After 30 years, iconic antihero Max Rockatansky is back on the big screen in a huge way with George Miller’s post-apocalyptic epic, Mad Max: Fury Road. This time around, Tom Hardy is donning the leather jacket and he’s joined by Charlize Theron, Nicholas Hoult, Hugh Keays-Byrne (who portrayed the villain, Toecutter, in the original film), and more for another mind-blowing, octane-fueled adventure that’s truly unlike anything you’re likely to see in theaters this summer. If Miller set the bar for modern action films with Mad Max in 1979, with Fury Road he completely obliterates it and creates an entirely new cinematic standard all his own.
Fury Road transports us deep into the future where water is scarce, fuel sources are controlled by few and anyone who hasn’t already been taken hostage by one of the remaining Warlords scattered throughout the desolate Wastelands has a proverbial target on their back. Such is the case for Max (Hardy) – as we meet our hero just as he’s being taken hostage by a group of thugs controlled by the maniacal Immortan Joe (Keays-Byrne), who rules the city of Citadel. If Max wants to survive, he must fight his way out of Joe’s clutches, and as he makes his way out, he crosses paths with Imperator Furiosa (Theron), a Citadel defector and big rig driver. The duo must join forces in order to persevere against the violent onslaught of killers and mercenaries hot on their tracks as they travel down the infamous Fury Road looking for safe passage for Furiosa’s cargo, which just happens to be Immortan Joe’s wives (Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Zoë Kravitz, Riley Keough, Abbey Lee, and Courtney Eaton) – quite possibly the most precious commodity left in this world.
That’s really only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Mad Max: Fury Road – Miller and co-writers Brendan McCarthy and Nick Lathouris have all crafted a world much bigger in scope than I could possibly hope to ever capture here in my review. The incredible futuristic wasteland they’ve dreamed up addresses every detail imaginable. From the intricacies featured on the various costumes to the types of cars our heroes and villains drive to even the character mythologies and assorted social hierarchies –every single thing you see onscreen in Fury Road matters in some way or another.
Adding some life to the otherwise isolated world of Fury Road are the wonderfully bizarre and feral characters concocted by the imaginations of Miller and company. Hardy’s Max is the bleakest we’ve seen this character yet, but by the conclusion of this latest film, you can almost see his worldview transforming. He’s still insanely dangerous and his animalistic tendencies haven’t been satiated at all, but now Max has seen with his own eyes that good still exists in his otherwise hopeless reality – a cause definitely worth fighting to the death over. Hardy’s done an amazing job here of making this character completely his own and giving the iconic Max a bit of his own twist.
And while Miller’s latest is indeed entitled Mad Max, Theron’s character Furiosa is just as integral (if not more so) to the film’s overall story. The award-winning actress gives an incredibly nuanced performance that’s equal parts badass, ferociousness, and heartbreaking torment. The burden (both literally and figuratively) her character carries is huge, but Theron does it with a bit of grace and razor-sharp passion. It’s probably too early to say this, but if there is a sequel, Furiosa is certainly a character I’d love to revisit, as she has a fantastic arc throughout Fury Road (akin to a Greek tragedy in many ways) and she certainly holds her own against the film’s legendary “Road Warrior” as well.
Nicholas Hoult (Warm Bodies, X-Men: Days of Future Past) definitely deserves some praise, too, for his unbelievably eccentric (and wholly transformative) performance in Fury Road as Nux, one of Immortan Joe’s War Boys who meets Max, Furiosa and her “precious cargo” while traveling along Fury Road. Fiercely loyal and willing to put everything on the line for Joe, Nux eventually sees that not everything is as it seems and that perhaps the faith in his leader/father figure is a bit misplaced. Nux realizes that he has too much value in this cruel world to just be a mindless puppet for an evil Warlord. Hoult left a huge impression on me after Warm Bodies and I just hope folks realize how talented this kid truly is after Fury Road – he damn near steals every scene he’s in, bringing an infectious energy to the role.
I’d also be remiss if I didn’t briefly mention Keays-Byrne’s larger-than-life performance as Immortan Joe. He does an amazing job of commanding the screen every time we’re greeted with his piercing eyes. The Mad Max series has always been known for its incredible villains (back in 1979, Keays-Byrne’s original Toecutter set the tone for all those that would follow), and Joe is certainly worthy to join the ranks of the other maniacal Warlords who have preceded him. I mean, he brings a guitar-wielding gimp to all his battles, so you pretty much know Immortan Joe isn’t the kind of guy who likes to f*** around when it comes to getting back what belongs to him.
If you’ve seen any of the Fury Road trailers then you should realize that calling Miller’s latest a visual triumph isn’t a hyperbolic statement at all; the visionary helmer gives us a post-apocalyptic future that pops with color and texture (something most filmmakers these days seem to do the opposite of). The desert landscape is captured by the brilliant camera work from veteran cinematographer John Seale, who came out of retirement to lens Fury Road at the request of Miller. Seale’s commitment is evident throughout – some of his camera work is mind-blowing to the point where I can’t begin to imagine how he was able to capture the balls-out action. He also does an impeccable job of effectively bringing a grandiose sense of scope to Miller’s cinematic vision.
Even though it’s been 30 years since he last directed a live-action film of this magnitude, Miller shows no signs of rust with Mad Max: Fury Road and somehow manages to once again redefine modern action cinema with his masterful blending of powerfully bold visuals and a uniquely compelling, character-driven plot (no pun intended). With Miller’s unwillingness to take his foot off the gas, the story never lags and the result is a summer blockbuster that’s not only insanely entertaining, but also utterly fearless. Fury Road incredibly reestablishes both the character of Max and the gritty futuristic world he is left to survive in. One can only hope this is just the beginning of Hardy’s iteration of Max (and getting more screen time with Furiosa would be pretty awesome as well).
For anyone who grew up watching The Road Warrior an unhealthy amount of times (much like I did), Mad Max: Fury Road absolutely is the sequel you’ve been waiting for all these years.
Movie Score: 5/5