Mad Max: Fury Road

Warner Bros. Pictures
Rated R for intense sequences of violence throughout, and for disturbing images.
Running time: 120 minutes.
Four stars out of four.

The title of the movie is “Mad Max: Fury Road” because, in theory, its driving force is the iconic character at the center of George Miller’s groundbreaking, post-apocalyptic franchise. The actor taking over in the role that made Mel Gibson a star some 35 years ago is Tom Hardy, a man who has proven himself to be a formidable force in films like “Bronson,” “The Dark Knight Rises” and “Warrior.”

The trailer alone — a 2 1/2-minute thrill ride of flying vehicles and fiery skies — screams with visceral images that sear into your brain and suggest that this must be a masculine and muscular cinematic extravaganza typical of the season. So what a lovely surprise it was on this lovely day to find that “Mad Max: Fury Road” is a fiercely feminist declaration of independence — purehearted, passionate and full of beautifully realized moments of poignancy.

Yes, it’s as bad-ass as you’ve heard: powerful yet fluid, gritty yet crisp, sublime in the daring originality of its action sequences and flat-out gorgeous to watch. Just when you think that Miller, as director and co-writer, has topped himself with a grand and gripping set piece, he goes even more gloriously over the top with the next. Believe all the hype: This movie will melt your face off. See it on the biggest screen you can possibly find with the best possible sound, because this is a complete sensory experience. There’s one image that was so vividly gnarly, it made me jump out of my seat and grab the shoulder of the friend sitting next to me. (Sorry, Amy.)

And yet it conveys an underlying humanity in exquisite and convincing ways. Perhaps this stands out even more because it exists in such an outlandish wasteland. “Mad Max: Fury Road” is a movie in which men initially seem to dominate, but eventually it reveals that it’s truly about strong women fighting for each other, fighting for survival, fighting for the future. Hardy, as Max, becomes a passenger both literally and figuratively. This is truly Charlize Theron’s film.

As the fearless and unflappable Imperator Furiosa, Theron has given us a supreme action heroine for the ages. With her shaved head, greased face, a steampunk-inspired mechanical arm and an endless arsenal within the war rig she drives, she’s an intimidating and resourceful protector. Theron has shirked her gorgeous looks previously (in her Oscar-winning performance in “Monster”) and she’s dared to play truly unlikable characters (in “Young Adult” and “Snow White and the Huntsman”). Here, there’s a beauty to her ferocity, a regalness to her statuesque demeanor and — ultimately — a tenderness and vulnerability which are heartbreaking. It’s no hyperbole to say she’s right up there with Sigourney Weaver in the “Alien” franchise and Linda Hamilton in the “Terminator” films.

Although the film is told from Max’s perspective in the script from Miller, Brendan McCarthy and Nico Lathouris, Furiosa is the one who’s truly driving the story in myriad ways. This isn’t really a sequel to the three previous movies — the low-budget “Mad Max” (1979), the hugely influential “Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior” (1981) and the Tina Turner-tastic “Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome” (1985) — nor is it a remake. You could call it a reboot, but that makes it sound reheated. “Fury Road” fits squarely within the series mythology but it’s wildly vibrant and a true original.

Former police officer Max Rockatansky is running from his past, from both the living and the dead as he says in a low, rumbling voiceover. From the first richly oversaturated images of Max surveying the unforgiving desert landscape that lies before him — Oscar-winner John Seale is responsible for the stunning cinematography — his sense of isolation is palpable.

But this ultimate loner and rebel finds himself an unwitting pawn at the Citadel, a fortress carved out of the side of a mountain where the grotesque tyrant Immortan Joe rules completely through a twisted cult of personality. In a neat bit of casting, the actor playing Joe is Hugh Keays-Byrne, who played the villainous motorcycle gang leader the Toecutter in the original “Mad Max.” (He’s still creepy as hell all these years later, in case you were wondering.)

When Joe’s most trusted driver, Theron’s Furiosa, veers off course and goes rogue during a routine run to Gas Town, the chase is on, and the imprisoned Max is right in the thick of it. He’s strapped to the grill of a car driven by the jacked-up and thoroughly unstable Nux (Nicholas Hoult), a War Boy who foolishly believes his loyalty to the sadistic Joe will land him a spot in Valhalla. Shaved and painted a blinding white like the rest of Joe’s minions, the usually handsome Hoult is a frightening sight to behold. But his appearance also suggests an innocence — an infancy, almost — which makes him an unexpectedly sympathetic figure.

(Lesley Vanderwalt was in charge of the inspired hair and makeup design; meanwhile, Oscar-winner and multiple nominee Jenny Beavan provided the artfully rough-hewn costume design, which couldn’t be farther away from the clothes she made her name on in classic Merchant-Ivory films like “A Room With a View” and “Howards End.”)

Actually, calling what Nux is driving a “car” suggests something you’ve seen before. These are the remnants of society, slapped together and souped up for survival in dystopia: muscle cars on top of tanks, vintage cars on top of oil rigs and things that look like killer porcupines with wheels underneath them. The level of detail is dazzling over and over again, and the tactile thrill of practical effects provides great joy and a real connection — especially during blockbuster season when so much of what we see is the product of glossy CGI.

And that’s basically the entire plot: One big, long chase across the desert. What happens along the way is awesome, frightening, deeply strange and darkly funny, but it’s never less than jaw-dropping and it’s constantly surprising. A sequence that takes place entirely within a wall of swirling dirt and piercing lighting will leave you breathless; a quieter moment amid barren trees and blue moonlight provides an unshakable melancholy. The score from Tom Holkenborg (a.k.a. Junkie XL) provides just the right tone each time: propulsive here, introspective there.

I don’t want to say too much more because I want you to discover the film’s pleasures and purposes on your own. But I do want to mention these actresses’ names, because they do so much alongside Theron to provide heart amid the muscle: Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Zoe Kravitz, Riley Keough, Abbey Lee and Courtney Eaton. When one of them takes a pair of bolt cutters to the horrific chastity belt that’s ensnared her, it’s poetry and rebellion in a single snap — and a perfect encapsulation of the movie as a whole.

34 Comments on “Mad Max: Fury Road

  1.  by  Cristina H

    Had no desire to see this— now I can’t wait. Thanks!

    •  by  Francis

      Did you see it yet? Were you bored? Are you sorry you wasted your time and $$$ on it? Those were the reactions of me and the people I went with to see this movie. This movie makes me never want to go to the movies again. It’s that bad.

      •  by  Someguy

        My, my, I bet parties with you and your friends must be a hoot.

    •  by  kevin

      Don’t waste your time. Why call it mad max and have nothing more than a character thats vaguely mad max like involved? I read good reviews and believed them…never again. The glaring overriding truth about this movie is that it tricks people into believing they are going to see a movie and are instead watching ill conceived political thoughts.

  2.  by  Jon

    Great review! Just for curiosity, which scene was it that made you jump out of your seat?

    How about the Vuvalini too on their bikes with their sharpshooting skills? You’re right though that Furiosa ranks right up there with Ellen Ripley! Why can’t filmmakers produce more heroines of that caliber? Theron was neither token T&A nor a sexy girl power stereotype. She traded punches with Hardy as a true equal, where most heroines are content to throw some high kicks at a few minions before engaging in a real fight with a female villain. Ultimately, she is the kind of female protagonist other filmmakers need to shoot for: where audiences will see her kicking ass and not even take into account her gender – much like how male actions stars are treated. When I watch Die Hard, I’d never say, “Look at that male, Bruce Willis kicking ass!” I similarly watched Fury Road never thinking to myself, “Look at that female Charlize Theron kicking ass!” It was so refreshing! Most actions movies featuring female characters seem so intent on avoiding any male characters striking them in any way, amounting to some odd cinematic chivalry. Fury Road on the other hand let audiences know that Furiosa is a human first and foremost – not a delicate piece of fine china.

