Australia truly is a dangerous place. If the giant spiders, crocodiles or box jellyfish don’t kill you, the roving bands of albino raiders certainly will. “Mad Max: Fury Road” is the fourth film in George Miller’s “Mad Max” series, and represents the maximum plunge of the series into a quagmire of pure, joyous madness. This isn’t a detriment, however, as the films have been moving toward a singularity of madness since the first movie in the franchise. If anything, “Fury Road” represents the culmination of Miller’s personal vision, which tells a story of redemption, atonement and freedom entirely through the medium of gunshots and explosions in a balls-to-the-wall masterpiece.
The film concerns titular character “Mad” Max Rockatansky, played by the unintelligible Tom Hardy. After his car is stolen and he is forced into slavery by raiders loyal to the evil King Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne), he must join a resistance led by Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) that aims to end Joe’s rule and save a group of women from sexual slavery. The film is a testament to correctly introducing a universe without getting mired in sticky exposition. There’s no garrulous discussion of lore that is impenetrable to new audiences, just a clear protagonist with clear goals and a villain who is clearly evil. The film continues this trend by aptly naming all the technology introduced in the movie, limiting the need for in-depth explanations that would kill the pacing. Theron’s character is very clearly pissed off, as evidenced by her name: Furiosa. The armed and armored big rig she drives is called the War Rig. The raiding parties from Gastown control fuel production and use fire-based weapons, while the raiding parties from the Bullet Farm tote an arsenal of impressive projectile weaponry. While none of these names are sophisticated, it deftly sidesteps the problems that plagued Michael Bay’s “Transformers” and George Lucas’ “Star Wars” films.
I always try to enter films with an open mind, though I’m not always successful. I admit that I was not optimistic for “Fury Road” after seeing the trailer, which appeared to portray the film as a senseless boom-fest devoid of character and comprised entirely of pointless action scenes. However, I was relieved to find I was wrong, as the film is more of a character story than anything else. Max, plagued by the ghosts of those he couldn’t save in his past, decides to join the resistance after he accepts that he has the power to prevent injustice. Nux (Nicholas Hoult), who starts the film as one of Joe’s War Boys, is able to embrace his humanity and live as the hero he truly strives to be. Even the villain is fleshed out well, as he clearly wants to hold onto his power and position as best he can. His body and his empire in decay, he sets out for one last war that will define his legacy. The film is less about the cars and action scenes and more about the people they affect, and does a good job of showing each character’s plight and motivations rather than simply telling us about them and hoping we will suspend disbelief.
A film of juxtaposition, “Fury Road” knows how to truly balance action, as it gives us enough to keep engagement without devolving into chaotic white noise. In between skirmishes, our heroes cruise across the endless expanse of desert, the lifeless landscape reflecting their dwindling hope in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds. A young girl toys with a music box, its dulcet tunes soothing her heart as she sits in silent worry, knowing that the man who sold her into sexual slavery is after her, wondering if she will ever be truly safe. Furiosa pauses and takes a breath before a critical gunshot, knowing that missing could mean failure in her mission. All of a sudden, everything is chaotic, as cars swerve, bullets fly and the sound swells to a deafening climax. The film deftly handles its action, using CGI when necessary and relying on real-life stuntmen and set pieces to give the scenes an unmistakably lifelike quality.
I can clearly see that most of the film’s $140 million budget was spent on the set and action scenes, as there only seems to have been around $10 left over to pay for scriptwriters. There is a very clear problem of characters growling and grunting their lines, and most of the characters’ names I was only able to deduce after consulting IMDB after the screening. Some of the dialogue I could understand tended to be groan-worthy, as many of the characters tended to spout incoherent non-sequiturs that only served to highlight the inevitable brain damage that comes with living in an irradiated wasteland. However, this drawback is minor, as the film doesn’t rely too heavily on dialogue to tell its story.
The most honest appraisal I can give “Mad Max: Fury Road” is that it is fun. It manages to have dramatic, visceral action coupled with well-developed characters and a concise narrative, where the heroes are relatable, the villains are hateable and the tension is high. Aside from the need for subtitles when Hardy speaks and a little overuse of slow motion, “Fury Road” is a rollercoaster of a film that shows genuine originality and creativity. I’m sure I’ll have fond memories of it next time I foolishly decide to drive on the 91 at 6 p.m. on a Friday.
Rating: 4.5 stars