Mad Max: Fury Road is sort of a sequel to old films but doesn’t need to be viewed as such. Other than main character’s quick flashbacks, the plot and overall premise has very little to do with those. The main character is being played by Tom Hardy in this outing, thus taking over from Mel Gibson (who was apparently attached to the project up until 2003). Max is entangled in the plot after being captured by the War Boys army of monstrous cult leader King Immortan Joe (played by Hugh Keays-Byrne). He is basically only kept alive to provide blood for a sick boy Nux (Nicholas Hoult). At the same time, Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) leaves with a mission to collect gasoline with her War Rig vehicle. But, as it turns out, her plans are completely different. She decides to escape and that leads to a massive chase, with Max being dragged into it against his will.
The film itself is one gigantic action sequence, with few quiet moments. And for people expecting some sort of character development or thicker narrative, it might be wise to avoid this monstrosity at all costs. Which, of course, is not to say they should, really. Yes, Mad Max: Fury Road might be an excess in action and violence, with little emphasis put on the script. But it does so in such a cinematic way, one just simply cannot resist being dragged into this madness. The dialogue is often lost amidst the sound roaring engines, explosions and screaming. But then, those lines are mostly functional and give the audience only basic expository information. The film is pretty much told solely through its visuals. And, no matter your cinematic preferences, that in itself is a thing rarely witnessed these days.
Similarly to recent The Raid series Gareth Evans, Miller finds artistic beauty in violence and destruction. There is a poetic, almost balletic quality to his sequences. What is happening on screen might be beyond ridiculous but the director guides the viewer through his clever camera work and dynamic editing that. Viewer can always tell what is happening on screen at any given moment. Besides, Fury Road is an orgy of physical effects, stunts and pyrotechnics. Yes, there is some CGI here and there to enhance the world. But it never succumbs to this, whether you want to admit or not, cheap film trickery. Quite the contrary, you can almost smell the sweat, taste the blood and feel the impact. Indeed, the production process behind this project must be a geek heaven for cinema enthusiasts.
Special mention must go to the excellent production design. While all previous three films were made in the same vein, they would never be able to be realised on such a scale. Miller’s new opus has a truly epic feel and it dazzles with detail. Even though, story remains really sketchy all the way through, there is a sense that dozen others could be told about each aspect or location we get to see along this fast paced ride. It’s an universe that can be expanded upon and there are several hints of where it could go next. The overall fantastical look brings to mind the works of Guillermo del Toro. There is a similar sense of texture to the designs - both real and otherworldly.
Filmmakers are also endlessly inventive when subverting mundane imagery we know from our daily lives and applying different meanings to them. One of the most common visual elements are associated with gasoline and car machinery. For instance, steering wheels are treated as religious objects and insignias of war. They seem to serve a similar purpose to Christian cross in Mad Max universe. Indeed, the entire cult of Immorten Joe revolves around those types of themes: V8 engine is a deity, silver car paint serves as a symbol of warrior and martyr. These sort of distortions are not completely unlike the ones found in several films of Terry Gilliam. He seems to be yet another major influence on Fury Road, both in the feverish density of each frame, as well as quirky sense of humour.
Among this chaos are two central actors. Both Tom Hardy and Charlize Theron supply the cool, while everything else is set ablaze. Furiosa’s icy cold stare becomes the most prevalent and lasting image after the film is long over and her determination is what fuels the narrative. A lot has been said about the female energy to finally fuel (pun intended) this male orgy of destruction. And while this is certainly the case, the central character is very much in common with other terrific heroines of cinema past – Sarah Connor and Ellen Ripley. About time we got an update on this trope, especially as well done as this.
On the other hand, Max is a bystander, a reluctant hero. Similarly to Mel Gibson in old films, Hardy plays him as a man of few words and even those come out of his mouth with great difficulty. At the very beginning, he is clearly less than a man. More of a beast, really. But, as the story progresses, there is more focus and motivation. The tortured memories of painful past ultimately push the character into regaining the heroic persona. It could be even said that Fury Road is as much about female empowerment (as illustrated through Furiosa) as it is about male rebirth (which is the case with both Max and Nux). The film strikes a refreshing balance between those two, basically presenting them as equals. For once.
The one’s enjoyment of the new Mad Max will largely come down to one thing: whether one can tolerate an action film that doesn’t pretend it’s anything more than that. Miller clearly makes no apologies about it and neither should viewer expect to find subtlety and refinement. Normally, this kind of approach might be posed as an issue and it does apply to most blockbusters like this. But, because of its visual potency and horrific beauty, Fury Road is so much better than that. It might come as close to pure cinema as any action film ever made. And, frankly, it’s hard to imagine anybody doing a much better job than this.
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