EXPECTATIONS: An action-packed film compensating from lack of character with gallons of forced nostalgia.
REVIEW: When I first heard of this film in development, I was pumped, despite the lack of Mel Gibson. Tom Hardy was cast as Max? I was sold. Charlize Theron was cast, I was sold. George Miller came back to continue the franchise, double sold. But what made me hesitant, even recently before I wrote this review, was that continuations of dormant franchises have been very mixed, mostly disappointing. Movies like Terminator Genisys and Jurassic World were incredibly reliant on people’s nostalgia of the franchises that it comes off as lazy and derivative, and I was scared that Mad Max: Fury Road would come off as the same way. Another fear I had was that I was scared that this film would be more of an advertisement to future films, instead of an actual film itself, like Iron Man 2 and The Amazing Spider-Man 2. Well, guys, I was wrong. Mad Max: Fury Road is one of the loveliest action films this year. Fuck it, probably the loveliest action film this decade.
The film starts off with a voice-over from Max (Tom Hardy), introducing himself and the story universe for those who are unfamiliar and he is, again, a broken man with his beloved Ford Interceptor, wondering in the world, with only one purpose in his mind, to survive. Until one day, he is attacked and captured by a bunch of War Boys, and he is used as a blood bag. Meanwhile, Furiousa (Charlize Theron), an Imperator for Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne), the leader of a city called “The Citadel”, suddenly takes off into the desert with Joe’s five wives, all played distinctively by Rosie Huntington-Whitely, Abbey Lee, Courtney Eaton, Zoe Kravitz and Riley Keough. This, of course, pisses Immortan Joe off and he sends his entire army, including overeager zealot Nux (Nicholas Hoult), who is desperate to make an impression to Joe and die for ultimate glory. And somehow Max ends up in the middle of all this and he has to pick a side to survive this “family squabble”.
Now you’re probably wondering, that’s it for a plot? True, but it’s not what the plot entails that makes the film worthwhile, but how the plot is executed and exists. And director George Miller, alongside his fellow writers Brendan McCarthy and Nico Lathouris have created a magnificently macabre world that demands repeat viewings just to take it all in. The vehicles, the settings, the people are all meticulously crafted (the War Rig, a truck that Furiousa is a world all on its own). Names like Organic Mechanic, Rictus Erectus and Toast the Knowing are wonderfully weird and could only exist in the Mad Max universe. Too bad Vin Diesel was taken. And unlike other film franchises, there is no set-up for sequels and the nostalgia factor is refreshingly low. Some references to the previous films are present (i.e the music box, Toecutter’s eyes etc).
Speaking of the characters, they are well-defined and portrayed and Charlize Theron as Furiousa will be seen as an icon of action heroines, I guarantee it. She portrays the mix of determination, grittiness and care with such skill that we sympathize with her as soon as we see her on screen. Tom Hardy is just as good as Theron, portraying Max as animalistic and brutally efficient, yet is incredibly closed with this emotions. Hell, he barely even speaks (despite the opening voice-over) for more than 40 minutes into the film and when he does, his accent is endearingly all over the place (how would you speak if you haven’t spoken in years?). But once we reach the end of the second act, he opens up quite a bit, speaking in actual sentences and its a testament to Hardy that he carries Max’s arc from silent animal to survivalist savior so effortlessly. As for Nicholas Hoult, his character, Nux, has the most complete character arc, from brainwashed zealot to his character’s fate, and he is surprisingly likable and even sympathetic. Never has anyone failed miserably in his duty as he does. His character could have been very annoying, especially with his overjoyed enthusiasm, but his character development, alongside the others, add emotional resonance to the story, that we actually care for them, especially from the hands of the villains like Immortan Joe, hauntingly portrayed by Hugh Keays-Byrne.
Now for the selling point, the action. It is true, that the film is almost entirely made of action. But since the story is set within a long-spanning chase, what else did you expect? The action is eye-fetchingly fantastic, filmed with wide-angle shots, clearly shot and edited and mostly done with practical effects (CGI is sparingly used), that it is a joy witnessing the beautiful chaos of vehicles exploding and crashing. Director George Miller is obviously having the time of his life, like a child with the most expensive toy-box. But what makes the action more than just beautiful chaos is the how much we care for the characters and how they are all in constant peril, changes in action film conventions (i.e none of the female characters are damsels-in-distress), the emotionally stirring music from Junkie XL (the scene when Furiousa supposedly reaches the end of the journey will touch audiences) and having just the right amount of scenes of character development. There’s even character development within action scenes themselves. In a fight scene between Max and Furiousa, pay strict attention to what the Wives are doing in the background, as their actions hint of who they are, particularly Cheedo the Fragile, portrayed by Courtney Eaton.
As for flaws, and there are few, is that there is some obvious green screen in the climax and the character of Immortan Joe could be more developed as a character. But overall, I’ve never been more satisfied watching an action film this year. Go see it.
The entire cast give fantastic performances (Charlize Theron is a highlight)
The action scenes are spectacularly filmed
The story is tight, the world is infinitely intricate and it has surprising emotional power
Does not fall into action film conventions (like problems associated to females in action films)
Obvious green screen/CGI at times
The character of Immortan Joe could be more realized
SCORE: 9.5/10 (George Miller shows how action films should be done.)
Cast: Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron, Nicholas Hoult, Hugh Keays-Byrne, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Riley Keough, Zoe Kravitz, Abbey Lee, Courtney Eaton, Josh Helman, Nathan Jones, John Howard, Richard Carter, iOTA, Angus Sampson, Jennifer Hagan, Megan Gale, Melissa Jaffer, Melita Jurisic, Gillian Jones, Joy Smithers
Director: George Miller
Screenwriters: George Miller, Brendan McCarthy, Nico Lathouris