It's been 30 years since the last Mad Max movie and, man, it was worth the wait. Mad Max: Fury Road is a dazzling, intense action film and so much more. Digital effects are utilized here, but much of this is real, hair-raising stunt work. This is an absolute marvel of visual storytelling. With sparse dialog and lots of action this chase picture could easily have been a silent movie. The characters don't have to verbally explain who they are because we understand them through their actions and reactions. On top of that, Fury Road carries a strong statement of female empowerment. I can't recall an action picture with so many prominent and vivid female characters. This really is a modern masterpiece.
This is the fourth Mad Max movie, but it is not really a sequel. Imagine an alternate universe where there are slight differences. The original films – Mad Max (1979) The Road Warrior aka Mad Max 2 (1981) and Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome (1985) – stand as a trilogy and Fury Road is starting anew.
Here, former Australian policeman Max Rockatansky (Tom Hardy), is a lone warrior who wanders a post-apocalyptic wasteland which is crawling with hot rod driving scavengers. Max is captured and imprisoned in the massive compound ruled by the ruthless Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne, who also played the murderous Toecutter in the original Mad Max), who regularly sends out his underlings on missions to get fuel. However, on this particular mission, Joe's best driver, Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron), has other plans – she is helping Joe's harem of wives, or his “breeders” escape from this mad ruler. When Joe realizes this, he collects his devoted “war boys” and their souped up vehicles and a wild desert chase ensues to bring the women back. Max ends up strapped to a vehicle as a “blood bag”, transfusing blood to a sickly “war boy,” Nux (Nicholas Hoult), who desperately wants to be a part of the chase. Eventually, Max gets loose and forms an alliance with Furiosa.
Hardy is a perfect fit for Max, the iconic role originated by Mel Gibson, but make no mistake, this is Charlize Theron's movie. She is a rough and tough bad-ass and sexy as hell with that buzz cut and mechanical arm! And this is a total female empowerment movie if there ever was one. Furiosa is not the only tough woman in this movie. The harem of wives (Riley Keough, Zoë Kravitz and Rosie Huntington-Whiteley among them) are not just ornamental. They are clever, hold their own, and turn out to be interesting characters. Then, we get this awesome biker gang of older women later in the film. They are the coolest!
The music score by Tom Holkenborg aka Junkie XL is also worth mentioning. Like the late Brian May's score to The Road Warrior, the music is ferocious in the action scenes but then turns melancholy and even gentle in the movie's philosophical moments.
George Miller is at the helm of Fury Road and he has directed all the Mad Max movies (Although Thunderdome was co-directed by George Ogilvie). This 70-year-old director puts many of the younger action directors working today to shame. The action here is tremendous and exciting. Everything is constantly moving, but Miller shows clearly what is going on. Sure, there are some quick cuts where you are not quite sure what you saw, but you understand what's happening.
Miller and his co-writers, Brendan McCarthy and Nico Lathouris, have created some astounding set pieces, like the chase through a thunderous sand storm, and the scenes in the haunting crow infested bog. They also have created a detailed culture here, like steering wheels are the equivalent of swords – lovingly decorated and seen as a valued possession.
I've seen Mad Max: Fury Road twice and I can't wait to see it again. And I doubt that I will see a better film this year.