The abundance of post-apocalyptic films in cinema these days can make one want to cuddle up with an indie comedy that restores their faith in an actual future humanity can dominate. Domination of the planet is one of the few key elements about Mad Max: Fury Road that makes it stand out from the rest of the pack of post-apocalyptic sci-fi and action films that studios have fed us over the last ten years. There’s an attempt at the domination of the species – what’s left of it – by villain Immortan Joe, the white-painted figure of royalty in the Citadel, a canyon that serves as humanity’s last solace. He promises his starving survivors food, water, gasoline and, if they serve him right, a trip to Valhalla (a nod to Buddhist enlightenment, and his henchmen work tirelessly to obtain it).
His form of domination is being treated like a God, providing gasoline and water only in bursts, his men marauding the deserts for fuel and strangers for blood donations and eternal service. And of course, he uses the most beautiful of women for breeding and the most obese for milk from their breasts. After Max’s gruff opening narration about our instinct to survive dominating the species’ mindset to the point we’ve been driven mad, we feel the plight of those starving beggars and captive sex slaves, but can’t help but feel that not all can be saved. Thanks to all those other post-apocalyptic films we’ve seen over the decade, we know the drill.
The other domination seen here is from director George Miller himself. The 70 year-old director managed to deliver this spectacle after a decade of development hell and proves time can help reboot a series in amazing fashion. Not only does Fury Road deliver spectacular, fiery action sequences already expected from the Mad Max franchise and its own trailers, but manages to welcome newcomers to the franchise with a minimally-executed yet solid narrative in between the major set pieces that allow for some stunning, stylish photography – in motion and still – rivaled by the landscape art you’d catch at your best museum. With over 90% of the film practically-made like his earlier Mad Max films, Fury Road dominates most other post-apocalyptic action films in this era of CGI superhero films and rushed studio production (with the exception of the brilliant Christopher Nolan) and raises the bar for the genre as a whole.
Tom Hardy and Charlize Theron star as Max and Furiosa, respectively. Max is captured easily by Immortan Joe’s marauders and is destined to give blood donations for life. Back at the Citadel, Furiosa gets ordered to deliver thousands of liters of fuel across the desert, but uses the opportunity to smuggle Immortan’s sex slaves away from him for good. Max is tied to the front of a buggy that’s one of many of Furiosa’s pursuers. This cues the plot, basically an extended car chase that’s smartly-paced with dramatic yet minimalist moments interspersed throughout the 2 hour running time. It’s a film where Miller puts the visuals first and the action moves the plot forward well, yet we always know what’s going on when we don’t have much information and know who to root for amidst the escalating chaos.
We know Max is driven by survival and sees Furiosa as his only hope for that, and Furiosa learns to keep him under control, but to trust him and work with him to protect her pack of brides. This relationship keeps the narrative solid and it’s kind of refreshing to see no stereotypes – aside from Max’s overdone gruffness and minimal dialogue – used in the film. That said, it’s hard to prove Tom Hardy is the star when Theron has equal screen time and is more important to the narrative than Max. Theron is definitely the strongest presence and Max’s help makes Fury Road a very welcome first in what can be an absolutely incredible new Action franchise set in a world where so many driven plots can be derived from.
The outrageous details on the characters and how they support the stellar action and themes of survival and starting over are a key edge for Fury Road. Everyone young and old, male and female, knows how to fight. The breeders aren’t complete damsels in distress, but vulnerable enough to care about and we understand any hopeless moments one may have. One is actually about to give birth, after all. Furiosa’s got a detachable, mechanical forearm that’s useful in saving key character’s lives and shooting villains better than Max can. One villain’s got bullets for teeth. Lines like “I had a baby brother!” don’t say much in this review, but when seen, shows the tragic downfall of humanity mixed with a certain optimism given by Immortan to his people and blood relatives serving as henchmen. It reminds us of all the characters’ motivations in this chase that are minimally-drawn yet strong enough to carry a two-hour spectacle about survival. Miller paints a humanity that’s not only dying – seen in the beggars – but those that are thriving under the strife like Immortan, his henchmen, and to an extent Max and Furiosa who are more clean-cut and have access to better resources than the dying half.
We see a humanity that’s made it difficult to survive because of the new class-structured culture they created since the Apocalypse that’s not so different from ours today. Furiosa’s betrayal is yet another example of how a survival mindset can actually bring us back down. Why else would a main cause of death in this version of Australia be from short, painted-white bald guys with exploding spears?
Fury Road is a practically-made Action-spectacle with a surprising strength in its narrative that’s minimalist compared to most other studio tentpoles. It’s surprising they allowed George Miller, who’s 70 years old, to reboot an action franchise that spent so many years in development hell. Constantly in-motion, yet knows when to stop, and filled with beautiful landscape, detail and crafty characters, Fury Road is a surprise spectacle of a trilogy-starter that demands to be seen.