The problem with most action movies is there’s an imaginary line that most filmmakers won’t dare cross as they’re too worried — in some cases rightfully so — that the audience won’t buy the movie if it goes beyond that mark.
With his latest, ‘Mad Max: Fury Road,’ George Miller considers the line then proceeds to laugh, shoot it, drop a few grenades and missiles at it before unleashing a flamethrowing guitarist to make sure the line is obliterated. Miller’s message is clear: if you need an action film with some deep, intricate plot to make the crazy death-defying sequences work for you, ‘Fury Road’ is definitely not your kind movie. But if you’re up for the ride you’ll be rewarded with the most senses- and (common) sense-shattering action spectacle in decades.
There’s nothing too insane or completely outrageous for Miller, but 30 minutes in, your last bit of resistance and trying to make sense out of certain plot points and why you can’t make out all the dialogue will have faded and you’ll be grinning or outright laughing at the onscreen carnage.
Miller likely didn’t have a lot of sleepless nights coming up with the plot. Max (Tom Hardy) reluctantly aids Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) as she tries to smuggle the wives/breeders (including Rosie Huntington-Whiteley and Zoe Kravtitz) from the clutches of the twisted Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne) and get them safely to her hometown. Along the way, they pick up Nux (Nicholas Hoult), one of Joe’s followers who starts doubting his leader’s vision after encountering the wives. Joe will stop at nothing to get them back setting up a crazed action-packed chase through the desert wastelands.
Post apocalyptic takes on the world are borderline cliche now, but Miller makes his take wholly original and does it old school by keeping CGI to a minimum. Technology makes film making easier, but Miller’s throwback approach is so refreshing to show epic blockbusters can be just as massive and stunning on the big screen without the benefit of computer assistance.
Despite the carnage, Miller keeps the action easy to follow regardless of how many actors are flying around on screen. ‘Fury Road’ is part action film, part circus, part most bizarre rock concert ever. There’s never an explanation as to why Joe needs a bass guitarist swinging in front of a massive speaker wall while drummers bang on the other side of their ride, but it works. The same could be true for everything other aspect of the film.
Although there’s a lot of action, Miller never lets the violence get too gratuitous instead leaving characters’ fates to the audiences’ imagination. There are so many directors who could take this film and make a goofy, guilty pleasure, but Miller displays impeccable control of all facets to create a modern day pure action masterpiece.
Cinematographer John Seale paints a beautiful and visual stunning end of the world backdrop. The film lacks the expected bleak, washed out look of the genre and the use of vibrant colors further makes it stand out. Jenny Beavan’s costume designs are extraordinary giving the characters a very distinct and at times terrifying look.
Hardy has the presence to be a more self aware and snarky modern take on the character Mel Gibson made famous, but he dials it down considerably. Max isn’t a leader or even a hero. He’s a survivor. Were Hardy to tap into more of his charisma, it would have clashed with what makes the character work even in an era where all our heroes need to toss out some wisecracks and treat everything like a joke.
The biggest trick of the movie though is how effectively Miller and co-screenwriters Brendan McCarthy and Nick Lathouris weave Max in to Furiosa’s action movie. Sure the title would give the impression this is all about Max’s latest adventure, but while he may get title billing, but he’s playing the Kobe Bryant to Furiosa’s Shaq — a vital contributor, but this mission would have gone on with or without Max’s involvement. It’s a brilliant strategy and it works perfectly thanks to Hardy and Theron getting they’re not competing for the big line or showcase scene.
Furiosa quickly earns her spot on the list of tail-kicking females like Ripley and Sarah Conner by virtue of not being some highly trained warrior like Black Widow or ‘Kill Bill’s’ The Bride, but just for being a strong character who just so happens to be a woman. She’s every bit Max’s equal, but unlike so many well-meaning yet forced modern stories, Furiosa handles her business without emasculating Max, and she doesn’t have to validate herself to anyone so the audience never looks at her as less than Max and that’s with a prosthetic left arm.
A film in 2015 that stick to the standard action formula of a flawed lead character full of angst helping some woman fight back against her tormentors would likely be fun and a big hit, but by going against the norm and embracing every bit of chaos in this mad world, Miller creates a new king of the road that’s going to be hard for any upcoming blockbuster in 2015 and beyond to top.