Come Monday, there will be two kinds of people in the world: Those who love Mad Max: Fury Road, and those who still haven’t seen it. Do not fall behind on this one. You will be left in the dust and crushed by a truck that looks like a porcupine.
The reviews have been ecstatic. Mad Max: Fury Road currently has a ninety fucking nine percent on Rotten Tomatoes with a whopping 177 reviews counted (of them, only two are negative—surprisingly, Armond White wrote neither). Believe the hype. This is a new action classic, and as a potential crowd-pleaser that virtually everyone who has seen it seems to agree on, word of mouth could propel it to being a bonafide cultural phenomenon. When it comes to big, dumb action movies, Fury Road is as good as it gets.
Fury Road is essentially a two-hour car chase. Though it eventually slows down (only to pick back up and then continue that cycle several times), the first 45 minutes are virtually all racing and crashing Gwarmobiles and bodies exploding against the sky and a guitar that shoots flames played by a guy standing on a rig that seats four drummers on its rear. It’s so loud—explosions on top of car sounds on top of a score of thunderous drums and frantic strings—I barely caught any dialogue during the entire sequence. Not that it mattered. I wish “roller coaster ride” weren’t sucha clichéd descriptor because it actually conveys what this adrenaline bath actually feels like
Mad Max: Fury Road is all tension, no pretense. The goal is for the good guys to get from point A to B (though some backtracking and stalling is inevitable) and beat the bad guys. Its titular hero, now played by Tom Hardy in this fourth installment of George Miller’s franchise, is described in the film’s opening voice over as “a man reduced to a single instinct: survive.” That is his only objective in the harsh dessert world presented to us, and that is what he does. He spends almost half the movie with a contraption over that gorgeous face of his and mumbles no more than a sentence or two at a time. (In invoking Bane, we basically get to rewatch the only good thing about The Dark Knight Rises.) At one point when Max is about to venture away from his team, his reluctant ally Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) asks what to do if he doesn’t make it back to her truck before its engine has cooled and the rig is ready to press on. “Well, you keep moving,” says Max, underlining the film’s ethos.
Furiosa is attempting to escape from her society’s ruling dictator Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne, whose character breathes through a bizarre mask and looks like a He-Man villain figure come to life) with a bunch of his modelesque concubines. The scenes featuring them play like America’s Next Top Apocalypse, and though they invite the male gaze, at least there’s justification for what would be gratuitous hotness in less clever hands (of course the ruler’s baby-makers are obscenely gorgeous). What a difference a reboot makes. In the original Mad Max (1979), women existed on the periphery; here they just might be civilization’s salvation. It’s enough to have people labeling this movie feminist. At the very least, this is more feminist than standard action fare. In response, MRAs are whining over being made to watch strong female characters. So that’s great then. Mad Max: Fury Road is an excellent thing for the world to have.
As the cars zoom from one location to another, the movie’s smaller details dazzle. The action choreography is exquisite, the aerial shots invigorating. The use of color is particularly effective—night scenes get a blue hue, and there are shots of daytime action that are a collage of muted primary colors (the blue of the sky, the red of the vehicles’ rust, the yellow of the dirt). Eccentricities are plentiful (War Boys, the soldiers fighting for Immortan Joe, huff silver paint to pump themselves up for battle), but what I appreciated most was how familiar this movie felt. It brought me back to a harsh, post-apocalyptic, desert world that I saw so much of growing up in the ‘80s and assumed must exist somewhere or would soon. The future is here, once again, and it couldn’t have come in a more impressive vehicle.