Has it really been 30 years since Mel Gibson last drove across George Miller’s dystopian desert wasteland in “Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome”? My how time flies. Between 1979 and 1985 visionary filmmaker Miller gave us three films: the intriguing but lethargic “Mad Max”, the fabulous cult classic “The Road Warrior”, and the fun but commercial “Beyond Thunderdome”. While the second film was the real standout, I have always had a natural soft spot for the entire franchise. So of course I would be enthusiastic when it was announced that a fourth installment was finally seeing the light of day.
For years Miller has toyed with the idea of bringing Max back to the big screen but there were always obstacles that hindered him. Mel Gibson was set to reprise his role and at several points the project seemed good to go. Several years have passed, Tom Hardy replaces the aged Gibson, and “Fury Road” is a reality. What’s truly amazing is that this is the wildest, craziest, and most visually arresting installment yet and all from the mind of its now 70-year old creator.
The first three films had a combined budget of less than $20 million. For “Fury Road” Miller was given $150 million and you will instantly see the benefits. The visuals are an essential component to this film. This is an unapologetic, full-throttle thrill ride, and a textbook lesson on how to make an action movie. Make no mistake, the action in “Fury Road” is intense and relentless. The vehicular carnage is unlike anything most people have seen before. The story is a bit lightweight and clearly intended to serve the plot’s madness. This all may be enough to scare away some people. For me, it was the film’s unflinching, fuel-injected focus that made it the best movie experience I’ve had this year so far.
The film opens with a gruff Hardy saying “My name is Max. My world is fire and blood”. His world is an energy-starved, post-apocalyptic desert wasteland where he is haunted by his past and driven only by survival. Within the first few minutes, the nomadic Max is captured by the army of a savage and wickedly grotesque tyrant named Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne). Max’s capture leads him to cross paths with Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) who attempts to smuggle Joe’s five enslaved childbearing wives to safety. This invokes the wrath of the maniacal leader who brings his entire army after them. And guess what, Max is caught right in the middle.
I can’t think of a more fitting actor to take on the role of Mad Max than Tom Hardy. His dialogue is sparse and he mainly tells his story through grunts, expressions, and outright physicality. And he does it all to sheer perfection. It’s a very unorthodox role. He’s not asked to say much and he spends a good third of the movie with his face partially obscured by a metal contraption. But he masterfully sells us this tough, surly, and untrusting Max character. But the real surprise was watching Charlize Theron match his toughness punch for punch and bullet for bullet. She is so good here.
But of course the true star and the main attraction is George Miller and his insanely energetic action and presentation. “Fury Road” is a visual delight – a movie filled with “wow” moments, unbelievable stunts, and mind-blowing vehicle action sequences. Miller shoots his action with a chaotic precision and cinematic fluidity. Many modern action directors should take notes. But equally impressive are the stunning amount of practical effects used. When mixed with the top-notch CGI, it makes this one amazing looking film. And going along with the stellar visuals is Junkie XL’s vibrant and invigorating score.
Some of us had given up on Mad Max ever returning to the big screen. After 30 years it was a reasonable conclusion. But after seeing “Fury Road” I can boldly say it was worth the wait. George Miller has given us an installment that stands right there with (and probably an inch or two above) his phenomenal “The Road Warrior”. This is pure action cinema – a beautiful mixture of old-school style and modern movie technology. And after this taste of Miller’s vision, I can only hope he has more Mad Max movies plan for the future.
VERDICT – 5 STARS