This doesn’t happen. It’s been thirty years since the last Mad Max film. Thirty. It’s been seventeen years since George Miller has directed a live-action feature film. There have been rumors and rumblings and mumblings from Hollywood for years about this film. As far back as 2000, when I was a senior in high school, I can remember hearing about Mad Max: Fury Road (at that time, Mel Gibson was still attached to the project). How can the fourth entry in a franchise that has been inactive for thirty years be the best action film of the year? This kind of thing doesn’t happen.
George Miller, who was a practicing physician and emergency room doctor before becoming a filmmaker, has revitalized the action movie. After years of movie after movie with sloppy fight sequences, blurred camera movements and battles full of confusion; finally a mainstream action movie that simultaneously calls back to the classic days of cinema while also pushing the medium forward.
Some critics have pointed out that Mad Max (Tom Hardy, taking the reins from Mel Gibson) takes a back seat (both literally and figuratively) to Charlize Theron’s Imperator Furiosa. These naysayers kind of miss the point, since Mad Max usually takes the back seat in these films. The funny thing about Max is he’s usually the least crazy person in any given scene, in a world gone Mad. “My world is fire and blood,” he says in a voice-over in the film’s opening sequence.
Very few recent films are so joyously and perfectly made to be entertainment machines. Mad Max: Fury Road starts at full blast and rarely lets up. The film is so full of jaw-dropping inventiveness that my mouth was wide-open for most of the movie. It features two of the best chase sequences ever filmed, and the climactic chase rivals the one at the end of Mad Max 2.
The plot is pretty simple: Mad Max, after a series of set-backs and snafus, grudgingly agrees to help Imperator Furiosa transport some precious cargo from the religious zealot/dictator/madman Immortan Joe (played by Hugh Keays-Byrne, who also played the villainous Toecutter in the original Mad Max). That’s more than enough story for Miller and his crew to create a brilliant and chaotic vision of a post-apocalyptic wasteland.
In every Mad Max film, Miller seems to be challenging himself to one-up the energy, visual style and creativity from the previous movie. Just as Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome gave us an entirely different world than Mad Max 2 or its predecessor, Mad Max: Fury Road kicks it up a couple of notches from Beyond Thunderdome. One of the most effective elements of Fury Road is its color palette, which is made up of bright yellows, reds and oranges in its lush daytime scenes, and dark blues and blacks at night. Miller, his cinematographer John Seale and the team responsible for the unique coloring of the film all deserve kudos.
Many of the characters in this film seem to have been affected by an unknown ailment, perhaps from nuclear fallout, including the sickly, bald, powder-white War Boys; who are fervent disciples of Immortan Joe. Immortan Joe with his chalk-white skin, long blonde hair and demonic eyes is a chilling villain, even more so because of his breathing-mask with its skeleton teeth. In this world, most of its inhabitants suffer from some physical ailment or disease. Few post-apocalyptic films seem to remember that just because someone survives doesn’t mean they don’t suffer.
In a summer overcrowded with blockbusters, reboots, remakes and sequels, Mad Max: Fury will stand tall as the best blockbuster of the summer, and one of the best films of the year.
Mad Max: Fury Road. 2015. Dir. George Miller. With Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron, Nicholas Hoult, Hugh Keays-Byrne, Josh Helman, Nathan Jones, Zoe Kravitz, Rosie-Huntington Whiteley, Riley Keough, Abbey Lee, Courtney Eaton. Written by George Miller and Brendan McCarthy and Nico Lathouris. Cinematography by John Seale. Australia/United States.