Mad Max: Fury Road review by Mark McPherson - Cinema Paradiso
I believe the easiest way to describe the brilliance of Mad Max: Fury Road is in the most eye-catching addition of the desert convoy. A customized truck houses a stage of drummers in the back and a guitar player in the front with a vast array of speakers. The guitarist, bound by elastic strings for both him and his guitar, shreds a powerful battle-cry as the villainous gang plows through the desert sands. He may appear as a simple gimmick existing only for the sake of atmosphere, but his guitar doubles as a flamethrower. He has his purpose when the violent chase breaks out of men and women firing back at each other - jumping from vehicle to vehicle. This is the genius of the film in how it delivers on the mile-a-minute, high-octane excitement, but still has a surprising focus to all its madness. Plus, a man playing a guitar-flamethrower is something ridiculously awesome to behold.
The world of Mad Max is a post-apocalyptic world with a rich mythology that is wonderfully built within the first few minutes. We’re exposed to a dirty society run by the monstrous Immortan Joe (played by Mad Max villain alumni Hugh Keays-Byrne), dazzled in his plastic chest armor and breathing apparatus with painted on teeth. The large teeth look like they were painted on, but there are moments where the teeth open leading me to believe that the device may be directly attached to his jaw. He is seen as a god among his people - showering them with water and promising them safety in his gritty collective. To be granted eye contact or a mission from Joe is a step closer to Valhalla. To mess with his horded collection of wives is a death sentence. For the tough-as-nails Furiosa (Charlize Theron), she seeks to free his “property” of reproduction to a better world in a stolen tanker. Thus, the long chase begins.
But where is our title character in all this? Keeping with the tradition of the franchise, Max (Tom Hardy) is more of a force for the story than a dominant character. He’s merely thrown into the scenario where he must carefully decide who to side with and who to shoot. That being said, there’s a solid amount of backstory delivered in very little dialogue. Having become a veteran of the world bathed in fire and blood, he has grown paranoid and haunted by his past. Voices of those he couldn’t save continue to disturb his mind and affecting his actions - piercing his mental state like a reoccurring heart attack. Through these brief hauntings we learn enough about Max to be invested and interested in his role. Even more subtly aloof is the equally hardened Furiosa who appears twice as mysterious and alluring. Little of her past and the story behind her mechanical arm are divulged, making her all the more intriguing about who she is and what she desires.
Similar to the character development, the entire world is parsed out in telling visuals rather than overused “after the fall” narration. The origin of the gas and water wars are not important nor are they that interesting. What we get to learn about is the twisted society born around the reign of Immortan Joe. The man surrounds himself with his white-painted soldiers serving in hopes of being honored by their glorious leader. The simple elements of their society are brought about magnificently through the action. We learn that these are men without fear of death - welcoming their trip to Valhalla by spraying their mouths with chrome and launching head first into the enemy. Every noble sacrificed is celebrated by the army as a triumph of loyalty. We get to follow one such devoted boy by the name of Nux (Nicholas Hoult) - forsaken by his god and struggling to find his place in the world as he switches sides.
And the cars? Sweet mother of pearl, the cars! Every single vehicle has some strange and striking concept to their design. Immortan Joe drives into battle with something that appears as a cross between a monster truck and a vintage sports car. Marauding outlaws assault convoys with so many spikes on their exteriors I’m surprised there wasn't scores of road kill and corpses skewered all over their front. And, I’m sorry, but I just cannot get over the speeding truck that appears more as a concert stage. It’s not used as a quick joke and isn’t just there for decoration. Everything has a purpose in this film for as strange and out there as it appears. Even the smallest details have their place as with Joe’s traveling accountant who seems to have more fat than feet (and nipple rings in case he wasn’t weird enough).
George Miller’s new Mad Max is not a reboot, update or homage to his classic franchise; it’s the best damn Mad Max sequel you could’ve ever dreamed of and so much more. It’s a major wake up call to the action genre with enough weight and substance to the fights to be more of a filling main course than a meaningless collection of side dishes. The crashing cars, flaming explosions and people climbing/flying from vehicles is all fantastic. It’s amazing to finally see something that looks just as thrilling as when it was filmed. Leave it to the master of post-apocalyptic filmmaking to show this generation of special effects junkies how it is done. We live in an era where it’s easy enough to create anything out of computer graphics, but nothing beats a bad-ass car chase with real cars being smashed up real good.