Reboots and sequels seem to be all the rage these days in Hollywood but that doesn’t change the fact that director George Miller’s Mad Max: Fury Road is an unusual case. Fury Road is the fourth canonical entry in the Mad Max series, arriving some 30 years after the third film; 1985’s Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome. For the franchise’s fourth entry, Miller recruited the likes of Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron, and Hugh Keays-Byrne to help bring his vision of post-apocalyptic Earth (and the people that inhabit it) to life once again. The result is a majestic and mesmerizing tale of survival, redemption, and white-knuckle action.
Right from its opening moments, Fury Road grabs viewers and rarely loosens its grip. In a future desert wasteland, violent bands of raiders roam the wastes and the powerful raider clan known as the War Boys rule with an iron fist by controlling the two most precious of resources: water and gasoline. Just as wandering nomad Max Rockatansky (Hardy) is captured by the War Boys in order to be used as a universal blood donor, Imperator Furiosa (Theron), the most capable commander serving under the War Boys’ leader Immortal Joe (Keays-Byrne), betrays Joe by freeing his five wives and absconding with them.
A predictable (yet still fun to watch) sequence of story beats soon follows. Joe rallies his war party and sets out in pursuit of Furiosa, Max ends up joining Furiosa and the wives, and the two form an uneasy alliance in order to fight off Joe’s forces and escape. While this sequence of events seems simple on paper, the way it plays out is anything but. Fury Road is basically one long chase scene with large war rigs and smaller cars and motorcycles clashing in epic battles of fire, blood, and mayhem. These prolonged chase sequences are beautifully choreographed and Miller also manages to keep things fresh with a few gun battles and the occasional hand-to-hand fight scene mixed in.
Interestingly enough, Fury Road goes against the usual modern action film grain by focusing its violence less on gore and more on bombastic explosions and vehicle crashes (a majority of which is done without the use of CGI effects). Plenty of blood is shed to be sure, but it never feels gratuitous or unnecessary. In a time when action and horror films are constantly trying to top themselves with increasingly graphic depictions of violence, it’s refreshing to see the more restrained approach (at least as restrained as a post-apocalyptic action epic can be) that Miller takes with Fury Road. There are still parts that will make more squeamish viewers cringe (this is an R-rated movie after all), but it’s certainly not as bad as some other blockbuster action movies.
In regards to the film’s main characters, Miller once again decides to take a more simple and streamlined approach. Viewers learn only the most basic of details about both Max’s and Furiosa’s pasts but that doesn’t make either character any less compelling. Even though Max’s name is in the movie’s title, it could be argued that Fury Road is very much Furiosa’s story as she receives the bulk of screen time and character development. Hardy and Theron both give solid performances (despite Hardy’s Max speaking only a small handful of gruff, sometimes unintelligible lines) and the two work well together both when the action gets heated and during the film’s rare moments of calm and quiet.
Fury Road’s supporting cast is pretty solid as well with only a few weak areas. Hugh Keays-Byrne as Immortal Joe is terrifying not only because of his large frame and intimidating face mask but also because of his calm, calculating demeanor that cleverly hides his true nature as a brutal, ruthless savage. The romance that blossoms between bad-guy-turned-good-guy Nux (Nicholas Hoult) and one of Joe’s former wives Capable (Riley Keough) feels forced and out-of-place but not so much as to distract viewers from the action. It would have been neat to find out a little more about the many different unique raiders Joe recruits to help track down Furiosa (including guys with such titles as ‘The Bullet Farmer’ and ‘The People Eater’) but their presence is enough to keep viewers hooked even without proper backstories.
Other than the forced romance, the film maintains a very consistent theme of action and drama throughout. The only area in which Fury Road shows any sort of weakness is its ending which feels rushed and unsatisfying (though this could be due to the fact that Miller plans to make at least two more Mad Max films after Fury Road). However, the rushed ending in no way diminishes all of the crazy action that came before it and it still manages to offer a somewhat satisfying conclusion to the film’s story while also leaving the door open for the sequels which Miller already has in the works.
With Fury Road, Miller manages to accomplish two very impressive goals: bring a classic action franchise into the modern age in as appropriate a manner as possible (i.e. with tons of explosions and flying bullets) and present viewers with a film that stands well enough on its own without having to rely on gratuitous violence, gimmicky cameos, or a convoluted story. Mad Max: Fury Road may not be the sequel that everyone wanted, but it’s certainly a film that no action film fan is going to want to miss.