I am either the ideal or the wrong person to review Mad Max: Fury Road. I like my movies simple but suspenseful, on the realistic side, with weight and witty dialogue, with rounded, believable characters. Mad Max doesn’t have any of this. Instead, it’s a loud, shrill, monomaniacal high-speed romp through a barren, deadly post-apocalyptic landscape. Reader, I loved it. Movies like this elicit one of two likely responses: you either want to get off that hellride, or you cry for more. I cried for more. What doesn’t truck with me is complaining about the action and violence; that would be like jumping into a pool and complaining about the wetness. You’ve been warned.
I haven’t seen any of the other Mad Max movies, but apparently the first film, from 1979, defined the genre of post-apocalyptic action movies, and it also jump-started a very young Mel Gibson to superstardom. All four of the movies, including this one, have been directed by George Miller (the same guy who gave you Babe and Happy Feet). He is hell-bent on doing three more.
Let me see if I got the mythology right: Mad Max (Tom Hardy) mourns his dead family when he is caught by the chalk-white, bald minions of Immortan Joe, a merciless ruler who controls the water supplies from his sky-high Citadel in the middle of a vast desert: “Do not become addicted to water. You might resent its absence.” Nestlé must like the guy. Mad Max is valuable to Joe’s people because they tattoo his back with the information that his blood makes him an universal donor, and he is healthy in a world where everyone looks sick and emaciated. Or something.
There is Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron), a woman who once might have been captured just like Max and now has the regular task to transport fuel from Gas Town back to Immortan Joe’s Citadel. Fuel, like water and food, is scarce. But Furiosa deviates from the usual route because all of Joe’s wives are on board, and it’s their plan to escape to a mythical Green Place where they are free of patriarchy. Or course Immortan Joe and his army are after them. So are the thugs from the Bullet Farm. And one or maybe two other factions. There is a People Eater and an Organic Mechanic… I say: Let it all wash over you. It’s like Lawrence of Arabia dropped an amount of acid that might kill a fair-sized camel.
There is less CGI stuff than you might think. They erased the stunt cables and enhanced the color palette of the landscape, but many of the stunts are real. So are the wondrous vehicles. There is a different kind of kinetic energy at work here than in, say, an Avenger movie. And Mad Max is nothing if not kinetic energy turned to eleven. It is so over the top that it provides its own music: there is a truck with four huge kettle drums, and another vehicle with a dude playing his fiery guitar in front of a wall of loudspeakers. Imagine Motörhead headlining the Burning Man festival.
They kept a lot of the dialogue to an absolute minimum. It’s all in the camera angles and in the faces. Tom Hardy sometimes disappears into the foreground because he essentially wants to get out of it alive. Charlize Theron doesn’t compromise, but there is compassion in her Furiosa all the same. And there is Nux, played by Nicholas Hoult, one of those white bald minions who switches sides and helps the women escape.
Ah, the women. There are five or six of them who have been forced into marriage to Joe, among them Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, who is very pregnant with Joe’s male heir, and Zoë Kravitz. There is a group of female renegade warriors later in the film. They have their fair share of screen time, but since everyone and everything is so silly and action-oriented, it’s hard to tell if this film is some kind of feminist revelation. The women do things that determine the outcome of the story, but it’s still a male-dominated world. One thing is worth knowing, though: the dialogue between Furiosa and Splendid and Toast and Dag and Cheedo was supervised by Eve Ensler. Yes, that Eve Ensler, of Vagina Monologue fame. Using narratives of real-life war-scathed women is really rather lost in a movie like this, but if you get to improve a film from a genre where women are underrated and more often portrayed as victims than cast as protagonists, you go ahead and take the opportunity.
I could have easily disliked this film. Sometimes I’m in the mood for a certain kind of movie. Mad Max: Fury Road is the right kind of film if you want to take a rollercoaster ride without actually moving an inch. It’s popcorn cinema by a guy who has done three movies that led him up to this one. It is utterly silly, and it knows that. It doesn’t commit the cardinal sin of apologizing for its silliness. It wears its badge of goofiness proudly, and in earnest. Take it or leave it, but hellrides don’t come much better than this.