Mad Mad: Fury Road review

I cannot remember the last time a film completely lived up to the expectation of its trailers.  “Mad Max: Fury Road” is a film worth all the hyperbole and I can say that it is the best film I have seen this year.  It is exciting, brutal, genuine, and intense.  It was difficult for me to sit still and keep from verbalizing exclamations of excitement and tension throughout the film.  This movie hit me on such a visceral level I couldn’t contain my emotional responses.  To top it all off, it is incredibly funny in parts as well, a truly deadly combination.

Writer/Director George Miller, who enlisted the help of Brendan McCarthy and Nick Lathouris to write this opus, relied predominately on practical effects using digital effects sparingly for maximum impact.  This Max, played expertly by Tom Hardy, lives up to the moniker “Mad” in a way he really hasn’t in prior installments.  I’m not disparaging earlier films, but this one really plays up the mental trauma Max is dealing with as a direct result of his family’s slaughter and his inability to prevent it (in “Mad Max,” 1979).  One aspect I have always liked about Mad Max is his fallibility, he is always put through the grinder in his movies.  In the origin film he was run over multiple times breaking his arm, permanently damaging his leg, and this injury impacted his outfit in “Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior” 1981.  In the lesser of all the films, “Mad Max: Beyond the Thunderdome,” (1985), which is coincidentally the only one American studios had any impact in at the time, he was almost written off for dead after his trip to the Gulag.  “Mad Mad: Fury Road” is no different and in fact begins with his capture, imprisonment, and basic exploitation.

His capture serves a great narrative purpose in taking us inside the gigantic and thriving Citadel.  If “Thunderdome’s” Bartertown represented a highly populated area, the Citadel’s population would make it pale in comparison.  Hell, the mobs that pursue Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) and Mad Max through the various wastelands even dwarf Bartertown’s population.  The Citadel is a massive thriving, fully developed post-apocalyptic society that is fantastically designed visually.  From massive gears, gigantic pipes for huge waterfalls, immense cranes, monolithic symbols, totemic Warboys, and an easily recognizable caste system.  This visual design cements and connects all elements of the film in a masterful way to communicate a viable, working world.

Tremendous growling vehicles dominate the film.  Raging, flame spewing guitarists atop wheeled monstrosities accompanied by taiko drums from hell.  Nightmarish porcupine dune buggies of death, and some of the most innovative vehicular attack sequences ever committed to film.  This isn’t just a massive car chase through the desert, this is a brilliant work of love and art.  This is a love letter to post-apocalyptic films and the struggle to survive.  This is a film that showcases the many varieties of deserts from salt flats to rock canyon and several others.  “Mad Max: Fury Road” is first and foremost a beautiful film to look at, shifting from bright sunlit dunes, to warm orange canyons, to blue twilight scenes, and bold bronze scenes set within a massive sandstorm with fire tornadoes and wild lightning storms.

Settings, incredible vehicular pursuit and slaughter, gorgeous cinematography are all excellent components in and of themselves, but when you ground them in characters that are interesting, empathetic, and believable then everything else matters even more.  Tom Hardy brings Mad Max to life as a haunted man prone to crippling hallucinations.  Theron channels great skill, strength, passion, rage, and drive into her portrayal of Furiosa a woman who is easily Max’s equal, and in some areas surpasses his skillsets, which makes them great partners for each has superior skills to offer.  A great surprise were the wives of Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Bryne).  The five wives are stolen away by Furiosa and instead of being meek and defenseless in need of protection and salvation they demonstrate on multiple occasions that they are survivors as well.  With great names: Toast the Knowing (Zoe Kravitz, “Divergent”), The Splendid Angharad (Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, “Transformers: Dark of the Moon”), Capable (Riley Keogh, “Magic Mike”), The Dag (Abbey Lee) and Cheedo the Fragile (Courtney Eaton) each woman has her own personality and strength and showcases each at numerous times throughout the film.

Two other characters that have to be mentioned are Immortan Joe and Nux (Nicholas Holt, “Warm Bodies”).  Joe is another iconic villain to add to the great list of Mad Max antagonists like Toecutter (played by the same actor), Nightrider, The Humungus, Wez, MasterBlaster, and Aunty Entity.  Immortan Joe is an intimidating presence with his armor and chilling face-mask, which actually serves a purpose.  I kept finding myself questioning whether he was actually a bad guy, kind of like I did with Tina Turner’s Aunty Entity in “Thunderdome.”  After all he has provided a sanctuary for obviously thousands of people, maintains control of three distinct towns with an impressive communication system, keeps people fed, provides access to water, keeps them protected, BUT…and like Aunty Entity there is always the BUT, and this is where the wives and Nux enter the picture.

Nux, is a Warboy, one of Immortan Joe’s savage death obsessed and utterly devoted vehicular warriors.  On the verge of death and in need of a blood transfusion he is forced to take his “blood bag” with him chained to the grill of his car in order to pursue Furiosa and impress Immortan Joe.  This decision proves fateful and forever will alter things one way, or another for the man chained to the front of his car is an exceptional man not content to stay chained and drained.  Nux is a true character and gives us our insight into the Warboy mentality, a savage drive until death come mindset that inspires cult-like mania.

“Mad Max: Fury Road” works on every level.  It knows when to fall quiet to allow us time to catch our breath, appreciate the characters and design of everything on the screen.  It knows when to ramp up and fire up the nitrous rockets for that extra boost of energy.  Expertly crafted angles constantly remind us the odds and how many vehicles Miller managed to put together in one place at one time to tell an excellent story of survival.  This is a brutal, body crushing, wickedly explosive, adrenaline producing film.  The score by Junkie XL enhances every scene making it an almost unbearable experience in the BEST WAY POSSIBLE.  “Mad Max: Fury Road” is easily as good as the original “Mad Max” (1979) and “Mad Mad 2: The Road Warrior” (1981) which places it in excellent company.  I cannot recommend this film enough.  Go see this film, I am utterly thrilled that this film, a new installment in a franchise that I grew up loving is garnering so much praise and respect and has not sacrificed ANYTHING to achieve those well-deserved, and much delayed accolades.  “Mad Max: Fury Road” is an excellent film in every sense of the word.

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