Sunday, May 17, 2015
Mad Max: Fury Road is the first of the series to come out in 30 years and the only one not to feature Mel Gibson. Each of the Mad Max movies is successively longer and Fury Road ends up being exactly two hours in length. Australian director, George Miller, who besides the Mad Max series also directed Babe and Happy Feet, seems comfortable here not departing too far from formula. This is another stark, apocalyptic and futuristic western – yet better than most of its kind.
Traveling to the theatre to watch this film didn’t seem too promising. In a packed house, I was seated next to someone who seemed to have had too much to drink and was treated to close to twenty minutes of previews that contained little else than loud soundtracks and explosions. When the film Mad Max: Fury Road actually began, I experienced much of the same thing.
Max (Tom Hardy) becomes a slave at the hands of the evil Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne). Joe controls all the water and therefore the entire population. Miraculously, salvation comes to Max due to the efforts of Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron), who is on a humanitarian mission to save the many wives of Joe from Joe’s clutches. With five of Joe’s wives on her big rig, this sets off a chase orchestrated by Joe. The evil henchmen bring Max along as sport. Max escapes and decides to help Furiosa. He convinces her that the only means of truly bettering their lives is to have Joe killed and return to his empire to free all of his slaves.
This is an abbreviated summary of the plot. Max succeeds in his venture and, the film leads us to believe, returns to the desert where he continues on with his roaming. Throughout the film we watch large number of car chases, gunplay, fights, stunts and a number of visual effects. Other than this, there’s little dialogue and few surprises.
Still, compared to message films like Avatar or movies featuring comic book heroes, Mad Max: Fury Road is refreshing. It doesn’t preach at us, never gets sentimental, and never pretends to be something it is not.
The movie is more about the character of Furiosa than Max. The subplot casting Theron effectively as a sort of feminist hero is the film’s one unexpected surprise. Theron plays a strong but relatively unglamorous character. Both Furiosa and Max have experienced enough hardship to seek something decent in the world. Without such efforts to do the right thing, there’s very little else to live for in such an unpromising landscape.
Miller originally created the Mad Max series in his Australian homeland to match the spaghetti western films cropping up in America during the 1960s and 1970s. The heroes of such films are generally more conflicted than the heroes in westerns filmed twenty or thirty years earlier. In these films, the main character needed to struggle to do the right thing. We don’t always understand the heroes’ motivations in these films and the script does not give everything away.
Though well done in a Hollywood that produces nothing but excess, I prefer Mad Max: The Road Warrior to this film. The Road Warrior came first, didn’t have the $150 million budget and yet essentially accomplished the same thing. Having said that, the virtues of Mad Max: Fury Road includes much more than special effects.
Judging by Mad Max: Fury Road’s success, other sequels in this film series will likely follow.
© Robert S. Miller 2015
May 17, 2015