Sometimes a film comes along that shuns the current trends of cinema, to return to a simpler time, an arguably better time when CG didn’t dominate the screen and stories were told with an assumption of intelligence on the part of the audience. Mad Max: Fury Road is exactly such a film, calling back to its roots as a high-octane trilogy in the 80s, and my gods does it kick a lot of ass. It decides from the outset to do one thing very well: provide some of the best practical stuntwork seen on film in at least a decade. But it also manages to not be a shallow experience, with great and memorable characters and a fully realized post-apocalyptic world that is almost a character in and of itself.
The title of the film is almost a misnomer, as the titular Max (Tom Hardy) is perhaps one of the least important characters in driving the plot forward. The true star is Furiosa (Charlize Theron), a general under Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne), a warlord in the wastes of an oil and moisture starved apocalypse. Furiosa flees Immortan Joe with a horde of his breeding wives, whom he uses to produce heirs to his empire. Now Immortan Joe gives chase to get his wives back, with Max as the prisoner of one of the drivers in his army.
The film truly excels at telling its story through demonstration rather than exposition. Characters are introduced naturally, their motivations and emotions revealed through action rather than dialogue. This is an amazing drink of water in a drought of modern films that assume too little of their audience’s intelligence. Its characters are astoundingly deep for how little they speak, and the social mechanics and character arcs at play are apparent through observation; the characters all know their situation, so there’s no need for them to explain it to one another. It isn’t easy to craft a story with so little by way of dialogue or dedicated establishing scenes, but Fury Road is masterful at giving its audience the tools it needs to follow along for themselves without excessive narrative handholding.
What is perhaps most astounding, though, is that the film manages to be compelling for the entirety of its two hours, even though at its core the whole film is little more than an extended car chase. But through the imaginative designs of director George Miller, we see the film’s high speed death rigs dance around one another with a manic grace, colliding and exploding with a reality that a lesser film would have simply animated. Miller chooses to actually put real mayhem and destruction on screen, juxtaposed with awesome ridiculousness like a car devoted entirely to carrying a drum section and a shredding guitar player. And the guitar is also a flamethrower. It is an adrenaline-pumping experience, and these scenes aren’t merely a diversion from the plot, but the mechanism through which the plot is portrayed. This is an astounding feat of cinematic storytelling, and one that is not likely to be replicated any time soon.
I would also be remiss to not point out how this may be the closest we’ve ever come to having a feminist action blockbuster, as Furiosa leads Immortan Joe’s battered wives in a search for a better life, fighting back against their patriarch’s possessory malice. That alone would make this film noteworthy, but just as important to note that this film is just a lot of fun. I have a hard time imagining that any other films coming out this summer will be able to top this, and I wouldn’t at all be surprised if this film made my top ten list at the end of the year. You would be doing yourself a disservice to not see Mad Max: Fury Road.
What films are you excited to see this summer? What do you think will end up being the best film of the summer? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.