    •  by  Christy Lemire

      Not to give too much away, but: It’s what happens to someone’s face in a scene toward the end.

    •  by  Harald Seidl

      I (mostly) agree with you.
      It’s really amazing, that it needs a 70 year old Miller to show Hollywood, that it is possible to have beautiful females in a movie as humans. That’s not the only thing about this movie that is great, but it is something quite unique and missing (still missing! … what year is this!?!)

      If someone wants to argue about the “beautiful” part of it – that is what’s in that picture. I don’t really want to argue about it, because I think that in the context it kind of made sense (i don’t agree 100% with Miller) and also the way it is seems to me more significant. Because, there are some pictures that chose “ok, let’s not go for the superhot female lead but cast someone believable…” – but they do that on purpose. They shy away from the topic of sexualizing, by avoiding it altogether (and mostly fail nonetheless…)
      And Miller did not do that. You can argue, that it was unnecessary – I might agree with you – but it kind of does tell us something about the world. He could have gone another route … who knows. The point is – he did not.
      He went full sexy in the first scene you see those women and yet they are all women the whole time – they are not brainless smile monsters or fetish-backdrops. Some of them are weird, but they are believable – and who isn’t weird in that movie anyway.
      I agree with what you say about Furiosa – because, with those “wives” and the “green land” women Miller brings up the topic of sex/gender – because with those groups it kind of matters. It says something about the world – even if maybe it’s not really told, but you feel that there is a story to it. But with Furiosa – it doesn’t matter and it’s not brought up. And that’s how it should be done. I fully agree with you there: It was Furiosa and Mad Max doing their thing and it didn’t matter the fraction of a second who has what youknowwhere.
      That’s how it can be done and a lot of producers could maybe learn a lesson or two from this movie.

  3.  by  Bernhard P

    Thank you. This is a very good review touching on all the important aspects of the film, including that it has something powerful and beautiful to say. That wasn’t an easy thing to do amidst the mind-boggling mayhem and Miller must have known that he needed the right perfumers to pull it off.

  4.  by  Otha

    Awesome review! Saw “Fury Road” and you nailed the “melt your face off” nature of the film. I was enthralled with the parallels between the people and the vehicles; there was this apocalypse-personified relationship that allowed the audience to see each character as an extension of their vehicle. Surviving the outback apocalypse is difficult for all (alive or metal).

  5.  by  Lucas

    Must say I agree with the scene that made you jump out of your seat. When it happened I quite had my jaw drop and looked incredulously at my girlfriend to make sure she had seen what I had just seen. Beautiful movie

  6.  by  Francis

    This movie was terrible. You have lost all credibility as a critic by giving this movie a positive review.

    •  by  chdjidie

      Great review… NOT!! Would you like to go into more detail on why it was a “terrible” movie because you might be the only person stupid enough to type that… Or you haven’t actually seen the movie

      •  by  tad mcdowell

        Count me in as stupid. It was a terrible movie. There was nothing to it. No character development. The plot was nothing to write home about. Too many unanswered questions. I am glad I saw it for free.

        Will not spend any money on any future installments.

    •  by  Dustin James

      She’s lost credibility by agreeing with 98 percent of everyone in her field? I suppose a person loses credibility by disagreeing with you. Enjoy your narcissism.

    •  by  Dave

      98% of critics and 93% of audience members gave positive reviews on Rotton Tomatoes. Credibility intact.

    •  by  Sashiel

      “As the review came in, each of us, in our own way, had to form an opinion.

      It was hard to know who was more crazy: me, or everyone else.”

