In a cinematic world filled with redundant and unnecessary sequels, Mad Max is one of the rare older series that actually deserves further exploration and expansion. Writer/director George Miller built a stunning, unique and rich world with his original trilogy of films, and because each sequel operates more as a “Tales From The Post-Apocalyptic Wasteland” instead of a subsequent chapter, there exists fantastic potential to keep telling those stories, forever. It was this thinking that got Miller to put together Mad Max: Fury Road, and we should be thankful because it is as crazy, thrilling, gorgeous, and awesome as anyone could really hope, and guaranteed to be one of the best big-screen spectacles of the year.
Bringing us back to the death-covered world of the desert, where people bleed for water and gasoline, the new legend takes folk hero Max Rockatansky (Tom Hardy) and this time puts him on a collision course with Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron), a one-armed rebel on the run with an immensely valuable package. For years, she has served under a monstrous tyrannical cult leader called Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne), but when she finds opportunity to escape, she takes it – and brings along with her Joe’s imprisoned prized “breeders” (Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Zoe Kravitz, Riley Keough, Megan Gale, Abbey Lee). An escaped prisoner of Joe’s, and in need of an exit strategy himself, Max teams with the women on their journey to a “Promise Land” known as The Green Place. With three war parties on their tails, what follows is an epic, wild pursuit across the wasteland that’s as dramatic and exhilarating as it is spectacular and beautiful.
Mad Max: Fury Road is a chase film by the most literal of definitions, launching into the action just mere moments after the studio logo screens, and though it may sound exhausting, the film actually manages to maintain an incredible level of energy straight through to the end credits. This works not just because Miller packs the feature with a wide array of jaw-dropping, explosive-filled action sequences, but because of the gripping, dense atmosphere that the movie creates. The story never goes too long without giving us insight as to what’s happening on the antagonist’s side of things, and they’re constantly presented as a looming force right on our heroes’ heels – pushing them forward. This isn’t to say that Fury Road doesn’t have its more deliberate moments where we get to see characters, dynamics and deeper themes of hope, fear and retribution explored. But the story sucks you into its world in a way that gives the plot great urgency, flow and pressure at all times in the narrative.
You know what also tends to add a good dose of urgency into a chase film? When those doing the chasing are absolutely terrifying. Taking the post-apocalyptic look of The Road Warrior and Beyond Thunderdome up 10-15 notches, Mad Max: Fury Road’s villains are decked out in all kinds of crazy-yet-weirdly-practical costumes and makeup, helping us perfectly understand why Max, Furiosa and the women can’t get away fast enough. The appearance of Immortan Joe is art all by itself – with Keays-Byrne looking absolutely monstrous wearing a fang-filled breathing apparatus and white gladiator armor to match his deathly pale skin – but really, his entire army of skeleton-painted cult followers will send a shiver down your spine (including Nicholas Hoult as Nux, a devout follower of Joe’s who winds up being manacled to the titular hero). And even though you kind of want to giggle at the electric guitarist who is strung up like a marionette amongst the war drummers, even he is wearing a frightening mask and has an instrument that doubles as a flamethrower.
Of course, the “mad” look doesn’t just stop with the antagonist forces, as the artistic aesthetic touches every costume and bit of production design, from the Volkswagen Beetles fused to the top of Furiosa’s rig as defense stations, to the mask made out of a garden hoe that Max is forced to wear in captivity. With a shaved head, war paint, and effectively-used metal arm, Furiosa is a bound-to-be-iconic vision for a hero of the apocalypse, and the contrast that exists between the beauty of the innocent women she rescues and the ugliness of the world around them is truly wonderful.
A movie as crazy as Mad Max: Fury Road very much needs a cast that will commit to its over-the-top world as well, and George Miller has put together a phenomenal ensemble. Tom Hardy’s Max Rockatansky is a bit more on the strong, stoic side than Mel Gibson’s was, blatantly scarred by what the world has done to him. This only serves to shine more of a light on Furiosa, who is fueled by Charlize Theron-provided gravitas and a powerful performance. Nicholas Hoult is a tremendous surprise as Nux, given a fantastic arc relating to the characters’ connection to Immortan Joe that he plays to full emotional effect. And even though they’re grouped together for the entire film, George Miller does give Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Zoe Kravitz, Riley Keough, Megan Gale, and Abbey Lee’s characters each individual personalities and places in the story.
Mad Max: Fury Road is a special film. It’s bombastically entertaining and action packed, but it doesn’t disregard emotion and story; and it’s a fitting follow-up that will make lovers of the Road Warrior giddy. But it’s also entirely accessible to those who have never even heard of the Mel Gibson-starring films. It’s a tremendous cinematic experience courtesy of George Miller, and a must-see.
Eric Eisenberg is the Assistant Managing Editor at CinemaBlend. After graduating Boston University and earning a bachelor’s degree in journalism, he took a part-time job as a staff writer for CinemaBlend, and after six months was offered the opportunity to move to Los Angeles and take on a newly created West Coast Editor position. Over a decade later, he's continuing to advance his interests and expertise. In addition to conducting filmmaker interviews and contributing to the news and feature content of the site, Eric also oversees the Movie Reviews section, writes the the weekend box office report (published Sundays), and is the site's resident Stephen King expert. He has two King-related columns.