Following in the footsteps of certain other movie franchises from the late 1970s/ early 1980s, Mad Max: Fury Road brings back not only an iconic character in cinema history, but also a unique world and the visionary mystique that went with it.
To say Fury Road more than matches its earlier iterations is high praise in itself; to claim it’s probably the best of all of them is a statement one hesitates to make, especially in reference to the gritty original and its grander-in-scale sequel. The latter I consider superior to the former, and indeed it is within The Road Warrior that can be found the main stylistic influences on this film.
The movie starts as it means to go on; with a high speed chase through sand. There are explosions. Dramatic close-ups. Fast cutting. Half naked women. A redemption story woven into the narrative. In short, no one is more surprised than I that Fury Road was actually so damn good. To the extent that I think it’s probably the best film of the year so far.
This was surprising because it’s kind of hard to see its quality coming. My initial expectation for this movie was that it would be a typically entertaining summer blockbuster full of explosions and humorous one-liners ordered into the script by studio executives, but little more besides. It certainly does have everything the audience will expect coming into it – the visually dense experience hits you like a train. But to describe Fury Road at face value and leave things at that is also to devalue it.
For example, few other mainstream films are brave enough to include two strong characters – one male, one female – and not have them get together in a romantic sense. Few others would dare portray them as equals (in strength and ingenuity), especially when it’s the male character whose name is attached to the film’s title.
Fury Road is just as much about Charlize Theron’s Imperator Furiosa as it is about Max himself though. In fact, from a certain point of view, this film is her story, and Max only finds himself taken along for the ride as he naturally fights for survival in the desolate wasteland that the world has become in the dystopian future in which the film is set.
Tom Hardy’s portrayal of Max comes across as powerful yet effortless, though it is worth noting that he has considerably more experience as a film actor than a young Mel Gibson did in the same role and therefore to compare the two is perhaps unfair. If Gibson’s performance was (arguably) the more impressive in context, then Hardy at the very least meets the demands of a role in which it would have been easy to simply become a backdrop against the movie’s visual setting. Hardy makes the character his own without the need for many words (Max really doesn’t have a large amount of dialogue), and especially for a new generation only now being introduced to the series, he encapsulates the character as well as anyone could have.
That setting, though… for a film based almost entirely in the open desert, it is strikingly beautiful. While its imagery undoubtedly owes a significant debt to the second and third films in the series, it also feels modern, fresh and – on occasion – gloriously disturbing. This is an environment in which the world really has gone mad, and ultimately one has to wonder if we should feel guilty about finding it so fun.
Credit for that must go to director and original creator George Miller, who has risen to the challenge of bringing this concept into the modern era and surely surpassed whatever expectations people may have had of Fury Road beforehand. Oh what a day, what a lovely day; one of the characters exclaims as he drives through a deadly sandstorm. Whether this is your first introduction to the crazy universe of Mad Max, or consider yourself a seasoned veteran, you’ll think so too.
10 / 10