      Difficult Francis

    •  by  juno

      You must be kidding….this is best so far this year in this genre…

  7.  by  PaulD

    Saw MM4 last night and it lives up to all expectations. i am a native of Melbourne, Australia where the original Mad Max was made and actually am related to the major investor on the first film. A great facet of the film is its Aussiness ,many of the cast are local stallwart actors who have been around for ever. Fang it is central to the dialogue. This was a term from70’s Melbourne which means drive faster. Great review.

  8.  by  Marnie

    That “scene” is also the only time I really cringed in sheer horror. Strangely enough, I didn’t find the film to be gruesomely violent – I think some of it was left to your imagination and not all was showed on film. This movie is intense, and I feel like the R rating is warranted but, I think so much of the rating was earned purely based on what you THINK occurred than was actually transpired on film.

    Many of the sequences left me breathless because the energy and continuos chase scenes that go on for 10 minutes or more is just crazy – the energy and visuals were a lot to take in. This film is groundbreaking on many levels – I left this film the same way I left the Matrix and 300 just in terms of how different it is, there will be a lot of copy cats.

    I hope the word gets out and WOMEN go see this movie.

  9.  by  Donna

    I thought the movie was amazing. I never did see any of the originals, even though at the time I was a huge Mel Gibson fan. I felt then I wasn’t interested in that type of movie. I mainly wanted to see this one, only because of Tom Hardy. Christy is right. This movie is plain non stop. I couldn’t catch my breath until the very end. I would love to see it again.

    •  by  damian666

      Maybe if you would have saw the previous Mad Max films, you wouldn’t be so impressed with this one. I don’t see anything from watching the trailers that brings anything new that I hadn’t already seen. The box office numbers weren’t that impressive even with the hyped up positive critic reviews. How do they give positive reviews for a movie that doesn’t have much of a plot and hardly any dialogue?

      •  by  anthony pirtle

        Actually, an R-rated film making over $100 million on its opening weekend is pretty amazing.

      •  by  Mel

        What? I’ve been a huge fan of the series for decades and I feel each one has been better than the last. Same goes for my other friends who love the series. I absolutely can not fathom how anyone could seriously like and understand the first 3 but not this one. Miller stays true to his vision, this review is spot-on.

  10.  by  Jason Cooper

    Thank you for singling out the scene within the lightning- and sand-storm. No other critic has mentioned it, that I’ve seen. This was, for me, hands down the most sublime bit of filmmaking in the whole movie.

    •  by  Christy Lemire

      Jason, that whole section is just amazing, isn’t it? I forgot to mention how much I loved the way it went seamlessly from color to black and white and back again during that part, especially in Nux’s car. I seriously need to go see this movie again. Thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts!

  11.  by  Graham

    I’m a big fan of the original trilogy, and what Miller has done with Fury Road is combined the crazy car chase action of The Road Warrior with the more introspective tone of Beyond Thunderdome. But he’s also upped the intensity all the way up to eleven. This is insanely brilliant filmaking which stands out like an oasis in the desert of dry, sterile and mundane action flicks that constitute the genre these days.

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  13.  by  Krishna

    Christy,
    Thanks for writing this review. I missed your review on this movie on What The Flick. May be you, Ben, Matt, and Alonso can get together once again on What The Flick to review this movie as it is worth it.

    This movie was a cinematic rock music opera on steroids like it has never been done before. I would strongly recommend everyone to watch it on the biggest screen possible. After the end of the first major action sequence I even forgot I was in a movie theater or I was hyperventilating. One thing this movie does is it slows down the action sequences enough times to give you a stunning visual of the world it is set in and to not to give you battle fatigue and not bore you with mindless action like most movies does like the recent Furious 7 and Avengers. Can’t wait to see it again.

    •  by  Christy Lemire

      Thanks, Krishna! I’d like to have a chance to review it, too. Had a sick kid at home last week and then caught whatever he had. But I’m sure Ben would enjoy talking about Mad Max, too, so maybe we can find a way to revisit it.

  14.  by  Jesús Saldivia

    I truly admire you for this review. I hope one day i can write like you. Congrats!