Synopsis: In a stark desert landscape where humanity is broken, two rebels just might be able to restore order: Max, a man of action and of few words, and Furiosa, a woman of action who is looking to make it back to her childhood homeland. (From IMDb)
Review: Thirty-six years after the original Mel Gibson helmed film debuted, the new Mad Max has debuted and the future is still bleak and resource scarce. When Mad Max first came out in 1979, he was a youthful cop trying to take revenge for the murder of his wife and child. However the earlier Mad Max films have not held up well, they were definitely produced on a shoe string budget that were held together by the charismatic presence of Mel Gibson. Fury Road has a significantly larger budget and more impressive visuals. The film is one of the few times that a long delayed sequel blows its predecessor out of the water. Though it does not really seem to be a sequel in the traditional sense. Max is still a former cop and his family died and that is about the only thing the character has in common with the previous iteration. As with all the other Mad Max films, Fury Road is directed by George Miller and comes across as a fast paced feverish nightmare.
Fury Road is set in a post-apocalyptic future where whoever controls the water and gasoline is king. The king of the mountain is Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne), an inbred human monster who views his citizens as an exploitable resource. He wears molded transparent armor and wears a mask that is decorated with rotting horse teeth. He is fed oxygen through a bellows that wheezes up and down on his neck. So charming. Women are either used to pump out breast milk, the purpose of which is never explained, or the young nubile ones are set aside to be Joe’s prized breeders. Men like Max are used as breathing bloodbags to help cure ill war boys. In this world there are no cities and civilization has collapsed. The landscape and the remaining humans are dying of thirst and the remaining water is severely rationed. Max is captured and placed in indentured servitude, of a sort, at the Citadel and is strapped to the front of a car being driven by a maniac. Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) drives a war rig, an 18 Wheeler hauling a gas tank, and rescues five of Joe’s prized “wives” from a life of forced pregnancy. Her mad dash across the desert with Joe’s army of whitewashed war boys chasing after her is the main plot of the film.
Cinematography wise, the film is gorgeous. The color palette is a mix of harsh yellows, oranges, browns, blacks, and reds. This results in a muted desert landscape that is both bleak and mesmerizing at the same time. Miller filmed the movie in Namibia and Australia. As a result, the world of Fury Road looks both futuristic and familiar. Very little CGI was used in the film so the landscape looks as real as possible. The scenes shot in Namibia were slightly enhanced with CGI to appear more barren. Otherwise, the landscape was only enhanced with creative lighting techniques. Making a film with little-to-no CGI feels like a novelty and the cinematography stands out. There is one impressive shot that first looks like a long shot of a desert landscape full of sand dunes. That is until the sand dune stands up and you realize the shot was actually a close up of a sand buried human head and torso. All the daylight scenes are harsh and brutal while the night scenes are a subtle mix of purple and gray hues. This is one of those films that need to be seen on the big screen, it is impressive. I do not think it will look as good on a home theater.
Acting wise, the actors do a good job portraying characters with minimal dialogue. As Max, Tom Hardy has a payday playing a character who says maybe two dozen sentences. Hardy gives a subtle performance of a man driven nearly mad by the murder of his family and the overwhelming need to survive at any cost. Every now and then Max’s sanity is compromised by flashbacks to his daughter’s death. Considering the sparse dialogue, Max comes across as a fully developed character who is resignedly brutal, even though he does not seem to want that kind of life. He just needs to be brutal in order to survive in this new and terrifying world. Charlize Theron plays Furiosa, a hard-as-nails woman trying to find redemption. She is a driver who is employed to transport fuel, which is a mean feat considering that all the other women in the film are seen as nothing more than breeding machines. Theron excels at portraying strong women stuck in difficult situations. She infuses Furiosa with some sincere and raw emotion, especially since Furiosa started out life relatively happy until she was kidnapped and abused. However, Theron’s strong portrayal showcases the lackluster performance of the actresses playing the wives.
These wives are nubile young women doomed to a life of having force relations with Immortan Joe and bearing babies until menopause. The first shot of the wives show them standing in the desert with their bodies draped in nearly sheer white underwear and hosing themselves down with water. They also rid themselves of painful looking chastity belts. Glad to know that the future still relies on Medieval inventions in order to keep women “pure”. Anyways, three of the five wives are played by supermodels who seemed to only be there to look prettier than everyone else. The actresses and supermodels seem unsure how to portray women who spent all their lives in a medieval style harem and are now escaping. Even though some of the wives desperately want to go back to their lives of slavery luxury once they experience the harshness of life outside the Citadel. All the wives are rather interchangeable and I cannot even recall any of their names. There is also an all-female tribe of resistance fighters who wage war from atop motorcycles. They show up in the last act to give some back up to Max and Furiosa. Nicholas Hoult portrays Nux, an ill war boy who becomes entangled with Max and is converted to Furiosa’s cause. Nux starts out as a crazy brainwashed follower of Joe who experiences an epiphany and sees the error of his beliefs. He is also an out-of-control character whom Hoult obviously enjoyed playing.
Several reviewers have described Fury Road as a feminist manifesto. However, I disagree. The film depicts a dog-eat-dog world where weakness is sought out and destroyed. In this type of environment the strongest will rise up and carve out an existence or die trying. Some of those survivors will be women. It is just the law of averages, some of the strongest fighters and survivors will be female. Furiosa could just have easily been male without any major changes to the plot or script. She is a strong character who is doing her best to survive. In some aspects she is a lot like Katniss Everdeen from The Hunger Games. They are both trying to survive and bring down a despot in a dystopian future. And they both have male allies. Yet no one is calling The Hunger Games a feminist manifesto. I think the problem is that the movie is called Mad Max and Max is sometimes upstaged by Furiosa. Anyway, this is a well-crafted action dystopia movie that is both weird and mesmerizing. Depending on your taste in films, this is either the best movie you have ever seen or the worst.
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