Bringing back old franchises seems to be the new big thing in Hollywood. This summer alone we will see the return of the Jurassic Park and Terminator franchises. With Mad Max: Fury Road, (the fourth installment in the Mad Max series), the original trilogy’s director George Miller went all out to deliver an action packed and incredibly satisfying return to the post-apocalyptic franchise, offering something for those who are fans of the original films (like me) as well as newcomers.
Set sometime after the events of Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior, the film picks up with “Mad” Max Rockatansky (Tom Hardy) still haunted by the death of his wife and children and wandering through the post apocalyptic wasteland of Australia. An empty husk of his former self, Max is captured by a local tribe led by the evil Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne) and is used as a living blood bag to keep one of his “War Boys” named Nux (Nicholas Hoult) alive. Things take a turn when one of Joe’s lieutenants, Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron), frees Joe’s harem of wives who are primarily used for breeding and intends to bring them to a rumored safe zone called the “Green Place”. Furious, Joe sends his War Boys (Including Nux and Max) after them. What follows is an epic road battle as Max and Furiosa try desperately to find this haven, all while being pursued by the full force of Immortan Joe’s army.
Hope and redemption are the two primary themes here, with each character seeking one or the other. It reminds you that even at the end of the world, with death and misery a common part of life, a better day still lies on the horizon. In a lot of ways, each and every character is broken and looking for something they have lost, be it freedom, acceptance or family. There really is only one character who isn’t chasing something and that’s Max, who’s desperately trying to get rid of something: Guilt. Although far from being Tom Hardy’s best performance, he does perfectly capture Max’s severely fractured and haunted state of being. Hardy has very little dialogue, yet when he does speak, you can hear the pain and torment that Max is clearly going through. Unfortunately, Hardy fails to surpass the charisma and gravitas that Mel Gibson brought to the role in the original trilogy. At the film’s start Max gets visions of his little girl crying for help, a psychological manifestation of all the people he failed to save. That plot device is mostly abandoned for the rest of the film, which is a shame because it added a lot of complexity to the character.
I should mention that even though the movie is called Mad Max, Max is far from being the most important or even interesting character. That honor goes to Theron’s Imperator Furiosa whose intensity and badass driving skills leave you questioning whether or not the movie should be called Mad Furiosa instead. In fact, Max’s presence isn’t really required, most of the time he’s just a passenger offering occasional support to Furiosa and the girls. Nicholas Hoult’s Nux is also a delight to watch. In the beginning, you think he’s just going to be an average crazy henchman, but his character takes an unexpected turn that made me sympathize with him in a way I haven’t for a villain in quite some time. He quickly becomes the emotional center of the film for me and is a sad product of a dying world. It’s through his character that you begin to understand why someone would follow a psychopath like Immortan Joe. Except for those two characters, there is very little actual character development. Immortan Joe and his followers are pretty much just fodder for destruction and by the end of the film I still couldn’t differentiate the girls Furiosa was helping. The only thing that separates them is their hair color and the fact that one of them gets a romantic interest (I’m not going to spoil who that is).
But let’s get down to the main reason this movie is so damn good: The stunts. I find it hilarious that Furious 7 is still in theaters, yet here comes Mad Max: Fury Road, a film that outdoes Furious 7’s stunts on almost every level. What makes Fury Road so special and differentiates it from all other modern action films is that almost all the stunts and action scenes are practical, with very little CGI or computer effects. The film even hired Cirque Du Soleil performers and Olympic athletes as stuntmen to ensure that everything looks as authentic as possible. It paid off big time as we see up close people jumping from car to car and doing acrobatics on moving vehicles. The movie is essentially one long car chase, with brief pit stops to move the plot and develop the characters (at least those who do get developed). It’s a ballet of destruction, with every explosion, collision and crash adding to the choreography. Junkie XL’s frantic score adds to the movie’s heightened intensity, with heavy drums and electric guitar riffs at the center of the bombastic symphony. The film is also visually gorgeous in every aspect. Miller somehow managed to make a barren desert look like a beautiful vista and the various designs for all the vehicles and characters are all creative and insane, fitting in perfectly in the Mad Max franchise. Immortan Joe’s son is amongst the coolest looking, he’s a giant muscle bound hulk wielding a gatling gun. And all the War Boys are pale sickly looking scavengers that resemble Gollum from The Lord of The Rings.
There are a couple of things that prevent Fury Road from being a perfect action movie, though they are minor. There’s just so much action and stunts going on that I was a little confused at times on what character was doing what. That wasn’t helped by the fact that there are way too many cuts and edits which made the action a little too confusing. I also could have done with just a little more actual story, which I realise is not what the movie is trying to be, however there was potential to expand on what’s there and let us know a little more about the world and characters. Also, the 3D adds absolutely nothing to the experience. Had I the choice, I would have opted for the non 3D version because all it did was make the movie look darker, but that’s not the movie’s fault.
I’m not going to tell you that Fury Road is anything other than a big action movie with very little plot and almost no character development, because that’s exactly what it is. But you know what? It was one of the most fun movie experiences I have had in the theaters in a while, and with a movie like this that’s really all that matters. What little character development and thematic weight that is there at least made me care about who lived or died, and the stunts and practical effects were a veritable feast for the eyes. Fury Road combines the best elements of all the previous Mad Max movies and is far better than the mediocre third installment, Beyond Thunderdome. I can’t wait to see what George Miller has planned next for this franchise and, considering the next installment is being tentatively called Mad Max: Furiosa, to see how these characters and the setting they inhabit evolve. This one’s a can’t miss for fans of the franchise and action lovers in general.
Final Grade: 8.5/10