In 1979 – Australian writer-director George Miller released Mad Max, a dystopian action film centered around a hero named Max, who was a ‘Main Force Patrol’ pursuit man. It was hugely profitable, mainly because it was made for almost no money. Basically Max is trying to enforce what little is left of the law in a dystopian Australian future. Things go wrong, his family is killed – and he goes mad.
The movie was really well received, but had very little release here in the US. The second Mad Max movie is actually the one that Americans are more familiar with – The Road Warrior, from 1985. In this outing, a community of settlers is attempting to fend off roving marauders who are looking for fuel. Max meets the Gyro captain, attempts to help, battles Lord Humungus, and rediscovers his humanity while doing so. This one was actually better received than the first movie. It had very little dialogue and was really more about the visuals.
In the third outing, Mad Max goes Beyond the Thunderdome and battles Tina Turner. Seriously – that Tina Turner. That is no stranger than the fact that Wilt Chamberlain was in Conan the Destroyer…seriously, that Wilt Chamberlain. In any case, 15 years have passed since the Road Warrior, and Max is traveling across the desert when he is attacked. Pursuing his attackers, Max arrives at Bartertown, and ends up in the Thunderdome. He then gets into a dispute with Aunty Entity and Master Blaster – eventually helping to save a group of random children and teens in the desert.
Since all of these were written and directed by George Miller (he also did Witches of Eastwick, Lorenzo’s Oil, Babe: Pig in the City, and both Happy Feet movies), it makes sense that he would write and direct this newest entry into the franchise, that really, isn't much of a Mad Max movie (and I love that about it).
Since Max is a lone warrior who seems to begin and end each movie by wandering the desert, more focused on self-survival thank anything else – it makes sense that this movie starts with Max alone in the desert – with his car, bemoaning his own craziness and haunted by images of what could be his daughter or some other small girl.
He encounters a roving band of War Boys, and they capture him. The War Boys are a crazed army of the tyrannical cult leader Immortan Joe. Max is determined to be a universal blood donor, and so is quickly strung up to be used as a ‘blood bag’ for a recovering War Boy named Nux. Joe is keeping a ton of people under his thumb by rationing out water in small amounts, and promising more. He is sending out one of his Imperators – Imperator Furiosa – on a fuel run down the Fury Road in her giant war-rig gas truck to the nearby Gas Town.
Unbeknownst to Joe, Furiosa has taken Joe’s five prized ‘breeders’/wives. At this point I will mention the wives’ names, because they are all insane, and not really mentioned in the movie that much: Angharad, Capable, Cheedo, Toast, and the Dag. Incidentally all the characters have insane names in all these Mad Max movies.
As soon as Furiosa drives off course to try to get the women to safety, Joe realizes what has happened, and sends his army of War Boys after her. Nux decides to join, strapping Max (as his blood bag) to the top of his car. The armies from Gas Town, and the nearby Bullet Farm also join the fray. Eventually Max gets free – accidentally joins Furiosa, accidentally helps to convert Nux to their cause, and helps to save the women (mostly on purpose) but only after a huge wind/sand storm with sand tornados; battling another army of cliff bikers despite the three on their tail; and negotiating a swampy-mud pit type area. At the end, he wanders off into the desert again.
This movie looks amazing. They shot most of it in Namibia, so the desert is real. Miller himself has described the movie as “almost as a western on wheels”. This is fairly accurate. The majority of the action is all practical with almost no CGI effects. In fact, some of the stunt performers are Cirque du Soleil performers and Olympic athletes. The story is very simple, and is non-stop action from the word go. I mentioned that Avengers: Age of Ultron felt like a lot of action with five major action pieces. Fury Road seems to be one long, non-stop action set piece. Well, no – there is one moment where some characters sit and stare at the stars, so let’s go with two long non-stop action set pieces. Following the guidelines of the originals, there is very little dialogue and the movie is mostly visuals – which are amazing. What helps those visuals are talented actors who can do a lot with non-verbals.
- It was a bit strange that Tom Hardy starts this movie in a mask, since the last major movie he did was Dark Knight Rises – which was him in a mask the whole time. At least this time he has no dialogue, so there’s no worry that you cannot understand him. He does a lot of grunting and pointing and his eyes do a great job of conveying the ‘crazy’. He's a bit flat, and has very little to do, and that's fine, since this really isn't his movie.
