Movie Review: Mad Max - Fury Road

From the plentiful wasteland of George Miller's mind, there came a hero. But he didn't start off as the hero that saves everyone and stands to put others before himself, he began as a mere man, trapped in a place hotter and more corrupt than the gates of hell. His name...was Max. Giving birth to this elaborate world and its mindless inhabitants nearly 36 years ago with the first of the Mad Max films, director George Miller made something extraordinary out of a simple idea of a man seeking vengeance for the death of his family. This man, who would ride seeking both vengeance and solidarity in a desolate world, wouldn't let time be his downfall, as he rode back into theaters with the same fiery audacity that he had back 1979. This time, with a fresh look and even more eye-popping surprises, Mad Max is reborn into something unforgettable. 

As you know, his name is Max. He lives in a world where our most precious resources are depleting faster than his own sanity is, and where the corrupt and powerful rule with an iron fist. Endlessly running from the living, as well as the dead that haunt his scarred mind, Max Rockatansky (Tom Hardy) paves his own way into the desert landscape, this time struggling just to survive the escalated madness that has plagued his surroundings. A man who has tried to push aside his thoughts of revenge and seek a life of quiet solidarity, it's when Max gets entangled with the likes of Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) that his world goes truly insane. Leading into a wild ride of full-fledged action and visceral chaos, Max must join forces with Furiosa, as she flees the demonic grasp of dictator Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne) and his gang of vicious War Boys.     

A wide-eyed kid born in the late 1990s, I was of course blind, at first, to the wonderment of George Miller's enchanting world of desolate deserts and crazy protagonists. It wasn't until maybe last year, probably when I heard about this film, that I knew I had to find out what the hell Mad Max was. I had heard the stories of The Road Warrior, a near-perfect sequel to the original 1979 film that started it all, but I still never got around to see it. Now, as I sit here, overwhelmed by the explosive powerhouse that was Fury Road, I still yearn to experience the previous trilogy. Rather than seeing them for their action and stunts (which is most definitely a step-down from today's many cinematic advancements), I really want to see them for the underlying tale of a man. A man who has taken the lives of countless others under his wing in a world where nothing is safe from madness, the Mad Max franchise wasn't just built on relentless action (which, for one, may make the new one so stunning), but also its meaty story of one man who rides the earth as an unlikely hero, a warrior of the road.

This burdening tale of Max, a soul plagued by endless violence and fear, is exactly what makes Fury Road so worth it. Fans of the franchise, who may have thought Max's journey was over back in 1985 with Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome vaguely ending the trilogy, know now that his story was never over -- rather that it was just beginning. Yes, while the famous Max played by Mel Gibson may be gone, that doesn't mean the loner's tale is over just yet. A plot less about road battles and evil dictators, and more about the struggles of society to survive in this desolate world, whoever plays Max doesn't matter as long as his profound journey still breathes life into the film. While the endless explosions and enchanting visuals add a certain uniqueness to this hard-R flick, it's the madness of Max Rockatansky that fuels this beast. 

Now I can go on and on about society's hardships in post-apocalyptic worlds, and the hero within Max, but I know you'll first want to hear about the high-octane thrills and fiery, violent romp that was bottled up within Fury Road. To put it in simple terms, you're basically in the action from the first time Max hits the gas to the time when all hell has already broken loose. Yes, there may be some quiet times (most of them as visually stunning as the explosions, without the explosions), most of the two hours spent in the theater seat is pretty fast-paced. And while the source of all this violence is from a gang of pure madness, the action in this film doesn't feel at all mindless -- it feels fun, almost serene at times. That serene tranquility mixed with an enthralling ride makes for some excellent filmmaking. 

What other film do you know that has a flamethrower guitar?

While it may feel like any other action flick, with guns blazing and blood spilling, the stylized cinematography of John Seale and his team make the film way more than just a bloody romp with no creativity. From the many camera pans over a desolate Australian landscape to the fantastically-shot fight scenes with breathtakingly awesome stunts, Miller, Seale, and the rest of the crew make the world of Mad Max its own wasteland, occupied by the various creatures that turn it upside-down. Without the brilliant work by John Seale, to make every shot look like it's out of some psychotic dream, Fury Road probably wouldn't have been as memorable for me. 

