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Digesting the lowest rung of pop culture so you don't have to!
I don’t particularly care for the first or third Mad Max films. I recognize the cultural importance of the first film, and the third has become known for its “Two men enter, one man leaves” catchphrase which has been parodied a million times throughout pop culture. But I don’t have any kind of nostalgia for either of them. The first is a cult classic and the third was a minor Hollywood hit, but the second film, known here as The Road Warrior and internationally as Mad Max 2, is my pick for the second best action flick of the 80s (just narrowing out Aliens and behind Die Hard, the greatest film of the 1980s).
I bring all this up because I was hoping that Fury Road, the fourth in the long running film series and the first in nearly 30 years, would end up more like The Road Warrior and less like a Tina Turner vehicle. I avoided almost all marketing for Fury Road, choosing to not watch trailers, and even leaving the theater for a moment when they popped up. When commercials aired for the film on Hulu, I would instinctively mute them and look away. I went into this thing without seeing a single trailer and only have glimpsed the big bad, Immortan Joe, a single time. This was for the best, because ultimately Fury Road is an amazing action movie and a more than worthy sequel to a series that gave us The Road Warrior.
Director George Miller’s film will suffer the inevitable backlash as it has already received nearly unanimous praise. I’ve seen people dub it the savior of the action film. I’m not going to go this far (action movies have been great lately – see: The Fast and Furious franchise, John Wick, and 2013’s The Wolverine), but holy crap Fury Road is amazing. From the amazing stunt and practical effects work to the deft direction and brilliant shot composition to the outlandish vehicle and character design, there’s not much out there like Fury Road except for Fury Road. It’s a tremendous triumph of cinema, and an easy candidate for one of the year’s best films period, action or otherwise.
Tom Hardy steps into the role of Mad Max (last occupied by Mel Gibson), and Hardy is really damn good as Max. He’s off-kilter, unhinged, and opportunistic after years of living in the wasteland. When he’s captured by Immortan Joe’s (Hugh Keays-Byrne) War Boys, however, he becomes a blood bag, essentially spare parts for one of the young soldiers in Joe’s army. Max subversively spends the first half-hour of the movie in captivity, while the story unfolds. One of Joe’s lieutenants, the charismatic Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron in what should be an Oscar nominated role), decides to go rogue, intending to free a cadre of young brides Immortan Joe has set aside for his own personal breeding purposes. This sets in motion a chain of events leading to Max becoming free and ultimately deciding to help Furiosa on her journey.
The film from there on in is essentially a two-hour chase through the desert wasteland, as Joe gathers his allies and heads out with deadly intent to murder Furiosa and return what he sees as his property. Complicating matters are Spendid (Rosie Huntington-Whitely), one of Joe’s brides – who is nine months pregnant, and Nux (Nicholas Hoult), a seemingly bulletproof War Boy who just won’t go away. Throughout the chase, Max and crew face off against motorcycle-riding bandits, porcupine-esque vehicular combat, a gentleman named The Bullet Farmer, and a band of tough-as-nails old women who remember what paradise was like before the expansion of the wasteland – all the while being pursued by Immortan Joe and his lieutenants.
Much has been written online about Fury Road’s amazing practical effects, gender subversions, intense imagery and violence, memorable characters, and deft direction. All these are true. This film is a modern classic featuring some of the best car combat captured on film. It’s also something of a relief that the film has found its audience, almost through sheer source of will. Even though the 150 million dollar production isn’t doing Avengers-type numbers (hey, what is?), the film is a pretty big hit domestically and worldwide. This speaks volumes to the film’s quality, as word of mouth has been overwhelmingly positive.
I imagine I have not touched on any new ground writing about this movie, and that’s fine with me. This is the type of production where, upon seeing the final product, you immediately go out and tell your friends about it. I’ve mentioned how great the film is to people would never go see a movie titled Mad Max: Fury Road, and not only did they see it – they also loved it. It’s been quite a while since something of this level of quality so unexpectedly became foisted upon us. If you are still on the fence, even just a little bit, about this film, please go out and check it out. It’s a pretty amazing, pretty special product.