Mad Max: Fury Road
When I bought my ticket to see Mad Max: Fury Road, I had never seen a single Mad Max movie in my life. I knew it was an Australian dystopian franchise from the 80’s starring Mel Gibson, and had a substantial cult following, but not much else. So when I eased into my seat, I was pretty unprepared for the visual and thematic feast about to unfold before me.
Like its predecessors, Fury Road is set in a grim desert wasteland where water and oil are scarce. Pockets of surviving humans are desperate for resources and power, and nobody has more of either than Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne).
Fury Road begins with Max as a prisoner of Joe’s War Boys, an army Immortan Joe has bred himself using sex slaves.
Things kick into high gear when Furiosa (Charlize Theron, Dark Places), a mysterious lieutenant in Joe’s army, is sent across the desert to fetch oil. Joe discovers that Furiosa has broken his five “wives” free from their prison and stowed them in her oil rig. Max is thrown into the action when his captors engage in a massive desert chase against Furiosa, who is bound and determined to reach an oasis called “The Green Place.”
If Max seems like a bit of a footnote here, he is. Furiosa and the women are the heart and soul of Fury Road, championing female life and autonomy into something that could have easily been a popcorn flick for bros.
When Max joins the women on their rig, initially self-preservation is his only goal. But these women, two of whom are pregnant, show him what it means to want survival - not only for yourself but for your children and a future world as well.
It’s not a perfect movie, or one that’s universally appealing. Nearly the whole two-hours is a car chase, which can be tiring if you’re not into that sort of film. Tom Hardy (The Revenant) delivers a somewhat vague performance; at times it’s not easy to engage with his character. The action is continuous, the roars loud, and the explosions vivid.
But on the whole, Fury Road impresses and surprises more than almost any other 2015 release (as evidenced by its 6 Oscar wins). Movie nerds, especially, will be thrilled to watch the energy and prowess of incredible stunt performers. Casual filmgoers will be delighted to see the tactile grit of real choreography and real explosions after a decade of shiny computer-generated stunts in almost every other action flick.
As a writer, my hands-down favourite aspect of the film is the utter restraint displayed by the screenwriters. Putting good sci-fi on screen is no easy feat. It can be way too tempting to get bogged down in tons of unrealistic expository dialogue and explanations of the World and its culture.
But Mad Max suffers from none of these rookie mistakes; it truly knows how to “show, not tell.” We aren’t told why Furiosa has a mechanical arm, but we understand that she’s a warrior who realised she wants to fight for life instead of slavery. We don’t need definitions of the terms “Valhalla” or “blood bag” or the history of Gas Town and its relationship to the Citadel. We’re swept up in the chase, the fights, the conversations, and we’re told just enough to keep us engrossed.
At the end of the night, Fury Road offers us a well-made, tightly-written critique of greed, oppression, and dehumanisation. It may be a bumpy ride, but it’s a ride like you’ve never taken before.