Directed by: George Miller
Premise: The fourth film in the Mad Max series. Set in a post-apocalyptic wasteland, Max (Tom Hardy) joins with a rebel (Charlize Theron) to free a group of women from slavery and escort them to safety.
What Works: The original Mad Max series began with the release of the eponymous 1979 film, continued with 1981’s The Road Warrior and concluded with 1985’s Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome. That series has a loyal cult following and filmmaker George Miller, who helmed the original trilogy, has kicked off a new succession of films with Mad Max: Fury Road. However, rather than rebooting the series, Miller has devised a film that feasibly exists in continuity with the existing titles but will be watchable by newcomers to the Mad Max franchise. That strategy avoids alienating longtime fans while it brings newbies to the series. Much like the other films, but especially The Road Warrior, Fury Road is a post-apocalyptic spectacle and it is an example of how purely cinematic action movies can be. This is a beautifully made film with care taken in the makeup and production design and the action set pieces are as carefully choreographed as the routine of a ballet dancer. The opening thirty minutes of Fury Road has a chase sequence that ranks with scenes in The Blues Brothers, The French Connection, and The Matrix Reloaded among the great cinematic car chases. The subsequent set pieces are nearly as strong and that is one of the impressive aspects of Fury Road. So much of the movie consists of automobile pursuits and yet the movie does not wear down the viewer. In that respect, one of the film’s most impressive successes is the way it holds the audience’s attention. Fury Road runs two hours, a bit shorter than a lot of tent pole movies, and it puts enough at stake to make the chases engaging. The conflict is fairly simple—a group of women want to get away from their abuser—but it’s clear and the conceit appeals to the audience’s empathy. There has been a lot made in social media and by columnists about Fury Road as a feminist movie. The supposed controversy over the film has been pushed by knuckle dragging bloggers who perceive anything even remotely acknowledging gender equality as an assault on their manhood. But Fury Road is a feminist picture and admirably it is so without being didactic. The movie doesn’t stop for Aaron Sorkin-style speeches. Rather, the politics emerge organically out of the action.
What Doesn’t: The characters and story of Mad Max: Fury Road are pretty thin. Of the characters, the most interesting is Nux, played by Nicholas Hoult, one of the warriors serving chief villain, Immortan Joe. He gradually shifts his allegiance and learns to see the world in a new way and Nux is the only person in the entire film who has a character arc. Despite the fact that his name is in the title, Mad Max is almost a supporting character in this movie. He does not have much to do or a personal story to tell. That’s true of most of the cast who are all exactly who they appear to be and everyone is essentially the same person at the end of the movie that they were at the beginning. The story of Fury Road is basically one elongated chase in which the characters drive from point-A to point-B only to turn around and return to point-A. Even though there is a master plan after the turnaround, the third act of the story basically consolidates and repeats the first two acts of the movie. Fury Road is so spectacular that it makes up for its repetitiveness but this is the kind of movie that is going to play best in a large theatrical auditorium with as good a sound system as possible. When Fury Road hits home video the impact is going to be severely diminished with the smaller screen amplifying the film’s narrative shortcomings.
Bottom Line: Mad Max: Fury Road is a terrific piece of popcorn moviemaking. Although it is narratively thin, the movie is exceptionally well made and exactly the kind of picture audiences look for in summer action cinema.
Episode: #543 (May 24, 2015)