‘Mad Max: Fury Road’ Review: Absolute Automotive Insanity

'Mad Max: Fury Road'

Movie Rating:


Until I was actually sitting in a theater watching ‘Mad Max: Fury Road’, I wasn’t entirely convinced that it had actually been made. Sure, I’d seen the trailers, but after years of false starts the promise of a (primarily) physically produced, R-rated $150 million ‘Mad Max’ blockbuster made by original director George Miller seemed too good to be true.

Even after having seen the movie, I’m still not certain it wasn’t a mirage of some sort. This type of movie isn’t supposed to be made in Hollywood anymore. Yet there ‘Fury Road’ is, and somehow it’s even more insane, ambitious and death-defyingly thrilling than anything you’ve imagined.

Things kick off in a prologue in which Max (now played by Tom Hardy and rather well) describes the devastation of humanity over oil and water and nuclear holocaust while chomping on a two-headed lizard. He’s as lost and alone as always. No sooner than he’s introduced in his classic car, Max is kidnapped by a gang all painted in pale white and is brought back to the terrifying outpost of Citadel. Run by the demonic Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne, who played Toecutter in the original film), Citadel is a cruel wastepost where women are milked, boys are raised as cancer-ridden war-slaves, and crowds of starving masses are kept under tyrannical rule by rationed water and promises of immortality.

Max is bound in chains, mounted as a hood ornament, and used as a living blood bag to keep Nicholas Hoult’s albino War Boy alive. Meanwhile Charlize Theron plays Imperator Furiosa, a one-armed warrior entrusted with driving a massive rig to get precious gas for the community. This time, however, Furiosa has different plays, having smuggled out Immortan’s sex slaves with the promise of finding them freedom. Before long, she and Max form a reluctant partnership and embark on an epic car chase that essentially comprises the entire film.

Writer/director George Miller might have spent thirty years making family films (‘Happy Feet’, ‘Babe: Pig in the City’, etc.) since his last journey into the ‘Mad Max’ universe, but you wouldn’t know it for a second. Miller doesn’t just seem comfortable and confident to dive back into the groundbreaking universe he created, but seems determined to top everything he’d done in a ‘Mad Max’ movie before, and then top the last few decades of action movies as well for good measure. Goddammit, the man pretty much does it too.

From the moment the first engine roars in ‘Fury Road’ until the credits hit the screen, it’s impossible to tear your eyes away. Since the beginning, this series has been about constructing stripped-down, sensation-first filmmaking, and ‘Fury Road’ just might push that goal farther than any previous entry. The opening sequences are a flurry of world-building, hallucination and violence. You might think you’re lost and confused, but only because you’re supposed to be. Images and characters will sear into your brain before coming together into a simple narrative so direct and primal that it could be enjoyed silently. The movie never slows down to let plot disrupt the destructive flow. The bulk of the story is told through action scenes, and the endless chases and explosions stop only to give the audience a chance to breathe. Otherwise, it might be too much of a good thing.

And oh what spectacular action sequences they are. Cars are flipped with the precision of ballet. Editing is frantic, yet rhythmic and always visually coherent. Explosions expand into painterly clouds. The imagery is astounding and the physical stunts are terrifying. Actors fling between cars on giant poles or leap over vehicles on motorcycles while dropping explosives below. For the first time in years, a big action movie has a true sense of physical danger to the proceedings. You don’t just sit back and admire the CGI. Aside from some digital sweetening and enhancements, it’s clear that almost all the carnage is real, and you can’t help but drop your jaw and wonder how it was possibly accomplished without numerous on-set deaths.

Miller knows exactly how to pace and lay out his pile-up epics as well. No matter how many vehicles duke it out on screen, he always makes clear where everyone is and why they’re beating the crap out of each other. The images flow beautifully, and somehow the filmmaker manages to top each incredible set-piece without the movie ever becoming exhausting. There’s even room for humor, like a car featuring a heavy metal guitarist on a bungee cord with a fire-shooting guitar and a massive percussion section providing a live soundtrack to the insanity. It’s an amusing image when it first appears, but Miller also has a specific purpose in mind for that vehicle by the climax. Nothing is wasted in ‘Fury Road’. It’s all part of the adrenaline rush.

It’s rare that characters say much to each other beyond “They’re coming” or “Give me the gun,” but when they speak it’s always with purpose. Through Theron’s character and her quest, Miller even squeezes a feminist message into his world. These movies have always explored the horrifying nature of primal human desire, which has quite often has involved the exploitation of women. Here Miller suggests that the men who have destroyed the planet could use a woman’s approach to save it. The message is there and blatant, yet never preachy or out of place (like, say, the lost boys section of ‘Beyond Thunderdome’). The message fits into ‘Fury Road’ organically and is just one more flavor in an explosion of cinematic delights.

