It’s not often that something is labelled a classic as soon as it comes out. Films like Citizen Kane and The Shawshank Redemption took years of re-evaluation and rabid praise in order to become the hallmarks of the art form they are today. It takes a while normally. Here, I feel completely comfortable saying that Mad Max: Fury Road is not only the best film of the series, but one of the greatest action films ever made.
That kind of statement requires expansion, of course, but while I would normally drag this out until the third-or-so paragraph to say my major opinion on the film, here it needs to be said now. This review will simply be an explanation of why Fury Road is in the highest echelon of action films.
Replacing Mel Gibson as the titular Max is Tom Hardy, who we see at the beginning being captured and used as a ˜blood bag’ by a tyrannical overload named King Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne). After the King’s second-in-command, Furiosa (Charlize Theron) helps his ˜wives’ escape from his abusive captivity, an all-out assault is launched to find her. After Max escapes, he ends up helping Furiosa cross the desert to find the paradise she calls ˜the green place’.
There are narrative similarities with the second instalment of the series, The Road Warrior, involving the post-apocalyptic city (in this case The Citadel), the search for a utopia, and Immortan Joe even resembles Lord Humungous, albeit far more threatening. However, Fury Road is not simply a re-tread of The Road Warrior, rather a stylistic and thematic update designed to reintroduce Max and his world into the 21st century, and it does this spectacularly well.
Tom Hardy is, first of all, a fantastic replacement for Mel Gibson. Rewatching the first two Mad Max films, Gibson was always slightly wooden (especially in the first one), and Hardy is simply a better actor overall than Gibson. He has more stature, more roughness, more charisma, and simply more depth. This is in part helped by the writing, which is full of a surprising amount of weight and emotion. The characterisation is top-notch, giving every character a proper, fleshed out arc and really making us care about the heart-breakingly tragic and traumatic world these people live in. This isn’t fun and games and swashbuckling adventure. This is brutal, real, and intense as hell.
More insight is given into Max’s obvious PTSD, with his surreal visions perfectly complimented by George Miller’s masterful direction and John Seale’s gorgeous cinematography. Really, despite Max’s name being the title and all, Fury Road is essentially an ensemble piece, giving equal weight to all the major players in the story. Without a doubt the most interesting character of all is Nux, played by Nicholas Hoult, the half-life war-boy that has the most tragic and developed storyline of them all.
Aesthetically the film is breath-taking. The production design team need every award possible given to them, as the level of detail and care that’s gone into the world-building and overall look of the film is simply mind-boggling. Equally insane is the action itself. An action film must have action, of course, and the set-pieces here knock the socks of any recent action film I can certainly think of.
George Miller said his aim was to make a ˜two hour car chase’, but the result is far more exciting and way less tedious than that description makes it sound. The action is more varied than even The Road Warrior, with hand-to-hand, gun play, and good old fashioned explosions making their way in. what makes all of this fit together is the perfect marriage of the direction, cinematography, and editing.
All Hollywood conventions of making music video style kinetic cutting the norm in action films, meaning you can’t see half the fighting because the cuts are too quick (see the last two Taken films for an example of that). The editing is so perfectly done it makes you completely aware of where everyone is and how all the space fits together. Even while all the complex and fast-paced action is happened, you never lose track of where everyone is.
The fact is, Fury Road is not simply a ˜two hour car chase’. It’s deeper than that. It’s a film about the loss of humanity, and especially relevant is the loss of femininity. Furiosa and the women she is saving are all trying to regain control of their natures that have been suppressed, either in the way of only being used for breeding, or having to lose all feminine traits for fear of having the same fate. Furiosa’s androgynous appearance is no accident, it’s symbolic of her having to change everything she is to play along until the time comes that she can get out. And since I don’t want to spoil, I won’t go in to it too much, but the revelation of what ˜the green place’ is makes this subtle theme into the main thematic push of the film.
If there’s a better action film in 2015, then 2015 will be a historic year for action films. All other action-centric movies from this year (John Wick, Age of Ultron, Big Game, Fast & Furious 7, Kingsman) all seem to shrivel away when faced up against a film that not only has breath-taking action (that isn’t CGI and is all actually really happening) but deep thematic heft that raises it above its dubious ˜two hour car chase’ description. This is the best film of the year so far, and it’s not one to miss.