The way I see it, in the next twenty years, there are going to be two groups of people – those who saw Mad Max: Fury Road when it came out, and those who wish they saw Mad Max: Fury Road when it came out. I am not one to choose between the cinema and home video – some films, undeniably, are wonderful on the big screen, but they can serve the same purpose on the small screen at home. Mad Max: Fury Road joins the likes of 2001: A Space Odyssey and Lawrence of Arabia as a film one has to see in cinemas, because this was truly a once in a lifetime cinematic experience, and dare I saw it, almost a religious reawakening of film.
From the very first moment, you are transported into this world. This barren, harsh and terrifying post-apocalyptic world. Those hoping for a change of scenery need not apply. We stay in this perpetual state of insanity and acid-inspired lunacy throughout the entire film. There is a chase sequence that starts at the beginning of the film and lasts for nearly half an hour – and it doesn’t stop for a single second. The moment is does stop, you can hear the entire audience sigh with relief, because action films have never quite been as intense as this. Those expecting alternating moments of sedation and action also need not apply – the entire film is one chase after the other. Not to spoil it for anybody, but the film can be summarized with the following sentence: they are chased from one side of the desert to the other, and then back again. That’s the film in a nutshell – it may appear quite inappropriate to bring an entire film of this magnitude down to levels of such simplicity, but it is in that where we find the absolute brilliance George Miller has brought to his underrated franchise in the past, and that is the very reason why, three decades later, he can resurrect an iconic character and not suffer the same fate of other film sequels, and instead make a film that not only meets the quality of the previous films, but quite often exceeds the bar set before. To me, that is one reason why Mad Max: Fury Road is destined to become one of the most iconic films in history, and won’t be forgotten anytime soon.
It is actually quite difficult to write about this film – there is some much to say about this film, but not enough ways to articulate those emotions. Much like Birdman, Mad Max: Fury Road is something unlike anything I have ever seen before, and it is impossible to describe. I am not at all implying that it is difficult to write something about it because it is very good (it is absolutely brilliant), but because there has just never quite been something like this. A little secret I will tell you is that when it comes to writing about films and reviewing a specific movie, one tends to look at the film in question and try and see where it fits in with the genre and in film history as a whole – Mad Max: Fury Road destroys pre-existing conceptions of film like it kills characters – violently, every two minutes:
First cliche – a lead character with relentless charisma and bravery? Absolutely destroyed. Max, as a character, is very much an action hero, and he is very likable, but he doesn’t at all have the charisma and accessibility that other action heroes have – even the “rough diamond” action heroes turn out to have a heart of gold eventually. Tom Hardy never once lets his guard down, and in a way, he completely defies the action hero cliche. Cold, clinical but still absolutely embracing is quite a feat.
Second cliche – the femme fatale? Ruined by Charlize Theron. I am not a huge fan of her, but I think here she helps bring a considerable amount of depth to a character very rarely paid attention to – the female action hero. Instead of being a female action hero, she is instead an action hero who just happens to be female. This character could have been played by absolutely anyone, male or female. To me, the character of Furiosa demonstrates a perfect example of progressive feminism, which has Miller creating a character not defined by her gender, and seen as an absolute equal to the male lead. I will go ahead and say that Theron’s performance here is the best by a woman in an action film since the most iconic female action performance ever – the legendary Sigourney Weaver’s star-making turn as Alice Ripley in the Alien films. It is difficult to pinpoint how this film will factor in Theron’s career – it is impossible that this is her star-making turn, because she is already a huge star. However, I have the sneaking suspicion that this will be the performance Theron will best be known for when all is said and done, and with one of the sequels to this film that will hopefully materialize being named “Max Max: Furiosa“, I don’t think we have seen the last of Theron’s character.
Third cliche? A romantic sub-plot. This is a tricky one because Miller does throw in a false alarm with this one between two of the supporting characters. Of course, I believe this was truly only a red herring, because the romance in this film disappears faster than it arrived. There probably were only two reasons for placing a romantic sub-plot into the film the way it was done – either it was Miller just screwing around with us, or it was a way of calming down the pure insanity of this film. Either way, if you are someone who despises schmaltz as much as I do, don’t fret, this film is almost entirely void of it.
Mad Max: Fury Road has no happy ending. It has a resolution that is satisfactory, and also does something quite extraordinary – it has an ending that doesn’t quite wrap everything up and leaves space open for the story to continue, but it resolves the plot in such a way that you aren’t frustrated and you can very happily go on with your life if another film is never made. This is quite an original way of ending a film, as if a sequel is made, it will be less expected and more of a surprise, and even if you know that a sequel will be made, it will be less of a chore that Miller has to do and rather a treat for all of us.
The most disappointing part of Mad Max: Fury Road is that it wasn’t advertised as “from the creator of Babe: Pig in the City and Happy Feet” – that surely would have brought the crowds in…
Finally, Mad Max: Fury Road is an extraordinary piece of cinema. Original, yet still with its roots deeply in Ozploitation and action films. Dark, occasionally funny and of course wonderfully made, it stands as one of the best films of the year so far, and most certainly one of the best action films of recent years. Bravo.