Explosively revved-up reboot is big, brash, brutal & beautiful
Mad Max: Fury Road
Starring Tom Hardy & Charlize Theron
Directed by George Miller
If Australian director George Miller never did anything else, he’d forever be remembered as the man who gave the world the post-apocalyptic road-thrills drama Mad Max. Miller’s movie, in 1979, was a low-budget landmark of gonzo filmmaking that became an action-adventure icon, spawning two sequels, both starring Mel Gibson and both directed by Miller.
Now Miller—who went on to produce, write and/or direct other acclaimed films, including Dead Calm, Lorenzo’s Oil, Happy Feet and Babe—has returned to where he started, and this explosively revved-up reboot, epic in every sense of the word, may become the crowning achievement of his already impressive career. It’s big, bold and brash and makes the loudest bang, by a long shot, of any movie this year so far—if not any movie of any recent year. It’s grotesque and gorgeous and glorious all at once, both brutal and beautiful, a thing of cinematic wonder and wizardry, a circus of eye-popping, old-school stunt work, and a crazy orchestration of such sheer, all-out gusto, spunk, energy, imagination and nerve, it makes most other blockbusters, superhero sagas and special-effect blowouts look like they were made with doodles, doodads and trinkets from a toy box.
Miller’s new Max grabs you from the first scene and never lets go as it establishes its central character, its parched desert setting and its harsh parameters. “My name is Max,” intones the figure we first see onscreen snatching a lizard from his boot—then popping it into his mouth and eating it. “A man reduced to a single instinct: survival.”
And then, BAM—Max (Tom Hardy) is off and running—and so are we—on a wild, wild chase across a bleak wasteland of sand, mud and rock, pursued by a banshee-like posse of freakish “war boy” cultists, and thrown by dire circumstance into the company of a ferocious, one-armed defector (Charlize Theron) and her precious cargo: the four young wives of the cult’s terrifying leader, Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne, who also appeared in the original Max).
Miller stages his story (written with collaborators Brendan McCarthy and Nick Lathouris)—a ripping fable about a small group of people looking for redemption in a ruined, bizarr-o world of fire, water, gasoline and blood—with constant movement. His cameras, like his characters, almost never pause; they’re always sweeping, swooping, panning, scanning or tracking, adding to the persistent, insistent sensation of motion and danger, of never feeling like it’s safe enough to slow down.
The automotive stunts, chase scenes and fights are so extraordinarily, intensely over-the-top, they become things of art—manic, mad-hatter masterworks of coordination as men scamper over, under, through, in and out of all kinds of cars, trucks and monstrous hybrid vehicles as they roar along at great speeds, often colliding, frequently exploding—and, in one absolutely stupendous sequence, being sucked up into a sand cyclone.
Harding is terrific, Theron is even better, and Miller, well, this time he’s outdone even himself. Mad Max: Fury Road isn’t just the movie to see—it’s the movie so “max” you’ll need to see it more than once to marvel in all it is, all it does, and just how much it blows almost everything else away.
—Neil Pond, Parade Magazine