MAD MAX: FURY ROAD (2015)
I was having mixed feelings about this reboot of the classic Mad Max series, about halfway through, until the last act when George Miller cranks it up to 11 and delivers an opera of chaos and carnage to match…or maybe even outdo…the finish of his classic The Road Warrior.
Fury Road takes place years after the world has collapsed and finds ex-cop Max Rockatansky (Tom Hardy), a samurai-like loner wandering the wasteland, taken prisoner and brought to desert oasis of The Citadel by the forces of the tyrannical Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne, the Toecutter from the original Mad Max). At the same time, one of Joe’s top imperators, Furiosa (Charlize Theron) rebels and takes Joe’s wives/breeders out of The Citadel in a massive war rig. War parties are sent in pursuit with Max reluctantly brought along. Now Max must find a way to escape in the middle of a high speed road war and choose a side if he hopes to survive…but either side might want him dead.
Any reservations I was having from George Miller’s return to this classic character after 30 years was because the co-writer (with Brendan McCarthy and Nico Lathouris) and director is a little too eager to get things moving at first and starts his epic chase saga in motion when we could have spent a bit more time in the Citadel, getting to know our villain better and understand more clearly why Furiosa is willing to throw everything away to escape with Joe’s prized possessions. We also need to get reacquainted with Max, as this is a new version of the classic character with a new actor’s interpretation. Instead I was left a bit cold and emotionally detached till we start to get some character and story development while on the road and on the run. Even still, by the time the credits roll, we realize there wasn’t all that much of a story anyway…and the earlier films indeed had a story to tell amongst the carnage. What we do get, thought, is almost two hours of some of the most incredible and energetic stunts and action since Miller first grabbed us by the throat with The Road Warrior…and no matter what we see in the first two thirds, it’s nothing compared to the jaw-dropping demolition derby that he makes his last act finale. The stunts and crashes are absolutely amazing and Miller has not lost his touch filming them. You’d think he would have run out of innovative ideas by now…but he hasn’t lost a beat. The film is also a stunning visual feast and John Seale’s cinematography is sumptuous as is the shot composition by Miller. The film is simply amazing to look at. The score by Junkie XL is both pulse pounding and melodic depending on the mood of the scene and production design on all fronts is spectacular. The film is as epic in scope as the action within it. Best of all, there are some subtle nods to the original series that should delight long-time fans and the film returns to a harder edge after the PG-13 Beyond Thunderdome.
Miller has also assembled a fine cast of actors to portray the eccentric and oddball characters that populate his post-apocalyptic world. There is no better choice to pick up the mantle of Max than Tom Hardy. Hardy’s ex-cop is more of a man of few words than Gibson’s portrayal and he conveys the essence of a man who is hardened, dangerous, yet, with a glimmer of humanity left buried deep inside. Max’s past is a bit vague for those who aren’t familiar, but we do see glimpses of flashbacks where loved ones were lost. Charlize Theron is also a strong and determined warrior as the mechanical-armed Furiosa. She is tough and dangerous and like Max, still has a touch of humanity left. Keays-Byrne makes a sleazy and omnipotent tyrannical warlord, though I wish we had a bit more time to really get to know how awful he is to give him more intensity. The actor is delightfully over-the-top, but most of the time is just staring angrily from behind the wheel of an oversized vehicle and doesn’t have any of the memorable lines his Toe Cutter or even Lord Humongous had. Even his thugs aren’t anywhere near as memorable as Vernon Wells’ Wez. Nicholas Hoult rounds out the main cast and is over-the-top fun as one of Joe’s War Boys, Nux, who winds up joining Max and Furiosa on their quest. The girls playing the wives (including Rosie Huntington-Whiteley) are all pretty, but get little to do and there is also a cast of hundreds of extras to add to the film’s epic feel.
So, as a fan of this classic film series…and one of my favorite movie characters in Mad Max…this movie won me over and then nearly blasted me out of my seat with it’s final third. Sure, I wish there had been a bit more of a story and I do wish there was more character development so I was more emotionally invested by the time the action started. But Miller gives us some amazing action and it’s wrapped in a stunning visual feast and no matter how intense the action gets, it is nothing compared to the massive chase that finishes things out. Hardy makes a fine choice for the new Max…though it took about a half hour to warm up to him in the role…and Charlize Theron proves yet again that there is a versatile actress beneath that beautiful exterior. And what Mad Max fan wouldn’t want to see Keays-Byrne in action again, even if his character could have been stronger. Maybe not quite the masterpiece I had hoped for, but it can proudly sit among the previous installments and delivered some of the best chase action since…well, The Road Warrior.
3 and 1/2 Mad Maxes…Hardy style.