Thank the heavens for George Miller.
After launching his career with his gritty Ozploitation gem Mad Max, the Aussie auteur would go on to round out that series with two more films, a Hollywood melodrama (Lorenzo’s Oil) and even a few family pictures (Babe: Pig In The City, Happy Feet, Happy Feet Two). However, with as many failed projects to his name (he once had a Justice League film in production, for example) as successful ones, he’s been making films at an all too rare clip. Hopefully that will change however, as he may have just given the film world an action picture for and of this generation.
Returning to the franchise he started, Miller is back in theaters with his latest film, Mad Max: Fury Road, and with raucous reviews and a Cannes debut in its wake, this is one of the year’s best reviewed films. And thankfully, those reviews don’t even scratch the surface of just how great this action masterpiece truly is.
Max in this story is introduced to us in duress. Played by Tom Hardy, we meet our hero on the run from some very bad people. A man of few words, he is on the run from the minions of one Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne), a tyrannical leader of this post-apocalyptic wasteland. With control of all the water, crops and gasoline, he ostensibly rules this land with both an iron fist and an impossible to break monopoly across the spectrum. However, his control isn’t strong enough to keep the iron willed Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) from crossing her leader, for a very specific reason.
Along with his control over food, water and fuel, he has a collection of wives that he breeds with to create his warlords, and even women to feed him and his confidants breast milk. In a sparsely told story with few twists and turns and even fewer lines of exposition, Miller’s return to this franchise is the definitive manifesto for action fans, and with densely layered thematic elements, feminists and 99%ers will find this to be one of the most exciting and empowering works of this era.
That is where this film garners much of its greatness. Miller as an action filmmaker is very much at the top of his anarchic game, but he and co-writers Nico Lathouris and Brendan McCarthy have made a film that is set in the years to come, but rooted purely in stories ripped from today’s headlines. Be it the uprising against a villainous conglomerate or particularly the discussion of women and their place in this world and this film, Fury Road is a surreal, almost baroque masterpiece.
Painted across the walls of the hole Joe keeps his women in is “WE ARE NOT THINGS” and ultimately that is this film in a nutshell. Played as a feminist manifesto, anyone can cling to this base level struggle. If you’re working a dead end job without ever getting so much as a thank you from your boss, if you’re a woman in a rotten relationship or a young girl going through the struggles of growing up, anyone and everyone can relate in some way to this gorgeous piece of work. The sparse narrative is key, as exposition doesn’t drown this picture in world building, and thus makes the narrative far more universal. Based entirely in images, Miller’s film is a fantastic experiment in story and it succeeds in unimaginable ways.
It also helps that the performances here are universally breathtaking, despite the sparseness of the script. Hardy’s Max is superb, and leaps and bounds above Mel Gibson’s take on the character. He’s a man of few words, and yet the ones he does speak are given a black sense of humor and an oddly quiet charm, something rarely seen with this much subtlety in action cinema. A character developed through haunting flashbacks and body language, Hardy’s Max is a fantastic character.
However, this is Furiosa’s film. It’s her world. Theron is in rare form here as the film’s real lead, a perfect partner in this journey for Max. Both characters haunted by their past (Max by flashbacks, Furiosa by a missing limb), they both crave what is the real lost natural resource; redemption. She’s a revelation here, and while Miller has said he has no more Max stories he would like to tell, let us hope that at some point there is a Furiosa story or two that compels him to return to this world. Rounding out the cast is Keays-Byrne as Joe, a hard performance to judge based simply off the fact that it’s one mainly seen behind a mask. He’s bastard of a villain, and really a great foil for both these heroes. Nicholas Hoult as Nux is a joy to watch, as it’s one of three stories being told here, all of which revolving around the idea of redemption, and there are numerous faces that will become fan favorites as more and more people see the film.
That’s the real joy of this film, aesthetically. Where as most films tell their story through bloated exposition and uninteresting montages, Miller’s picture is a stunning example of what can truly happen when a filmmaker trusts his vision behind the camera, and the audience watching it. Driven by unforgettable character design and some of the greatest and most awe inspiring world design you’ll ever seen in modern action cinema, Miller’s film is an anarchic descent into madness.
Stunts here are unforgettable, and be it the burning daytime sequences that are fueled by blinding oranges and blues or a night sequence that is as nightmarish as it is genuinely beautiful, Miller’s handle of his frame and the photography he gets from Oscar winner John Seale (The English Patient) turn this into something more resembling a fever dream than anything we know as cinema. Stunningly edited and clocking in at two hours of pure nonstop action storytelling, Fury Road is some of modern action cinema’s greatest craft work.
Overall, while the sparse narrative and the non-stop action may leave some mass audiences a little cold, those willing to go along on this journey will find Fury Road to be this generation’s greatest action film. Dense thematically and featuring lushly drawn characters, George Miller has now become the action filmmaker for our time. A flag for feminists and the 99% to fly together, Mad Max: Fury Road is one of the greatest action films ever crafted.