Back to that whole thing about the hardships of society and all that, the cast of the film was not only unique, but also represented how broken these insane people can be in a place such as this. The most broken, besides our main protagonist Max, is Furiosa. A woman who has lost almost as much as Max has, and who has become little more than a slave to a tyrant, Furiosa soon blossoms into the perfect heroine. Hell bent on redemption, and grasping towards the hope of returning home, Furiosa leads the film from the get-go, masked in fearless courage and war paint (which may or may not be oil). While Max may be the guy whose name is on the film's title, this is really a tale of Furiosa's survival, and what happens when you take away something from someone whose lost so much already. Charlize Theron, who plays the courageous and simply bad-ass heroine, breathes immense life into the character with as much emotion as any other famous heroine. Quite the memorable character, every scene with Furiosa, even in silence, is breathtaking. 

Did I mention that she has one arm and a shaved head? Can you
get any more bad-ass than that?

Speaking of silence and breathtaking characters, we then have our protagonist, Max. Played by the excellent Tom Hardy -- who took Mel Gibson's place in the franchise -- Max is a very complex man, and Hardy does very well with that. Once a cop, a road warrior seeking a path to righteousness, he has dissolved into a broken man, a hermit who only seeks to flee danger. Starting off, we get a brief synopsis of Max, a slight hint at the past that haunts him. And then it's straight into the action. We are left to wonder what becomes of Max, only until he meets up with an equally broken ally, Furiosa. Once Max gets behind the wheel, we don't need anything more about his past or even his motivations, we just want to see him kick some ass. But speaking on his motivations, at first he just wants to escape, but as he joins Furiosa in this relentless road war, we begin to realize that he may actually care for the people he's helping. A warrior, like Furiosa, who always stood by himself and cared for no one (until he needed to do so), Max's journey is also about survival, but in that survival, he's very willing to put his life on the line when it comes to getting himself (and others) out alive. 

Even on his first ride, Tom Hardy makes a convincing and bad-ass Max

The rest of the cast, from the many "wives" who accompany Max and Furiosa in their escape to the loyal pet of the mad, Nux (Nicholas Hoult), is also quite memorable as they each fight for something unique. For Nux, a War Boy who seeks only to impress his tyrant leader, Immortan Joe, he fights to be a worthy soldier and to die with honor. Nux, a soldier fueled on his corrupted enthusiasm to die a hero, ultimately became one of the most likable characters in the film, as he jumps from one side of the madness to the other in a hilarious manner. One thing that I loved in this film, that makes Miller's world so special, is that every character has its own name. Not like any other name like John or Bill, these characters hold unique names based on their characteristics. Like the "wives" who flee Immortan Joe, their names include The Splendid Angharad, Toast the Knowing, and Capable. I just find that aspect of the film, that each character is given its own sense of personality, really interesting. 

Overall, this almost-psychedelic thrill-ride was probably one of the most memorable films of 2015. Yes, while the summer hasn't even begun, I know this one is bound to be the hottest ride of the year. With a stellar cast from the silent yet grizzled Tom Hardy to the whimsically dangerous Charlize Theron, an amazing assortment of visual effects worthy of awards, and a post-apocalyptic world that is all its own, Mad Max blazes back into theaters with Fury Road. If you love the Mad Max films, and you're not too upset about no more Mel Gibson, you'll love this raunchy new addition to the franchise. 

Tom Hardy's used to wearing a mask...He did play Bane after all.

I gave this film an 8.5 out of 10, because even if it doesn't have some elaborate story that boggles the minds of moviegoers everywhere, Fury Road holds something profoundly distinctive in the way it represents its characters, its themes of survival and redemption, and its intense landscape of mindless brutality and moral decadence. And also there's some phenomenal action scenes here and there. 

Like this review? Stay tuned soon for my review of Disney's own not-as-violent, futuristic thrill-ride of Tomorrowland. With a fun set of characters, including a kid-Terminator and a love-struck George Clooney, Tomorrowland is a fun ride to take when Fury Road is too violent for your kids. 

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