When anyone talks about post-apocalyptic movies, the first names people mention aren’t things like the film version of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. No, it’s six simple words: Mad Max. Decades after Mel Gibson went toe to toe with Tina Turner in Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome, we finally have a new installment of the franchise…but Mad Max: Fury Road ain’t your daddy’s Mad Max.
Returning from early films are such mainstays as action packed chase sequences, bizarre cars assembled from a hodgepodge of parts, and bad guys who would make the most villainous people alive today look at them in askance and say, “Dude! You need to chill.” However, this time around, Max isn’t playing solo.
The role of Max is taken by British actor Tom Hardy, perhaps best known for portraying Bane in Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Rises. Hardy takes on the proto-typical “strong, silent type” with his own trademark intensity that fits the iconic character beautifully. Hardy doesn’t try to recreate Gibson’s Max, instead opting to make it his own. And succeeding.
Hardy’s version of Max finds himself teamed up with powerhouse actress Charlize Theron who plays Furiosa, a commander for a warlord who decides to break free and make a run for home, and taking her former bosses slave-wives along for the ride. Theron’s performance is typical Theron, which means she portrays a one-armed bad ass in a post-apocalyptic wasteland as if she were born for the role. Just like everything else she does.
Together, they take a massive vehicle called a “war rig” that looks like the lovechild of a hotrod from American Graffiti and a semi from Smokey and the Bandit. With guns. Lots of them. So many guns. It’s beautiful to behold.
Joining them is Nicholas Hoult, who previously did two turns as Hank McCoy in the X-Men films taking place in the past. He plays Nux, one of the fanatical “War Boys” who follow Immortan Joe (played by Hugh Keays-Byrne, notable for playing Toe-Cutter in the original Mad Max) as he tries to retrieve “his” women.
Where Fury Road diverges from significantly from earlier films is that while Max is the title character, he’s paired off against an equal in Furiosa who demands her share of screen time as well. This has lead some folks to argue that Max is a secondary character, though that is far from the truth. Instead, Fury Road has two protagonists, one male and one female, both incredibly capable.
Some concern has been made regarding at least one advisor to the film, leading some to argue that the movie is really nothing more than feminist propaganda. Having actually seen it, and being someone who isn’t really a fan of modern feminism, I watched carefully to see what could be picked up along that front.
While all of the antagonists are men, and most of the good guys are women, there is no sexual politics at work other than that’s just how the story shook out. Furiosa and the now freed slaves happen to be female, but they’re not portrayed as superior to the males following them. In fact, the characters’ initial meeting with Max is, well, let’s just call it “eventful”, with Max being seriously handicapped by circumstance yet still being more than a match for the ladies.
Meanwhile, most of the women are portrayed as strong and capable, while both Max and Nux show themselves to be as well. Rather than involve in any gender bashing, despite some of the sensitive themes throughout the film, Fury Rode delivers something far more important than burning political and social issues.
It brings the entertainment.
Crammed into the barren landscape is scene after scene of three dimensional action, carefully crafted to both keep the viewer a part of what’s going on while also conveying the frenetic pace of the scene. The war rig, rather than just a vehicle, quickly becomes a roaming set in which Hardy and Theron perform their heroics while War Boys do everything they can to take them out, adding a level of believability that could otherwise be lacking.
That’s not to say that the film is perfect. It’s not. While previous movies were notable for their vehicles — a key part to the Mad Max brand, arguably as important as Max himself — this time around the block the vehicles feel forced, as if production designer Colin Gibson sought to make vehicles unusual just for the sake of unusual, rather than thinking logically about why those vehicles would be unusual. Not on all of the cars, mind you, but just enough that it left me scratching my head.
Also, if you’re wanting deep character development, or philosophical discussions about the plight of anything, forget it. This isn’t the movie for you, which is fine because I suspect you never saw the three previous films either. Instead, Mad Max: Fury Road is exactly what it’s supposed to be: A thrill-a-minute ride through the apocalypse with real heroes rather than whiny crybabies who rail about how unfair life is.
Watch it, but realize that you’re not going to see the typical Mad Max movie.