I had never seen a Mad Max movie prior to Fury Road, so my expectations were exactly nilch. I knew very little about the franchise, save for the fact that it kickstarted Mel Gibson’s acting career, and that the last one was released way back in times of yore (1985, to be more specific). I actually almost skipped this latest entry–I’m not much of an action movie fan, and the crazy trailers just didn’t tickle my interest. Alas, Fury Road is listed within the confines of science fiction, and I made a point to see every single sci-fi movie this year, whether I wanted to or not.
Long story short, my ass was thoroughly kicked. Mad Max: Fury Road is a nonstop rush of adrenaline that kicks things into overdrive within the first five minutes and seldom lets go. Despite my indifference towards crazy stunts and wild explosions, I ended up holding my breath more times than any reasonable person could honestly keep track of. By the end, I was exhausted. I don’t know how anyone with a pulse could come out of this movie with a differing physical experience.
What really surprised me, though, is the incredible depth of Fury Road. It tells a surface-level story–the escape of five wives from their tyrannical warlord husband–but there’s clearly so much more to it than that. We’re shown a post-apocalyptic Earth in a region where there’s nothing but sand and death. In astute zombie-movie fashion, civilization has reset itself–tribes have taken the place of traditional government, barbaric leaders rule with torture and violence, everyone is out to get one another.
Despite this hellish existence, all hope is not lost. Ideas and memories of the past slowly creep in every now and then. People look up into the sky and point out satellites, which used to provide “shows.” Plant-life is hard to come by, but it’s not impossible to obtain. Even the most brainwashed and seemingly heartless characters are capable of understanding the difference between right and wrong. Oppressive governance is the dominant societal structure, but resistance is possible, and some people actually want to fight against it–specifically Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron), a high-ranking warrior who sets off to rescue these five wives from a lifetime of childbearing misery.
There are some amazing exaggerations presented throughout Fury Road, yes. Main antagonist Immortan Joe carries himself like a biker version of Skeletor, and his army of sickly (probably inbred) “warboys” practice a religion that crosses itself between Norse mythology and extremist Islam. When they all (quite literally) hit the road in pursuit of Furiosa and Joe’s renegade wives, it’s all done in the name of gasoline engines and the promise of Valhalla. There’s even an electric guitarist in place of traditional martial music, complete with three full amplifier stacks. Got to keep them pumped up somehow, right?
Out of context, this is all wholly over-the-top. Shoot, within context it’s over-the-top, but it also makes a lot of sense. This is the future, after all. Despite planetary damage and the depletion of most natural resources, there’s no reason to believe that we’d be without any kind of technology. And what better way to control an army than through religion and a false sense of tribal pride? Replace the oily grit of Joe’s pack with the everyday nationalism of [pick any civilization here], and you’ve got yourself a clear-cut case of history simply repeating itself. If the politics of Mad Max: Fury Road are ridiculous, it’s because humanity in general is ridiculous.
Max himself (Tom Hardy, taking the reign from Gibson this time around) fits into all of this completely by accident. He’s introduced to us as a rogue–a solitary wanderer haunted by the faces of those he couldn’t save during his tenure as a road warrior–and through unfortunate circumstance is captured by Joe’s army and used as a human blood bank. He’s brought along for the chase, escapes, and finds himself tagging along with Furiosa only because of coincidence. This is important to note, mainly due to the fact that it allows us to truly understand Max’s character. He isn’t necessarily a “good” guy, and he’s certainly not a hero. He does only what’s best for himself, at least initially, and banding with Furiosa’s runaway crew is a logical survival tactic.
Truth be told, despite the naming conventions associated with this film, Max himself isn’t even the main character. This is almost single-handedly Furiosa’s fable, told explicitly through the eyes of a character who happens to run across her during this particular adventure. It’s an ingenious storytelling device that allows writer-director George Miller to give us loads of information without saying very much at all, and that truly is the most amazing thing about Mad Max: Fury Road. The action is heart-pounding, the practical effects are awe-inspiring, and the set-pieces are nothing short of astonishing, but none of these technical aspects really hold a candle to the brain-tickling foundation that Miller has given us here. Fury Road may very well be the perfect action movie, but in my eyes it’s also a perfect little bit of science-fiction. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a better movie this year.