And now we get to the most badass movie of the year and the least likely Best Picture Nominee: Mad Max: Fury Road, a continuation of the trilogy that both made Mel Gibson a star and jumpstarted the Ausi-sploitation genre. Fans worried whether or not this would hold up against the beloved trilogy, especially with Tom Hardy taking over the title role. But worry turned into anticipation when we saw the awesome teaser trailers. With writer-director George Miller returning to the franchise he created, Mad Max: Fury Road not only lives up to the quality of the trilogy but ascends it into art.
The title character is Max Rockatansky, a former cop turned post-apocalyptic survivor. The first movie had Max’s life seeking vengeance avenging the murder of his family. His second film, The Road Warrior, had Max reluctantly help a small community protect its oil from the Humungus (Kjell Nilsson) and his cronies. The final film, Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, has Max protecting a group of children from Aunty Entity (Tina Turner) and her goons. In late 70s Australia, George Miller made the first movie on a low, low budget.
The latest film follows the same story arc as The Road Warrior and Beyond Thunderdome. There’s a monologue about the apocalypse. Max finds himself caught in between over the top thugs and desperate survivors in need. Mad at first refuses to help, but then changes his mind. It all ends in an awesome battle chase sequence. Though Fury Road follows the formula, what makes this film stand out is the way it follows the formula.
First of all, George Miller has Max captured in the first scene. I’m not kidding. In literally the first minute, Max crashes his car running from the War Boys, a gang of diseased, chalk-pale fundamentalists led by the tyrannical Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne). Though he tries to escape, Max stays imprisoned throughout the first act, used as a human blood bank for the fanatic Nux (Nicholas Hoult). He barely does anything in the first few minutes.
In reality, Max’s a false protagonist. This film’s true hero is Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron), a one armed lieutenant of Immortan Joe. On the same day of Max’s capture, Furiosa sets her escape plan into motion. When Furiosa drives off for an oil run, Immortan Joe realizes she’s taken his “property”; women selected as breeding slaves. Furiosa drives them across the desert in hopes of finding paradise. Wanting them back, his War Boys give chase. To make matters worse, one woman is pregnant . Somehow, Furiosa and Max will meet, team up to take down Immortan Joe. In a way, this till plays into the formula. In the previous two films, Max steps into a battle between good and evil and reluctantly plays a key factor. This time, it’s Furiosa who faces up against Immortan Joe, while Max battles henchmen.
Though the franchise’s well known for its epic battle chase scenes, never has Miller made the films one giant battle chase until this film. There’s every vehicle from motorcycles to dune buggies driving into sandstorms and exploding mountains. There are cars flipping into wooden spikes and acrobats swinging on poles trying to grab Joe’s “wives”. You even get a guy with a flaming electric guitar swinging in front of loud speakers. Despite the madness, Miller still finds a way to tell a story. Nearly every main character goes through their own story arc. Max goes from a madman haunted by a girl he failed to save to the hero we know and love. Furiousa makes the trip in hopes of redemption. Even the wives each have their own story arcs.
Halfway through this film, I came to realize this was actually an art film disguised as science fiction. With a world as strange as this, a lesser filmmaker would lace the film with endless exposition. Miller prefers a minimalist approach, letting images tell the story for us. With images of overweight women milked like cows and War Boys spraying their mouths with silver paint before leaping into battle, you get a taste of Immortan Joe’s disregard for human and the religious fundamentalism he reigns over. There are characters who wear their personality on their wardrobes and even their cars. Then there’s bizarre yet awesome characters like the aforementioned flaming guitarist. Miller doesn’t offer a full explanation, but he offers enough clues for the audience to fill in the blanks. This has proven a haven for fan theorists.
But there’s no one way to enjoy Mad Max: Fury Road. Action fans can enjoy the relentless and creative stunts throughout the film. Film Analysts can interprets a lot of commentary from misogyny to heroism. Some moviegoers will enjoy it for its imagery. Others will enjoy it for its characters. Either way, people aren’t just watching a film. They are getting an experience.