Hardy steps into Max admirably and even dares to make the character his own as if it was never Mel Gibson’s iconic star-making role. His Max is a devolved and damaged man so unaccustomed to human interaction after years of solitary survival that he communicates mainly in grunts and non-sequiturs. Over the course of the movie, Max finds the man and the hero inside himself once more. It’s the same character arc as the last two sequels, but Hardy makes it physical as much as psychological. It’s an intriguing choice that fits Miller’s almost silent movie storytelling style well.

One of the most intriguing aspects of the ‘Mad Max’ saga is the almost reckless disregard for continuity. It’s not jarring to see Max played by another actor this time because the series has always been defined by radical sequel shifts. It would be more distracting if ‘Fury Road’ resembled previous ‘Mad Max’ movies too closely than the other way around. Each entry in the franchise has been an attempt by Miller to thrill audiences with primal cinematic pleasures and elemental storytelling devices suited to their time. The original ‘Mad Max’ was a drive-in revenge movie stripped to the bone on a dangerous scale that no one had seen before. ‘The Road Warrior’ was a work of Joseph Campbell myth-making produced in the middle of the ‘Star Wars’ trilogy and laced with R-rated stank that helped define what action movies would be for the next decade. ‘Beyond Thunderdome’ was an attempt to transform the series into a fairy tale fable in the midst of Spielberg’s reign over La-La-Land. Now ‘Fury Road’ delivers audaciously large comic spectacle with a feminist slant in a blockbuster era that hungers for those qualities.

There may have been a big gap between the last few ‘Mad Max’ movies, but George Miller remains somehow both ahead of his genre and dialed in perfectly with the times. Perhaps the reason that this film kept getting delayed was so that it could come out at the perfect time. The summer blockbuster industry needed ‘Fury Road’ to remind audiences of the power of physical spectacle and the scale it could be achieved today without losing sight of subtext or classical storytelling. It’s the blockbuster for everyone who hates contemporary blockbusters as much as the perfect popcorn pleasure for those who love them. George Miller and company just won the summer movie season of 2015, and did so with such raging intensity that they might have won the next few summers as well.

Race out to see ‘Fury Road’ on the biggest screen you can and go ahead and buy a ticket for the following screening as well. You’re going to want to see this flick again immediately. I know I do. I’m still not certain that shit actually happened.

What Did You Think of 'Mad Max: Fury Road'?

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  1. NJScorpio

    I’ve been so excited about this movie since the first day I heard it might be made.

    AND I’m a big Tom Hardy fan!

    I’ll be buying my ticket later today for a screening in 3D tomorrow. As of now, I’m the only person I know going and I don’t care. I go to movie theaters maybe twice a year at most (I have a 130″ screen 3D projector at home), and that’s because other people want to go. I haven’t been to opening day of a movie since….I think the 2nd Pirates movie.

  2. cardpetree

    Is it safe to read this before I watch the movie. I’m going to see it Saturday night, so I can wait. Glad to see those 5 Stars though. It’s also 99% Fresh on RT right now.

    • This review should be safe to read. Phil hardly talks about the plot of the movie at all. (As I understand, the film hardly has any plot at all, and is a two-hour adrenaline rush car chase.)

      • cardpetree

        Lol, I started reading but had to stop. I hardly remember the originals and I just want everything to be a surprise. I’m stoked. My posse is headed out of town this weekend and I’ve got the movies all to myself Saturday night. It’s gonna be a good night!

  3. I chose the bigger auditorium as it was significantly larger than the 3D auditorium. Afterwards, I snuck into the smaller 3D theater and watched the last 20 minutes in 3D and it was pretty damn amazing. I’m definitely going to see this again. I MUST see that sandstorm sequence in the third dimension. Give a crazy old man 150 million dollars and he gives you a hot rod with tank wheels…BITCHIN!! We need more post apocalyptic desert flicks.

    • Phil Brown

      I agree and should have put that in the review. The 3D version of Fury Road is actually great. Clearly Miller designed the movie with 3D in mind and there are plenty of moments that benefit from that extra dimension, I’m sure the movie is still amazing in 2D, but those plastic glasses are actually worth the extra money for this one,

      • Clemery

        I really hate that obvious 3D shot at the end though… I’m sure you know the one. For such a magnificent creation throughout, the inclusion of that type of shot seems to cheapen the experience a little.

        • Eh not for me, after what I had just witnessed to that point it seemed to just work for me and it was actually a transition to the next scene, which I dont think I’ve seen done before that way 🙂

        • Phil Brown

          Fair enough. Personally, gimmicky 3D doesn’t bother me. It’s fun. I prefer a couple of shots like that in a movie than 3D that was needlessly slapped on afterwards that adds nothing to the experience.

          • I love gimmicky 3d. If nothing passes beyond the screen toward the audience, you’re only getting half of the 3d experience. I don’t always need my 3d to be this way, but for a movie like this, it was perfect. I thought it was awesome that Miller was having fun with it. The crowd loved that shot. I got lucky and caught an Xd show yesterday morning for only 6.25 ( they screwed up the price on the website) what a difference it can make with enhanced sound and a gigantic screen. Even better than my first screening.

