definitely places here where it was filmed for a 3D audience. I’m not a 3D film person, so I didn’t go that route, and happily this movie looks fantastic in 2D. Better, and more importantly, the action is incredibly easy to follow. No excessive shaky cam, no wild cuts—this is a film that wants the audience to see all of the action and see all of the fantastic stunt work. That feels so rare that it’s noteworthy.
Is there a downside? Yeah—the bad guys are one-dimensional. All we know about Immortan Joe is that he’s physically deformed in a few ways and wants his wives back. The same is true of his son Rictus Erectus (Nathan Jones) and the leaders of the nearby towns. They’re just bad guys with a single motivation and nothing else.
That minor issue means very little in the grander scope of things. Mad Max: Fury Road is everything it promised us it would be. I don’t go to the theater that often, but this is one I might go see a second time…if only to piss off the men’s rights activists.
EDIT: In my rush to get this review up, I forgot to talk about one of the more important mythologies here--the part that has the women-haters up in arms. There is a female mythology working in this. This is not a "grrl-power" anti-male religion or belief system, but one of nature and nurture. It works in the grander context of the film, and works as the motivating force for Furiosa, who is in many ways the film's main character despite it being named after Max.
Why to watch Mad Max: Fury Road: This will go down as one of the best action movies ever made.
Why not to watch: If you’re a men’s rights activist, this is another reason it sucks to be you.