Leave it to a 70-year-old Australian filmmaker working with a $150 million budget to show the rest of Hollywood how action movies should be made today. I wasn't even born the last time George Miller made a "Mad Max" movie, yet here we are. For some reason, "Mad Max: Fury Road" was destined to be made. To say the action/blockbuster genre has felt a little stagnant these past few years would be putting it lightly. Somehow, with the right blend of practical effects, CGI, and wild stunts, director George Miller has given us all a stern kick in the ass. And it was an ass-kicking we all desperately needed.
So what is it that makes "Mad Max: Fury Road" such a strong film? Aside from its visual effects and its stunts? Aside from its beautiful cinematography which features a striking combination of bright gold sand and dark blue skies? It's one thing to watch great, exciting action take place, but to have it look amazing too? It's overwhelming. "Mad Max: Fury Road" is an altogether overwhelming experience, so much so that I know I need a second (and third) viewing to fully process its badassness.
But it's not just about the film's technical aspects. It's the use of economical storytelling. Miller gives very little away via exposition. Instead, you have to learn everything about this post-apocalyptic world with what you see on screen. Thing is, Miller tells you everything you need to know plot-wise within the first 15 minutes without explaining anything. You see the dynamics that takes place between the tyrannical leader, Immortan Joe, and his citizens. He controls all the water that they desperately need. We see the way he treats his women. We see the look on Furiosa's (Charlize Theron) face as she's been selected to collect gasoline. We see the way Mad Max has been imprisoned and selected to become a universal blood donor.
From there? Furiosa plans on ditching the rest of her crew in search of freedom. Freedom for herself and Joe's five wives, who have specifically been selected for breeding. Along the way, she runs in with Max who, through different circumstances, seeks his freedom as well. Together, they must fend off Joe's army... several different times... in order to gain their independence. Only to find out, the only way to truly be free is to take Joe's army head on.
It's an incredibly, and wonderfully, simple story. Once you know what the stakes are, it makes it easy to just sit back and enjoy the ride. Miller & his crew have created a film that's jam-packed with action, features non-stop thrills, and there's a relentlessness to the pace that is just breathtaking. More than that, Miller has crafted a film that's just as much a criticism of overt masculinity as it is a celebration of femininity. How mad this world can become if we shut out all women's voices. Or, perhaps, how mad this world was, when women's voices were shut out.
There are many post-apocalyptic films that hint at a world where society seems to be going backwards. That idea is never more present than in "Fury Road." There are images in this film that are horrifying when you really think about it, but they are shown so bluntly and matter-of-factly that it doesn't necessarily hit you right away. And there's a gleefulness, a demented exuberance that makes "Fury Road" so fun to watch. The film allows itself to get swept up in its over-the-top style (doof warrior playing guitar that shoots fire, anyone?) without allowing itself to become campy or overtly silly. You may not catch all of its thematic symbolism the first time around, but that only means "Fury Road" will continue to be a rewarding watch when you inevitably return to the film.
But the action, the thrills, the superb acting by Theron... all these elements should hit you on the initial viewing. Tom Hardy also must be lauded for realizing this isn't just his movie, or really, it's not his movie at all. At a certain point, it's clear this is the Theron show, even if Tom Hardy is playing the title character. And so what if George Miller wanted to reboot his franchise to focus more on a character that isn't Mad Max? He came back to this franchise because he really had something legitimate to say about our society and the world we live in. I wish more reboots/long-awaited sequels were made because the filmmakers behind them actually had something to say. It's refreshing.
"Refreshing" is a fitting word for "Mad Max: Fury Road." The movie really acts as a sort-of palate cleanser. It has raised the bar and the standard for all future big-budget action movies to come. And I get the sense that the muted audience response is because we simply haven't had a movie be so action-packed yet with such little exposition. But make no mistake, the story is all there. "Fury Road" tells its story almost from a purely visual sense. And it does so in a very cinematic way. It doesn't get much better than that.