Mad Max: Fury Road review – an action masterpiece

by | 1 Jun 2018

‘Furiosa rebels against the tyrannical Immortan Joe and is helped by drifter Max.’

Mad Max: Fury Road is a return to the franchise that made both its director and lead actor’s name. George Miller’s first three movies were a pitch-perfect trilogy of a crumbling society slowly becoming post-apocalyptic and one man’s journey from law enforcer to brutal survivor. Known as the series that put Mel Gibson on his trajectory to super-stardom, without these films, we likely wouldn’t have been blessed with one of Hollywood’s best action heroes, or the Lethal Weapon (1987-1998) movies as we know and love them. Not only that, but it also showed us how crazy car action should be done, well before the Fast & Furious (2001-present) franchise ever existed.

By all accounts, Fury Road shouldn’t work, as it’s a fourth instalment that is thirty years removed from the last one, which doesn’t normally scream out huge success. Also, to many I’m sure, the biggest sin it commits is re-casting the iconic role of Max from Gibson to Tom Hardy. Despite these signs though, the movie does succeed. Miller proves he still knows this character and world really well, executing it all with great skill and energy.

Straightforward and beautiful in its simplicity, the story follows Max wandering a desolate wasteland. He is captured by a group of men called the War Boys and is taken to the Citadel, led by ruthless cult leader Immortan Joe (Hugh Keaty-Byrne). This tyrannical dictator sends out one of his generals, Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron), to collect gasoline from a neighbouring city. When he discovers she has betrayed him and is freeing his slave wives, he sends everyone out to claim back his property. A sickly War Boy named Nux (Nicholas Hoult) attaches Max to his car as a personal blood bank while on the pursuit.

That’s as much as you get in terms of plot and like the previous instalments, this isn’t a movie with an intricate narrative. But what Mad Max: Fury Road does have and really excels at, is road-rage mayhem with metal-on-metal destruction. After a short time setting up the landscape and main players, Miller wastes no time in getting to the action.

In fact, ninety five percent of this film is one long car chase. Within that framework he slowly reveals to us character motivations, who’s good, who’s bad and how this world operates. There are a few moments of calm, but overall, the pace of Fury Road moves at lightning speed. As a result, you will never feel bored and with a constant state of momentum, you’ll be too excited to care about the lack of plot.

Ultimately, this is an old-fashioned movie that slots in well with the aesthetics of the previous films, despite the large age gap. It knows what it is and is mostly for those who love non-stop action. If that’s what you’re looking for, you won’t be disappointed, as Fury Road offers up some of the best stunt work and vehicle related carnage ever to be committed to celluloid. 

What’s more, these aren’t your overused, CGI enhanced effects, with the danger and visceral experience taken right out. Where all the stunts defy the laws of physics to such a degree that you just can’t take them seriously. No, in this film Miller keeps a bulk of the action in-camera, with a lot of practical and hard work going into creating these insane manoeuvres. Beautifully shot with some amazing cinematography, it all helps raise Fury Road above that conventional B-movie it so easily could have been.

However, regardless of the relentless action, those wanting a bit more can find some hidden themes within its lean plot. Like most film’s set after the collapse of society, there’s a look at the idea of survival being the best there is. We see this most clearly with Max, where at the start of the movie, he’s this feral loner, who’s only goal is to live. As the story progresses he slowly reclaims some of his former humanity, mostly by finding a kindred spirit in Furiosa.

Hardy’s performance in all this is well done, and having someone of his calibre, certainly helps in displaying that metamorphosis Max has to go through. Likewise, those loyal to Gibson’s interpretation of the character needn’t worry. By bringing his own spin on this hardened man, Hardy helps the story feel very self-contained and its own thing. This means you can appreciate the movie on its own and don’t have to tie it in with the earlier ones if you don’t want to.

The other message the movie carries, is a strong feminist one, seen predominantly in the role of Theron’s Furiosa. There’s a convincing argument she’s actually the main lead with Hardy’s Max being more a supporting character. She’s the heart of the story and the drama comes from her arc the most. Strong and fierce, she fights for her own agency throughout the movie which Theron plays brilliantly. Not just through her, but equally the women she’s rescuing, who all want freedom from this overbearing patriarch. Throughout the film they all display a comradery and strength in fighting this male dictatorship in a variety of different ways.

Mad Max: Fury Road is a perfect example of how to take a simple premise and turn it into something more. Visually, with a commitment to great practical stunts and stunning cinematography, there’s a great deal to enjoy. Combined with some deeper themes this is a film that deserves to be called an action masterpiece.

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