George Miller remains a unique and eclectic director, 36 years after he burst on the scene with the iconic and oft imitated sci-fi drama Mad Max (1979). With Mad Max: Fury Road, he returns to his most popular creation, reinventing him with a new installment that kicks the action into its highest gear yet.
Since more or less defining the phrase “post-apocalyptic,”Miller has found success with family dramas (Lorenzo’s Oil) black comedy (The Witches of Eastwick), and family comedies (Babe and Happy Feet). But most notably, along the way he periodically returned to his pissed-off hero, Max Rockatansky, and completely changed the formula each time. For Fury Road, Max’s first appearance in 30 years, everything new is old again, and vice versa.
Charlize Theron is arguably the true protagonist of the film as Furiosa, the hardened warrior of the outback. Tom Hardy takes over for Mel Gibson as Max in the new installment, which sees Max wandering a devastated wasteland (surprise, surprise) only very briefly before being captured by terrifying marauders. From this point, which is just a few moments into the film, to the end is basically three major chase/fight sequences linked together by very brief panting respites before the unyielding action begins again.
This is a whole new frontier for both Max and Miller. The first film in the series had very little action, or for that matter, the wasteland science-fiction element for which the series is so famous. It was a much smaller story about a man seeking revenge, unspooling in a reflection of the world around him. Here we see a Max comfortable in the mad world around him. He even banters briefly with his captors as he’s strapped to the front of a vehicle, a living blood transfusion sack for a marauder.
Miller is giving us a bit of allegory here that’s at once brilliant and on the nose. Max has universally compatible O negative blood, and thus serves conveniently as a Christ-like figure giving life to both those that wish him harm and those that fear him. When he’s given the opportunity to save a fleeing group of sex slaves, he finds he cannot escape his duty.
Many have commented about the explicit “feminism” of Fury Road, and how timely that is. I’m not so sure the film can be described as explicitly feminist. A pair of men are the lynchpin required to save the women, not merely to help them help themselves. A truly feminist interpretation, it seems, would feature the not implausible plot turn of Max having to choose between himself and the women, and for the women to leave him behind. But the film does choose, very interestingly, to make Max a passive passenger in the battle for large segments, including the opening salvo, in which he’s chained to the front of a vehicle, completely restrained, and the final chase, in which he spends a good portion suspended upside down, held on only by Theron’s grit and determination, an albatross around her neck. In this sense, it can indeed be considered among the most overtly feminist exercises in an action movie you’re likely to see.
Miller has given the whole series a very lyrical and jaunty sense, and it gets progressively more musical, from the thundering beats of the chase sequences in The Road Warrior (1981) to Thunderdome (1985), which was explicitly musical in nature, even starring Tina Turner to bring the point home. Fury Road’s dark horse star is the face-melting soundtrack, which features anxiety-inducing progressions melding with metal riffs from the Doof Warrior (played by Australian musician iOta) who hangs suspended from a wall of amps, shredding a double-necked guitar/bass combo while the infantry burns forward. The series seems to relish nothing more than to play on the mythologies of ancient civilization, which is why his future hordes are a strange mix of Nordic myth, constantly seeking Valhalla, and Roman warriors, such as the battle herald Doof, and Rictus Erectus, son of the evil and satanic antagonist Immortan Joe.
If you’re confused by all of this, don’t worry—the movie is brilliantly simple in its form, theme, and execution. As both a two-hour music video for an industrial metal band and as a suspenseful and dark science-fiction masterpiece, Mad Max: Fury Road lands the difficult maneuver with impressive panache.
Mad Max: Fury Road is currently playing at the Regal Cinema on 9th Street and the Regal Cinema in Albany.