I was skeptical about “Mad Max: Fury Road”. Sometimes, I thought, is the best to leave the classics where they belong. Mel Gibson was the man who WAS “Mad Max” and it seemed as blasphemy to think that anyone else could fill his shoes. Then again, the director of the new “Mad Max” is the same man who did the classic(s) we all love and cherish: George Miller. He invented the dystopian and apocalyptic world which inspired greats as Cameron and Fincher. Maybe, and that was a longshot, he could do it right. I am glad to admit that I was wrong, he did it right. Skepticism was gone after the first few minutes. Miller pulled me into his disastrous world filled with adrenaline, action, great visual and sound effects mixed with social criticism and swept me off my feet. In his dystopian universe, there is only one goal: survival.
“My name is Max. My world is reduced to a single instinct: Survive. As the world fell it was hard to know who was more crazy. Me… Or everyone else.”
The best movie of the original three, “The Road Warrior” did a lot to explain “Mad Max” universe. Humans flourished, humans failed, fittest survived. “Mad Max: Fury Road” continued and expanded on the premise. First “Mad Max” movie, made in 1979 in the midst of the oil crisis, had the oil as (literally) the currency of his world. In “Fury Road” we can see that oil is not alone in such function anymore. There are oxygen and water too. Miller borrowed, something out of “Soylent Green”. There is mythical “Green Place” to motivate the characters. It’s a place of dreams. Miller expanded his premise with ecology and genetic purity. His future is even more bleak and scary. Tyrants will rise, oppression will be everywhere and only those which are truly mad will try to change anything.
Tom Hardy was a good choice as Max Rochatansky. Hardcore fans argue that he was not good (or strong) enough, but in his defense, I think it’s very good that he didn’t try to be Gibson. Original Max was a different character. In the beginning he was an innocent, idealistic cop and he had his innocence destroyed. His illusions were shattered. In second and third installment of the franchise, Max deteriorated even more and his madness was the sole focus of the story. In a nutshell plot of the sequels was: Max vs. Antagonists. In “Mad Max: Fury Road” that changed. Here, Max Rochatansky also changed.
The energy of the “Mad Max” universe, however, didn’t change at all. “Fury Road” is as energetic and action filled as any of his predecessors. In some elements, it’s even better. There is a simple structure in all “Mad Max” movies to date. Protagonists have a goal (mostly to survive and to achieve justice), he goes from point A to point B (car chases, action…) after which he has sort of epiphany (goal is changed) and then in a final confrontation he goes from point B to A again. Miller repeated this simplified structure in “Fury Road”, but in contrast to the earlier films he made some significant changes.
Expanded currencies of the universe, which I mentioned above, shifted focus from Max Rochatansky. That was a good thing, since the other character (where the focus shifted) was Imperator Furiosa, brilliantly played by Charlize Theron. Theron managed to deliver another strong performance in which she thoroughly physically transforms, comparable only to her stunning transformation in “Monster”. Imperator Furiosa is equally damaged as Max. She needs to find redemption (it’s not clear for what exactly) and on her path she finds an obstacle: Immortan Joe. He is an Easter Egg of “Mad Max: Fury Road” and its main antagonist. Immortan Joe is played by Hugh Keays-Byrne, same actor who played the antagonist in the original “Mad Max”. There, he was Toecutter. Here, he is Immortan Joe. He controls the resources, he enslaves his women, and he is the face of the oppression. It’s interesting how all the oppressors are alike, and how they all have similarities with the Nazis.
Miller directed the movie with a lot of rhythm, and his action sequences are perfect. All elements are in place. Sound, photography, special effects and editing. Everything is perfect. What is more important, in “Fury Road” we don’t have corny romantic scenes and exaggerations typical for Hollywood movies of the genre. When the scene is grouse, he leaves it grouse; when it’s dramatic he leaves it as it is. There are no pathetic music, tears and corny dialogues. There is no time for that either. When a character dies in MM world, it dies without too much drama. Tough luck. Survival of the fittest is cruel. Miller doesn’t sugarcoat anything. That’s one of the best features of the film.
He even took time to make a parody of the genre conventions. Double-guitar sequences, and the drummers of the desert chase are wonderful epic kitsch, which complements the mythology of the “Mad Max” in style. One feature of the universe hasn’t changed. Miller doesn’t explain much. We know about the Gas Town and Bullet City (names do speak for themselves) but we don’t see them on screen. We don’t need to. We can imagine them. It’s interesting to see references on feminism in mainly savage society: “We’re not possessions”, says one of the Immortan Joe’s wives, “we’re free”. That’s also metaphorical. He controls food, oil and water, controls the people. This “Mad Max” is, as all those before, about the fight against oppression and tyranny. Freedom vs. Dictatorship. The legend continues. After “Road Warrior” and “Thunderdome” Max was gone in the Wasteland, and the stories about him were told to the young ones in the night. Here, he is different. He’s still a legend, but he’s torn apart by his inner demons. His madness is clearer, and he fights his illusions by running away. That is also why Furiosa understands him so well.
In a Hollywood action movie we would expect a romance between the two characters as strong as Furiosa and Max. However, the romance is available only in hints. Both of them are obviously too damaged for anything more than that. One more thing to praise about Miller’s storytelling. After I left the cinema I had a feeling that I witnessed the birth of a cult-film. Sequences of “Mad Max: Fury Road” will enter the popular culture, I’m sure of it. I’m not sure that Hardy’s Max will too. In “Fury Road” Charlize Theron stole the show. That’s not bad, since her character was great, and she gave a stellar performance. The problem is that Max felt as her supporting character and not the other way around. I wouldn’t be surprised if that was Miller’s intention all along. Max travelled “Fury Road” twice during the movie and he faced his own fears and illusions. We don’t know their origin, and we don’t know where they will take him. What we do know, however, is that Max didn’t come to terms with them once again. Miller supposedly announced that he has material for two more sequels. The next movie is supposed to be called “Mad Max: Furiosa”. That means that we will see Charlize Theron in repeated role. She gives sense and a goal to the lost Mad Max. Maybe in “Furiosa” he returns the favor and comes back in the center of the story.
Miller himself described “Fury Road” as “western on wheels.” It feels like that, but for me it did something no action movie made in a long time. It brought me back to the magical place of amusement. I was, after a while, swept off my feet by an action movie. Last time I felt that way about a blockbuster was after the “Guardians of the Galaxy” when I said that we finally have a good space-opera (after the original “Star Wars”).
Well, to continue in tone, “Mad Max: Fury Road” feels like an action rock-opera with small, but meaningful, character sequences. It is easily one of the best action movies I saw in the last decade.
Because of childhood memories and a successful “blast from the past” effect it has a maximum
RECOMMENDED to watch over and over again.
As soon as possible.