Mad Max: Fury Road (dir. George Miller, 2015) – In the stark desert of a bleak future, Max pursue survival and Furiosa, hope, in her distant memories of her childhood homeland.
This berserk epic montage subverts and exceeds expectations, portraying purposeful action with surprising depth.
Civilisation has collapsed. Modern cities of pipes and steel have crumbled into a primitive wasteland. In the post-apocalyptic future, familiar drifter Max (Tom Hardy) is driven to run on his instinct to survive, when he falls into the hands of Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne) and his army of scavengers.
Against the landscape of sand dunes and muck, the vivid azure sky stands as a stark reminder of the world that once was. Specks of green are reserved for the privilege, as the rest are left scrambling for basic needs in the desert. Born into poverty, the people know no alternative to servitude. But Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) finds hope to rebel in her childhood memories of a better place.
Leaving the build-up to its predecessors, Mad Max: Fury Road races straight into our heroine’s insurgent ride, with its titular leather-clad hero riding shotgun. The leaders of the uprising put up a tireless fight as both predator and prey through a taut adventure. Fuelled by insanity, relentless road rage immerses the audience in a surreal fever dream of heavy metal artillery and feral warboys.
Back from the first Mad Max and more demented than before, Hugh Keays-Byrne is not the only familiar face. Also making a welcome return is the original trilogy’s director George Miller, who full-on embraces madness 30 years on. Revamping the mythos with distinct steampunk embellishments, his vibrant vision retains faint echoes and at the same time, outshines his own Mel Gibson-starring masterworks.
Accompanied by Junkie XL’s aptly exhilarating score, Miller and the phenomenal stunt performers (see: Dayna Grant’s amazing on-set photos) give the mayhem top billing. Favouring practical effects, they recruit an assortment of compellingly offbeat tendencies.
Swaying metronome warriors are only outshone by the Coma-Doof Warrior (iOTA) – a marionette rock guitarist complete with flamethrowers – because… why the hell not? The resulting imagery is eccentric, brutal, and beautifully so.
If you can’t wait to see MAD MAX: FURY ROAD just snort 10 cubic feet of meth & jump into a gasoline fire.
— Patton Oswalt (@pattonoswalt) May 14, 2015
Such wild action and production design deserve to get most talking. But what is most impressive is the subtle storytelling that emerges unfrayed by explosive set pieces. Each action has purpose, hinting at the characters’ layered histories or communicating nuanced symbolism.
There is comment, in women raised for nurture apposed to men, for war. There is function, from the foot soldiers’ tattoos to Furiosa’s prosthetic arm. In every scene and visual decision, the close attention to detail far exceed exposition.
From untold stories of disabilities and unspoken motivations behind their actions, the characters develop strong personalities with emotional depth. That is even with the striking scarcity of lines and strong focus on combat.
Anger surrounding the prominence of Furiosa and the Wives only serves to cast a disheartening reminder of how rarely women in film get to shine in diverse and well-developed roles like these, while remaining agents of their own destiny.
With all its well-earned praise, Fury Road is not all perfect. Frenetic cuts leave some action sequences disorienting. The prevalent issue in modern cinema seems negligible amid thoroughly spectacular and unique ambition, where high-octane thrills are as purposeful as quieter moments. A unique blast of fresh air and certainly the best of the franchise thus far, this is as close to Valhalla as an action fan can get.