  4. NJScorpio

    From what I have been reading, this is such a more exciting and kinetic movie than any of the other “Blockbuster” action franchises right now (looking at you, Marvel studios). Hopefully, this movie is such a hit that it forces “action” movie directors to revise their approach.

    Also, I think practical effects have a HUGE part in this. I found, say, Amazing Spider-Man 2 terribly boring, but enjoyed the action a great deal in The Lone Ranger. As such, I could see enjoying a real person, on a real speeding car, doing some real stunts more than a CGI Hulk fighting a CGI Iron Man.

    • Clemery

      I fully agree with that notion, and I find it funny how over 20 years ago, Jurassic Park redefined the way filmmakers use CGI to basically replace talent, and now all it takes is one hit film that returns the focus back to practical effects.

      I would argue though that it is not so much the practical effects themselves, but how they enhance the “narrative” (I use that term loosely with this film) and the visual flair of the picture.

      • NJScorpio

        That’s true, it’s all about how it is used.

        In creating ‘Jurassic Park’, if you wanted giant dinosaurs, you had three options really. CGI, or giant animatronics, or non-to-scale animatronics in scaled down sets. The only decent looking option is CGI.

        Now, if you are creating a shot of a bridge exploding, or cars doing jumps…that HAS the option of being done with practical effects.

        CGI is great for when there is no possible better option to create what you want to create. Now, it is being used because, I imagine (1) it’s possibly cheaper to just use CGI at this point (2) it’s more safe to use CGI and (3) it’s requires less creativity/time.

        • Not really, the original Jurassic Park was a mix of top of the line CGI and top of the line Animatronics, it worked wonders, after that everything became CGI because it got cheaper to do. I live for the days of practical FX, a lot of people dont remember or even like Statham and Paul Andersons remake of Death Race but I think most people dont realize that every stunt and explosion in that movie was totally real, Death Race was really the first to go back to that era of movie making and most people couldnt look past the horrible (supposedly) story line when I find it kind of ironic that Mad Max has even less story and really achieves the same thing. Death Race was great knowing how that movie was filmed and the effort that went into making those scenes happen, same goes for Mad Max, its pure action straight up, like the good ol days of no CG at all

  5. Timcharger

    The IMAX theaters around me are only playing Avengers 2 still.
    Was hoping Mad Max would be on.

    Is there was way to see the IMAX schedule of releases?
    Is it a nationwide policy? Certain studios have IMAX scheduling booked up?

  6. Ralph

    Basically this movie is simply amazing. My breath was taken away and as the author said, I wasn’t even sure I saw what I saw after I saw it.
    I came home with the biggest fucking grin on my face. Something I haven’t done in cinema in an age.
    Please stop reading all this stuff and head over to the movie theater and get your mind blown.
    (Oh and LOVE Furiosa)

  7. Chris B

    Incredible…absolutely fucking incredible. This is the high I’m always chasing when I go to the theatre, this thing fucking delivered in spades, pure goddamn magic. It trumps probably every movie I’ve seen in the theatre in the last 10 years.

    • Clemery

      Whatever… I couldn’t take my eyes off the screen. The action was far more exciting and involving than any other action film since The Raid Redemption (IMO), with so much iconography developed along the way.

  8. Jon S

    One of the most astonishing action films I have ever seen. I’m biased as I love the first two. Even have a 16mm print of Road Warrior. BUt man, this was insanity. Saw it in 3-d yesterday going to 2-d tonight

  9. Frankie

    All I can say is that you guys are easily entertained. No wonder shit like Fast & Furious part 13 or whatever breaks box office records.

    • Easily entertained? An action movie that goes back to the roots of action movies? True stunts, true driving, true action….how does that make us easily entertained, if you cant see the effort and quality of work that went into making this movie, thats your problem not ours 🙂

    • C.C. 95

      Everyone in the movie is a cypher. You don’t CARE what happens to them because you never get to know who they ARE!

  10. I dont think anything is going to top this this year, I’m hopeful Jurassic Park is as fun as it looks and will take me back to the greatness of the original (but who knows). If not, I dont think anything can stop this from being the best movie I’ll see this year. Visceral, on the edge of your seat action craziness, amazing stunts, amazing visuals, I’ve never seen a movie with so little plot that was so awesome. This is what an action fan lives to see at the theater and if I had the time I would easily be seeing this again a couple more times and I dont say that about too many movies.

  11. Saw it the day before yesterday, and loved it. The story was quite nonsense, but the cinematography, framing, cast, music and stunts were all off the wall insane. After an hour, I just started smiling at another huge explosion. It’s oh so very much over the top, but in a wicked delicious way. I want to see it again.

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