Mad Max: Fury Road is one of the greatest action films ever made and certainly the greatest action film ever made by a 70-year-old director. If you’ve seen the trailers, you know what you’re in for: non-stop, pedal-to-the-metal, jaw-dropping movie mayhem. Toss in ingenious set and costume design, elaborately tricked-out rat rods, monster trucks the size of apartment buildings, staggeringly beautiful cinematography and gorgeously glowering, dirt smeared faces of anti-heroes that Sergio Leone would have lingered on for hours, and you’ve got the kind of holy fuck experience that doesn’t come around but once every decade or so. Director George Miller has created a majestic piece of popular entertainment that accomplishes what Road Warrior managed to do in 1982: it sets a new standard for pure cinematic thrills. The poetry is in the motion. This is a moving picture.
Mad Max inhabits a surreal universe as beautifully imagined as those of Alejandro Jodorowsky and Moebius’s concepts for their ill-fated Dune project. And there’s more than a little of Terry Gilliam’s dreamy machinery in the mix. There’s not a frame in the movie that isn’t ravishing and filled with intricate and startling details. Every widescreen landscape is alien and yet familiar. As if David Lean’s Lawrence had wandered into some post-apocalyptic Arabia.
MM:FR doesn’t achieve its epic grandeur and high powered velocity with bigger and better toys or special effects (though it does have that), it does it through sheer cinematic brilliance. This is a movie that doesn’t feel like it was composed in a computer and it doesn’t look like a series of video game cut scenes. MM:FR feels alive, palpably real, organic, crafted. It draws you in in ways that today’s special effects films generally don’t. The distancing effect of CGI is minimal. The scale of the movie is both epic and intimate. Astonishingly magical and deeply human.
What makes Mad Max: Fury Road doubly rewarding is that it takes on some big themes without getting in the way of the action. Miller deals with planetary ecological disasters, the futility of war, feminism, totalitarianism, religious fanaticism and the ruthlessness to which humanity is driven in its quest for power. Like all fables, MM:FR is about the battle between good and evil. Nothing new there. But what sets it apart from the current crop of male-centric action movies is the role women play in the film. They’re the dominant heroes. Tom Hardy’s Mad Max takes a backseat to Charlize Theron’s indomitable one-armed buttkicking machine. The men, as one female character describes them, are merely “reliable.” With the exceptions of Hardy and Nicholas Hoult’s Nux, the rest of the male characters are breast-fed (yeah, that’s right) zombified killing machines (War Boys) on a mission from a malefic God. The beautiful and brutally efficient women are the moral center of the movie and their revenge is sweet. This is the hardest rocking chick flick in history. The biker gang made up of septuagenarian Earth goddesses is as cool as any thing you’ll see in cinemas this year. And like so much of MM:FR, it hasn’t been done before. This movie surprises at every turn. Jaded movie goers will feel like kids again.
George Miller and Hugh Keays-Byrne (Toecutter and Immortan Joe in the Max movies) are interviewed by Robert Rodriguez after a screening of MM:FR this past weekend in Austin, Texas. Shot by M. Campbell for Dangerous Minds at The Alamo Drafthouse.