Review: Mad Max: Fury Road

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What can you say now?
What can you feel?
When you’ve got a heart made of leather and steel.

-“Crybaby”, Utopia.

NOTE: I watched the 2D version because George Miller said to, and who am I to argue with him?

“Mad Max: Fury Road” is the most metal movie you will see this summer. This is both its greatest strength but also its greatest drawback. At least half of the individual frames of this movie could be used as a cover of a metal album. The bad guys, the War Boys, tattoo rock concert lineups on the backs of their victims and run with a lunatic wailing away with a flame-spewing guitar in front of a wall of speakers all mounted on a truck screaming across the wasteland.

My God! Look at that thing!
My God! Look at that thing! That’s worth the price of admission right there!

But this isn’t just loud, cheap, bar band metal. This is thoughtful. This is Iron Maiden, smart metal running right up to the edge of prog. There is method to this madness. There are character arcs. There is emotion. There is a central question of whether there is any humanity left in these people. But there is still plenty of Judas Priest as well to punch you right in the face with a spike-studded leather glove.

“Fury Road” isn’t a modernized version of a 1980’s movie like we’ve seen so much of lately. No, “Fury Road” by original mastermind George Miller, is the exact reverse. It’s a 1980‘s movie made with modern technology. It fits seamlessly into the “Mad Max” mythos and the style and tone match the original trilogy perfectly, just turned up to 11.

There is a very logical progression to the four movies. “Mad Max” is set in the world we know as it is just starting to crumble. “The Road Warrior” showed survivors battling over a small remnant of the old world. In “Beyond Thunderdome”, the survivors have now formed a town and a new society. Now, in “Fury Road”, the children born after the fall form the bulk of a new nation with multiple towns and defined territories. There are only a handful of old survivors left like Max and arch-villain Immortan Joe (fun fact, he‘s played by the same actor who played The Toe Cutter). As these societies have become more sophisticated so, too, have they mutated farther and farther from anything we’d recognize, just as the people have become mutated and bent by the pollution they were born into.

While there is CGI, at no point does this movie feel like a cartoon and most of the effects were done the old fashioned way with real, ridiculous vehicles tearing across a real desert. The action is clear and crisp, not the confusing swarm of quick cuts we’ve gotten used to. The slo mo shots showcase truly awesome moments that feel right, like this is a moment out of all this chaos where it would feel like the world has paused as the participants boggle at what they are seeing. This is definitely a movie that would be worth watching several times because there is so much going on that it’s impossible to truly see it all in one sitting.

This movie is completely unapologetic in it’s R rating. This is not a movie trying to sell toys. There is no Lego Mad Max tie-in game. There is some humor, but it’s rare and very dark, like a character naming his two favorite tumors and drawing smiley faces on them. And this movie isn’t full of extra characters and dangling plot threads trying to set up a greater Mad Max shared universe. This isn’t cheery hair metal. It’s dark and brutal and mean and disturbing.

We meet Tom Hardy’s Max as a burnt remnant of a man just trying to survive and eating two-headed tokay geckos. (Aside, never, ever put a tokay gecko in your mouth, even if it only has one head. Them suckers is mean!)

I am the Lizard King.
I am the Lizard King!

Max is haunted by the people he’s failed to save. Amid all the fire and bombast, there is an emotional core to this movie and Max will have to find some shred of his old self and allow himself to feel something again. Hardy captures the essence of Mel Gibson’s original version, the mumbling economy of his words, the way he carries himself, and, again, he feels right.

But Charlize Theron’s Furiosa is really the center of the movie. This is very much her story and Theron really nails it. Most of the time, she is strong and passionate and powerful, yet she does have her moments of doubt and despair as well. If there was a complaint to be had about her, it would be that her character really doesn’t experience any growth. She starts out large and in charge and finishes much the same way.

The movie isn’t perfect, though. I said that it’s metalness is a weakness as well as a strength. By that, I meant that the sheer relentlessness of it becomes exhausting. Usually when I leave an action movie, I feel exhilarated, but “Fury Road” actually left me feeling worn out. It could have done with perhaps being a half-hour shorter. By the end the last chase was beginning to just feel excessive like one too many plates of food at the Chinese buffet. I was ready to push back from the table. To circle back to the metal theme, I like metal but after a while it starts to all sound the same and get a bit boring. Ironically, this may actually mean that this movie will play better on TV where the relentlessness will be broken up by commercials and bathroom breaks. Though, you should see it at least once on the big screen.

Overall, strongly recommended.

  • seth_e

    I watched the first Mad Max movie a few years ago and was surprised by how tame it was. I am not talking about rating (violence or language), but it did not seem “mad” enough… it was not like society had fallen, but more like some gangs got out of hand. Your description that it is “set in the world we know as it is just starting to crumble” puts this in perspective.

  • Aphthakid

    Yes, the first one is much more of a 1970’s revenge film, the kind of thing you’d see Charles Bronson in, with just a slight sci fi twist. It’s so different from the others that oftentimes people forget it even exists.