In 1980 as I sat watching the original Mad Max film (starring the then unknown, Mel Gibson), I never could have imagined that thirty-five years later I’d be seeing a fourth installment of this franchise – now with a different star in the same role – and that it would be one of the most incredible cinematic experiences ever put to film.
Mad Max became The Road Warrior (AKA Mad Max 2) in 1981, and the story of Max Rockatansky transitioned into one of the first (and coolest) post-apocalyptic films. The unique vision of the Australian wasteland, as written and directed by George Miller, blew audiences’ minds and has inspired dozens of similar movies.
With 1985’s Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, Max went from B-movie to BIG-movie, and now, three long decades since his last appearance, Rockatansky is back in the biggest way imaginable, with Mad Max: Fury Road. You are going to wish your theater had installed seat-belts.
Early on, Max (now played by Tom Hardy) is captured and held prisoner by the evil warlord and cult king, Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne – whom you might remember as the original Mad Max villain, Toecutter).
While on a fuel run, an Immortan Joe commander, Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron), makes an unexpected detour across the wasteland with Joe’s five wives in tow, who she has smuggled on board her tanker in order to help them escape to the safety of the mythical “green place.”
The chase is on as Joe’s War Boys pursue Furiosa across the apocalyptic desert. The soldiers will stop at nothing and are perfectly willing to sacrifice themselves for their king, in hope of gaining entrance into Valhalla. Poor Max is tied to the front of War Boy Nux’s (Nicholas Hoult) car like a human hood ornament and we are given a front seat to the insane vehicular mayhem that ensues; including a trip inside a nuclear haboob.
There is more to this movie than meets the eye, the War Boys can easily be symbolic stand-ins for modern day terrorist factions, and the film certainly has some feministic subtext that has already faux fired-up some crazy men’s rights groups, but the story is basically an excuse for one long and exciting car chase, in the craziest of settings, with some of the wildest vehicles and wackiest characters ever created.
For instance, if you loved the “Ride of the Valkyries” sequence from Apocalypse Now, you are going to be giggling uncontrollably as Fury Road’s The Doof Warrior (Australian musician iOTA) grinds out Immortan Joe’s battle theme (composed by Junkie XL) while traveling at 80+ MPH, suspended by a bungee cord, atop a giant vehicle stacked with drums and speakers. Words could never describe how awesome this awesome single character is, and there are dozens of them in this movie (with fun, colorful names like Rictus Erectus, Toast the Knowing and Corpus Colossus).
The first third of this movie is packed with non-stop, edge-of-your-seat action, and you’ll welcome the first break so that you can catch your breath – but do it quick. Beyond the incredible cinematography by John Seale and the film’s astonishing stunts and action, the Mad Max: Fury Road universe has thousands of intricate details that will continue to amaze you throughout multiple viewings. I honestly can’t conceive how it was possible for George Miller to pack so much good stuff into this endlessly entertaining film.
If I had one minor complaint about this fantastic movie it would be that many of the stunts seem slightly sped-up or in fast motion. In this modern age of movie-making I think these scenes could have been smoothed out and made to look better, but as most of the effects are done for real (not CGI), I’m giving Miller a pass on this. Besides, this aesthetic fits in better with the other films and Mad Max’s drive-in roots, and I’m sure that’s the way Miller intended it to look.
If I had two complaints, the second one would be that I missed Mel Gibson. Hardy does a good job filling the shoes of our long-suffering post-apocalyptic hero, and there is a resemblance between the two actors, but despite Mel’s personal problems I would have still liked to seen him reprise his star-making role.
It’s hard to say that this is the best movie so far this year (Avengers: Age of Ultron was pretty darn good), but it is definitely at the top of the list. Reportedly George Miller is on board with making two more Mad Max films if Fury Road is successful, so I doubt we’ve seen the last of Rockatansky. Let’s just hope the next one doesn’t take another 30 years. Grade: 9/10