Mad Max: Fury Road will pound your eardrums until they pop. It will pull on your eyeballs until they bleed. It will pump your adrenal gland until it explodes. Max’s 35-year coming resurrection is an assault on the senses, an utterly relentless film that stops for breath only for an instant in the second act, only to rush back even stronger than before. In short, it is glorious.
Max is a movie that builds itself a plot with just enough bone to flesh out with explosion-filled muscle. In Mad Max’s harsh post-apocalyptic desert, water and gasoline are the only substances that matter. An evil, masked warlord (the type of which frequent the Max series) named Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne) controls a village of a few hundred people by pumping out water from the ground and carefully rationing it. A warrior driver named Furiosa (Charlize Theron) steals the warlord’s concubines (to whom his minions refer to as “breeders”) in a weaponized big rig and attempts to bring them to a sort of green Eden a few hundred miles away.
Of course, Joe gives furious chase, along with an entire army of pale, bald crazies called “war boys.” Max entered the story strapped to the front of a war boy’s car, serving the pleasant purpose of a living blood bank. His inevitable escape drives him to join Furiosa, dragging one of the younger war boys by the name of Nux (Nicholas Hoult), along for the ride.
The chase scene in the first act, and the chase in the third act, take up the vast majority of Fury Road‘s two hour runtime. The second act isn’t more than 15 minutes long, only existing to provide a brief breather from the action and to set up, of course, an even bigger and more explosive third-act chase. Fury Road‘s action is pure, simplifying itself to the bare bones and introducing new gimmicks as it sees fit. Despite the title, there is no road. There is only open desert and a menagerie of cars speeding through it, all pursuing a single precious big-rig.
The high definition and overly retouched sky pull away from the Mad Max series’ trademark grittiness, but director George Miller wins it back tenfold. Most effects and stunts are done in-camera, and the fact that these effects and stunts look far better and more grounded than anything in a monstrous Marvel movie is a testament to the eternal superiority of real life over digital. The number of cars destroyed is ridiculous, and the stunt work, done mostly by olympic competitors and Cirque-de-Soleil performers, is just as soaring as you would expect from distinguished athletes.
War boys leap from car to car to truck with monkey-like grace and flexibility, and Max and Furiosa knock them off like flailing bowling pins. The action is loud, but it’s hardly dumb. War boys fight like actual people; they don’t go down easy. And, shocker!, main characters actually get shot and injured with some frequency.
George Miller exhausts every possible action idea for the simple car-chasing-truck central theme. A particular favorite comes near the end of the film, where black-clothed soldiers atop enormous sticks protruding from moving vehicles try to swing back and forth to mount the war rig.
Fury Road deviates substantially from the norm by being easily one of the most feminist films aimed toward men ever made. Charlize Theron is an attractive woman, but in Fury Road she’s made into a fighter, dirty, armored, bald, scarred and missing an arm. The concubines are shown partially clothed and overly sexualized, but they quickly prove to the viewer why they escaped in the first place: they will not be treated as objects. In one scene, a nude woman is seen screaming for help from a tower. However, rather than the damsel-in-distress that she would be reduced to in other action flicks, she is, as Furiosa describes her, voluntary “bait”, reeling in victims for a badass biker gang of kindly old ladies.
But where Fury Road excels the most, and where it will almost definitely win an Oscar, is in its production design. Fury Road is an artistic spectacle, not just because of its creative, threatening, and rustic car design (including one mounted with drums and a maniac playing a flamethrower electric guitar) but because of complex costumes and makeup that go far beyond Mad Max 2‘s menagerie of BDSM gear. Fury Road‘s cinematography is flawless, smoothly transitioning from capturing impossibly large chases to surreal, dull landscapes. Mad Max: Fury Road certainly has its share of gorgeous, poster-worthy shots.
Never in recent memory has a film been made that is so pure in every form, that stays big while still paying minute attention to detail, that makes the heart race with smart action, and that is so feminist that, as one Kotaku writer described it “my scrotum killed itself.” Mad Max: Fury Road is a spectacular colosseum of violence, and as one war boy remarks, “a lovely, lovely day.”