Mad Max: Fury Road doesn’t exactly feel like a narrative feature film. There are no character arcs to speak of. The plot is about as barebones as can be: Get from point A to point B, and don’t die. Dialogue is minimal. Motivations are obvious and unchanging and largely unexplored, which isn’t a problem given the production’s interest in the basest of instincts—the eternal social struggle between freedom and slavery.
Rather, Mad Max: Fury Road feels like an extended special effects show, a two-hour-long "sizzle reel" designed to get you hyped for something bigger and more explosive. Though anything "bigger and more explosive" might have rather dire consequences for the planet: Action flicks don’t get any bigger or more explosive than Mad Max: Fury Road.
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We open with the titular mad man, played by Tom Hardy, staring out over a ledge. Images of his dead family flash through his mind. They have been reduced to ghosts haunting him for his failure to protect them after the world fell. The planet has been rendered one huge desert, an endless expanse of wind-blown sand swirling about the plains. Survival is the only thing that matters now—and surviving means staying on the move, constantly running from scavengers and brigands.
Captured after attempting to flee one such band of raiders, Max is taken to a citadel held by Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne) and his sons, "war boys" whose bodies are painted white and who live only to die for their father. Caged, branded, and tattooed with his blood type, things are looking bad for Max until Joe realizes that Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) has absconded with five of the beauties he keeps locked up for breeding.
In order to bring Furiosa back—no mean feat, given that she’s driving a "war rig," a sort of semi on steroids that is armed to the death—Joe sends his war boys after her. One of the war boys, Nux, is getting a blood transfusion from Max but desperately wants to go on the raid. So he chains his blood bag Max to the front of the car and takes off after Furiosa.
For a movie titled "Mad Max," it feels like Max is barely in it. Oh, he’s in it. He’s in almost every scene. But he’s very frequently not doing a great deal: For the first third or so of the flick he’s wearing a mask and strapped to the front of a car, and I would be surprised if the number of words he utters tops 300. Granted, Mel Gibson’s Max wasn’t exactly loquacious. But Hardy’s is almost mute.
Indeed, it occasionally feels as though the movie should be titled Imperator Furiosa, ft. Max Rockatansky. Not that there’s anything wrong with that: Theron’s a fantastic actress and does "intense anger" about as well as anyone working today. But this movie is her story, not Max’s. It’s about her quest to save five women from sex slavery and, in the course of doing so, rediscover the land from which she had been stolen almost 20 years before.
Director George Miller makes excellent use of non-traditional actors in Fury Road. The five aforementioned beauties are played by a veritable rainbow of models: the straw-blonde Rosie Huntington-Whiteley; the white-haired Abbey Lee; the redheaded Riley Keough; the brunette Courtney Eaton; and the raven-haired Zoe Kravitz (Kravitz and Keough are the only members of the quintet with more than a handful of IMDB credits). On the male side of the ledger you have Nathan Jones, an enormous Australian strongman who suffered a spiral fracture whilst arm-wrestling the equally enormous Magnus Samuelsson.
Miller employs these folks for a reason: They look cool. A coterie of leggy models wearing wispy fragments of clothing in the desert is a striking image, just as there’s something striking about a man-mountain, deltoids bulging, hoisting the engine of a car above his head even as the vehicle is doing 80 miles per hour on the desert flats.
Miller’s commitment to things that look cool cannot be overstated. Mad Max Fury Road is a never-ending stream of such things: of particular note is the mobilized metal music machine that accompanies the raiding party. It’s the most ridiculously awesome sight in a movie filled with ridiculously awesome sights: A sextet of giant drums on one side banging out a beat; a guitarist whose ax doubles as a flame-thrower bungee-corded in to the other side of the vehicle. The sound of shredding is an ominous presence on the horizon, signaling an onslaught of unstoppable doom.
If you’re into watching a bunch of things that look cool killing each other for two hours on the big screen—and really, who isn’t into that?—then Fury Road will be to your liking. And if you’re not? Well, there’s always Pitch Perfect 2.
One final note: Please don’t see this picture in 3D. The director himself prefers two dimensions. If you pay extra money to see this movie in 3D, you will not only deserve the eye-ache that you get, but you’ll also be rewarding an evil, immoral corporation that is trying to separate you from your money by forcing you to watch something you don’t want.