WARNING: HERE BE SPOILERS
I found the radio distracting on my way home from the movie theater, turning it off almost as soon as I turned the key to start my car. I sat in silence during my drive, thinking of the many different ways I could start this review that would somehow convey the gravitas that I was desperately looking for. I thought about the last time I sat wide eyed and leaning forward at a movie theater. I was eight years old and like all eight year olds obsessed with Dinosaurs and losing myself in Steven Spielberg’s summer blockbuster masterpiece. I thought about talking about another Spielberg film, Raiders of the Lost Arc and how that movie has influenced my own writing and creative endeavors ever since I grew old enough to appreciate everything it was. Dare I say, I even considered talking about 1977 and how Star Wars impacted how we thought of movies and changed our perception on what a film could be.
Mad Max: Fury Road made me think of all these things. It is, very simply, one of the greatest films I have ever seen. Ignore the fact that it is coming out during the prime of Summer Blockbusters. Ignore the fact that the last film George Miller wrote and directed was about a computer generated dancing penguin (although, not at all bad films), and especially ignore the fact that I have had a little to drink. Once you see his fourth Mad Max film, you very well may be seeing the most important movie of our time. At the very least, the decade.
Fury Road begins with, of course, Max Rockatansky (the immensely talented and versatile Tom Hardy) gazing upon the absolutely desolate but stunningly beautiful wasteland of Post-Apocalyptic Australia. We don’t learn much about what he’s been doing during the gap between this film and Beyond Thunderdome, but we find him haggard and in desperate need of a haircut and a shave. Luckily, he’s soon kidnapped by a roaming gang of wasteland lunatics and set up to become a human blood bag due being a universal donor and provided such a haircut and shave. Don’t ask me how this borderline Stone Age clan was able to figure out Max’s blood type, as this little side plot is just about the only hiccup in the film. We are soon introduced to the primary antagonist, Clan Leader Immortan Joe, who through superstition and fear controls one of the only sources of fresh water left in the region. Well, with “Mad Max” kidnapped and strung up within the first five minutes of the movie, what are we to do? That’s where Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) comes in. She’s the hero of this renegade clan and clearly someone with a great deal of respect and importance. What does she choose to do with her position of power? She decides to free Immortan Joe’s five wives/breeding factories and take them to her childhood home, the “Green Place”. It doesn’t take very long for Joe to figure out what’s going on and he takes his best troops on a thrilling chase to capture Furiosa and the five other women in one of the most spectacular multiple car chases that you will ever see, with poor Max as a very fancy hood ornament. I read an article recently saying that the car chase was dead. Wow, was the writer ever wrong.
To say what follows this very brief setup is nothing short of thrilling would be doing Fury Road a grave injustice. What George Miller was able to accomplish is simply breathtaking. Every frame, every shot, every simple gaze from one character to another holds weight. It is certainly no mistake that Hardy and Theron have incredibly expressive eyes and are able to convey and emote with a simple glance what it may take even a great screenwriter two pages of dialogue. Take, for example, Max’s development in the beginning of the film. He manages to escape Joe’s lunatics and hitch a ride with Furiosa, but only at gun point. At the first sign of relative safety, he kicks Furiosa and the five wives (dibs on the band name!) out of the truck and leaves them to die. Of course he comes back for them, but he spends the rest of the movie earning back their trust. He doesn’t do this with big speeches or recollecting his own trouble past or making excuses, he does this through his actions. He continuously puts his life on the line for this surrogate family, never asking for anything in return. Miller saves his dialogue only for when it is absolutely necessary and therefore, every line carries with it an amazing sense of weight.
The reason for so little dialogue? The action is almost non-stop in all of the best ways. Fury Road is a chase movie from beginning to end, and Miller forgoes Computer Generated Imagery as much as he can. It is nothing short of jaw dropping what he was able to accomplish with practical effects, throwing the Hollywood favorite “shaky cam” out the door while treating us to stupendously choreographed wide shots and meticulously crafted close ups, all while the camera remains perfectly still. Something that hasn’t been seen in a major Hollywood action film in quite some time. Miller’s choice of color pallet is also a breath of fresh air in this day and age. There are hardly any grays on the screen. Instead we see bright and vibrant blues and oranges mixed with golden browns. Nothing is washed out, everything is clear and crisp, as if Miller and his Director of Photography had no intention of hiding anything from the viewer. Combine this with the isolation of the Australian wasteland you have a film that is a visual treat from beginning to end.
There is tension throughout the film. Max starts in a bad spot, and Furiosa is massively outnumbered and out gunned. To compare it to the aforementioned Raiders, the two heroes are consistently fighting to keep their head above the sand like a certain adventuring archaeologist we all know and love. You will find yourself on the edge of your seat during more than one moment, and the consequences for failure are real and personal. Our heroes aren’t out to save the world, they are simply out to survive it and, and their struggle is rife with with dangers that we haven’t seen before. It’s refreshing to see a story set on such a small scale but carry a much heavier weight than most other summer blockbusters. Miller makes you believe that Max and Furiosa can fail, and they sometimes do. Not everyone makes it to their Green Place at the end, but the sacrifices made by all the characters feels genuine.
Clearly I was moved by Fury Road. I don’t know if it will have the cultural impact I think it should. I don’t know if it will be a high grossing film. I don’t know if we’ll get a sequel (God I hope we do). But I know what Fury Road means to me as a writer, fan, and filmmaker. It is, hopefully, a step in a beautiful direction of for film, and I will be getting back to the theater the first chance I get to experience it again.