Subgenre films can get caught up in themselves, wallowing in that which makes their niche special, so I love when one is able to stay true to its principles while still telling a quality story. Thankfully, that is the case for “Mad Max: Fury Road”. To make matters better, I was happy it stays in synch with its predecessors (largely because of directorial continuity) while managing to be updated and relevant to today’s world. George Miller stepped up his steampunk game this time around, to create a rich, vibrant world all of its own.
First and foremost, I have to highlight the spectacular imagery of this film. An amazing mix of practical stunts, visual effects, makeup, and cinematography come together in a phenomenal visual journey. The majority of the stunts are practical, with real cars on real sand and dirt, successfully grounding this intentionally over-the-top film in reality (see a cool video illustrating this here: https://youtu.be/ent02yItm60?list=PL15KbAxfKZE31cEgr7UyCsVST4b_ExpXD). Never before have I been so satisfied with watching punked-out cars, trucks, and bikes blow each other up for two hours.
Great visual effects alone don’t make a good movie, though (see: Transformers). Layered on top of the already dense whirlwind of visual storytelling was complex character work that always believably drives the plot forward. From the fierce determination of Furiosa, to the begrudging aid of Max, to the meandering search for truth of Nux, the characters experience things and react to them in human ways, a testament to the Miller-led writing team. The acting, especially the gritty yet pure performance of Charlize Theron, elevates the characters even further, and I felt actually engaged in their struggles despite how foreign they are. Furthermore, I appreciate Miller’s willingness to be brutal – not in terms of violence or gore, which filmmakers too often needlessly accentuate, but rather allowing important characters to meet untimely and unfair deaths. It keeps the movie-goer on their toes, and makes for more high-stakes storytelling.
Importantly, themes of redemption, survival, home, and unity are wonderfully refracted through a feminist lens, providing a modern and fresh perspective. The Five Wives’ revolt, via Furiosa, is an empowering one, which inspires messages of equality, perseverance, and strength. What’s more, these five women are all different, with unique personalities and motivations. In other words, they’re human beings – something all too rare in cinema. Charlize Theron said it best: “I think George didn’t have a feminist agenda up his sleeve. It’s just very truthful. […] George has this innate understanding that women are just as complex and interesting as men. Through just his need and want for the truth he actually made an incredible feminist movie.”
The film had some minor setbacks, but none of which even make a dent in its successes. It became somewhat episodic, with out-of-place fades to black between sequences, which in my opinion disrupted the flow of this high-paced thriller. There was also a period I thought I disliked, when I felt they were dragging the plot out after what would have been a satisfactory conclusion, but the direction they went instead was far more satisfying. So, all in all “Mad Max: Fury Road” stands out as a triumph of both effects and character work, both above its predecessors and other films of its time. Still think it won’t be for you? Think again…