4.5 / 5 stars
After simmering in George Miller’s fertile mind for more than a decade, Mad Max: Fury Road powers onto the screen as the director’s masterpiece and then some. It’s also the creative pinnacle of the entire genre of raging, car chase films. Within the film’s dry, barren, soulless landscape there exists an astounding level of detail – demented, destructive, death-courting detail that’s staggering in its precision and completeness. In this era of near-constant chatter about superhero movies, Mad Max: Fury Road is the true comic book film of its time, splashed with jagged, hyperactive violence, intense color, hope and pure evil. It’s narratively simple, visually complex, and just unstoppable.
Forget your movie reboots, this one’s a flat-out kick in the nuts. Miller both embraces and updates the trilogy he started with his 1979 Ozploitation original, a raw thriller that put both him and Mel Gibson on the map. Here, ex-lawman Max Rockatansky is played by Tom Hardy, owning a physically demanding performance that stands as the polar opposite of his role in Locke – he sits in a car for the entire film – yet more proof of the man’s versatile screen presence.
Fury Road begins with Max’s narration (a tip of the hat to The Road Warrior), explaining that he’s been reduced only to survival instincts in a world decimated by its own inhabitants. Max is soon kidnapped and held prisoner by a shocking society of bald, pale maniacs straight out of a nuclear winter nightmare, skin covered in brands, stapled scars and horrific welts. We’re just getting started.
When a ballsy female driver named Furiosa (Charlize Theron) blasts into the desert hiding their leader’s “property” – a lithe, gorgeous group of young women being used as “breeders” – an entire band of warlords gives chase, piloting a vicious convoy of hemi hatred. They tear up the desert like real Burning Men, scarring the landscape with flaming spears and belches of fire. Chained to the front of one vehicle is Max, taken along as a living blood bank to supply a constant flow into the veins of a less healthy driver.
Yeah, this is sick stuff. Glorious, graceful, hard-R-rated lunacy that, at some points, defies description. As a brilliant opening chase scene turns into an extended journey into darkness, every one of Miller’s shots – yes, every one – is a beautifully orchestrated symphony of madness. Destruction seems to emerge from every corner of the frame, the frantic suspense constantly building as if Wile E. Coyote were somewhere offscreen pumping on an unlimited box of Acme TNT.
After Max and Furiosa join forces, Miller plunges their expedition into a gorgeous nighttime blue glow, a shimmer of hope as Fury Road becomes nearly monochromatic. Oscar-winning cinematographer John Seale (The English Patient) blends beauty and fear with this effect, while bringing an unexpected visual variety to the desert.
Seale isn’t the only contributor red-lining his ample talents. From the overloaded production design to the intense makeup, Miller’s crew delivers a fully realized, shocking fantasy. While Miller could have benefited from a dramatic breath or two in the final act, the freneticism does work, with original Mad Max player Hugh Keays-Byrne (the Toecutter!) shining as the deformed leader Immortan Joe, the actor doing his best version of Bane meets Darth Vader.
Mad Max: Fury Road will leave you slack-jawed, breathless, or both. Often. This is action fantasy as high art. It’d be really tough to believe this level of imagination and grotesqueness could be matched in any future visits to this desert of death. But with George Miller at the helm, it wouldn’t surprise me.