- My favorite thing about this movie is that really, Charlize Theron’s Furiosa is the hero, Max just happens to be in the movie along for the ride (literally and figuratively). In fact, Miller's proposed sequel would be called Mad Max: Furiosa - which is strange, because that could be the name of this movie. Furiosa is an incredible character, on a very simple and straightforward level. She steals the women to free them, and enlists Max’s help only when she thinks that would work out to their advantage. She is attempting to get them to the ‘green place’ of her youth, and when she realizes that will not work – she adjusts to a new plan, pushing to find a safe place for the women to start over. She’s visually striking, from the buzz cut to the robot arm to the face makeup to the brutal fighting and driving skills. Theron is amazing in this movie, she owns it, she rocks it, she steals the whole thing, and I could not have been more impressed with her. Finally another awesome action movie with a female lead!
- Nicholas Hoult plays Nux, and while there’s a whole lot about the War Boys that makes no sense (is that chrome spray they are putting over their mouths when they are preparing to be ‘witnessed’? And is that why their mouths are so weird? And what is with the half-life thing? And why are they so pale?), what does make sense is that Hoult is completely over-the-top crazy in the best possible way. I would not have believed he was capable of this level of insanity, but he does a great job. Yes, he changes sides pretty quickly, but I think it made sense for the character.
- Nugh Keays-Byrne plays Immortan Joe. He was born in India, moved to Australia, and started working as an actor. One of his early roles was as ToeCutter in the first Mad Max movie. In this movie, his character design, makeup, and practical effects do most of the work for him, but where he is amazing is again the eyes, and the non-verbal acting.
- Josh Helman plays Slit – another War Boy who seems to be Nux’s friend or maybe driving partner? Or competition? I don’t really know, the War Boys are big time weird.
- Nathan Jones (yes, that Nathan Jones), plays Rictus Erectus. One of Immortan Joe’s not-quite-right children (see, that’s why he wants the healthy breeders – to have healthy children, because the ones he has are way off in one way or another). Nathan Jones served 16 years in Boggo Road Gaol (prison) in Australia for several armed robberies. While inside, he developed into quite the strongman competitor and upon his release, competed and won many strongman competitions. He also had a short WWE career. He was also in the movie Troy (he’s the giant dude that Brad Pitt swiftly defeats in the beginning). His job in this is to be crazy and big, which he excels at.
- Zoe Kravitz (yes, Lenny and Lisa Bonet’s daughter) plays one of the wives, Toast the Knowing. She seems to be one of the more capable of the wives, and can handle herself while on the run.
- Rosie Huntington-Whitely was surprisingly very good as favorite wife, The Splendid Angharad. She’s the one who really wants to get away from Joe, and does her best to help Furiosa with the others.
- Riley Keough (Elvis’s granddaughter) plays Capable, the wife with the red hair who develops a bit of a thing with Nux.
- Abbey Lee plays the blond wife, The Dag, who doesn’t have much of a personality on her own.
- Courtney Easton plays the fifth wife, Cheedo the Fragile, who has the dark hair and for a bit considers running back to Joe – surely he will forgive them for running away and take care of them again, right?
- John Howard plays the People Eater, who seems to be the man running Gas Town and Richard Carter plays The Bullet Farmer – who (surprise) runs the Bullet Farm. They both join in Immortan Joe’s quest to bring back his wives, but neither of them seem all that thrilled about helping.
Overall the movie is completely insane. It’s getting very high reviews, and I am curious to see how it does over the rest of the summer. It’s not better than Avengers, and it surely does not have the crossover appeal of that movie. Everyone can enjoy Avengers, but this is definitely a hard R, and not for kids. The movie feels like the old Mad Max movies, but is so much more visually stunning due to the high-res cameras and fantastic action sequences. I love a big budget thriller with tons of CGI – but there is definitely something to be said for watching several real crazy big rigs and pieced together cars race through a desert with insane people hanging off of them. Once you see the giant vehicle, made of speakers – with four drummers on the back and one red pajama-wearing electric guitar-playing face-mask sporting grotesque on it, and you can just go with that…you’re all set to sit back and enjoy this mad ride. Oh, one more thing, that guitar spouts fire when he plays it, because of course it does.
8 out of 10 – Bonus points for the guitar guy…the first time you see him he makes no sense, but then you find yourself hoping he’ll show up again. Lost points for the one of Joe’s kids that stays back at his citadel and looks through the telescope. Gained points for the tribe that Furiosa is heading for, the Vulvanians, being badass and awesome. Gained all the points for Furiosa. Also - Gained points for the use of fantastic stunt performers as well as Cirque du Soleil artists for amazing sequences.
Bonus Video 1: George Miller’s Witches of Eastwick. I’m not sure it ever occurred to me that the director of Mad Max was the same guy who did this, but it does explain some of the more hard to watch scenes…
Bonus Video 2: Aeon Flux, while this movie wasn't good, Charlize Theron was good in it.
Bonus Video 3: Cast Interviews: