I’ll admit it, I’ve seen bits and pieces of all of the original three Mad Max films, but I’ve never been obsessed with them. They came from the time before fandom when you could, you know, just like a movie, without living it as a philosophy. They came from a time when WPIX would air them before Conan The Destoyer. What stood out to me then was their undeniable style and vision. And Mel Gibson eating dog food from a can. The tenants of the original trilogy seemed to be vengeance, redemption, kick-ass car chases, leather, and, of course, Tina Turner in a chain mail dress that Bob Mackie could only dream of designing.
Almost all of those elements remain in this fourth installment of the Mad Max saga, the après colon, Fury Road. But this time, it seems that technology has allowed for George Miller’s complete vision to be brought to the screen. It’s not just a “well let’s make do” kind of low-budget movie the series started out as; instead, it’s an everything-plus-the-kitchen-sink, melt-your-face-off Action Opera. It’s not so much a motion picture as a Locomotion Graphic Novel and every single second of it works.
Upon meeting Max (Tom Hardy), we realize he’s no longer Peter-Finch-in-Network “mad” as he is asylum-resident “mad”. The heat, the dehydration, and worst of all, no doubt, the solitude have driven Max to become a lizard-eating, run away of a man. It seems that the fight has been driven out of Max and the flight is all that remains. Until he’s caught that is.
Upon his capture, he becomes a “blood bag” for a cancer-ridden young warrior, Nux (Nicholas Hoult). Nux has drunk all of the kool-aid of desert dictator Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne, a veteran at playing Mad Max’s terrifying characters) and can’t wait to prove himself worthy of Immortan Joe’s promised Valhalla. When his chance appears, he grabs it gleefully, strapping his blood bag Max to the front of his vehicle, a human hood ornament, bound and gagged for the desert world to see.
Nux’s chance at glory arrives when Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) makes a detour on the planned run for gasoline (a resource with a storied past in the saga). Imperator Furiosa is a formidable figure with a terminator-esque metal prosthetic that completes her stumped left arm. It’s a symbol emblazoned on her truck in the same way fighter pilots name their planes. Her eyes are smeared with dark motor oil, her head is shaved and she wears a belted-corset that serves more as a line of defense than as a way to have a more attractive waistline. Furiosa, to put it simply, is one of the baddest women to ever have existed in the film world, I think.
Her detour, it turns out, is an attempt to smuggle Immortan Joe’s wives from their holding cells back to her homeland, where women are of the Valkyrie variety. In retaliation of his property being taken, Immortan Joe sends out every force he can to bring his wives back and punish Furiosa.
On their sand-laden Odyssey, Furiosa gets “unlucky” as she so understatedly puts it, and Max and Nux get caught up in their own separate moral dilemmas. Max must decide, once again, between fight and flight and Nux must decide which path to glory he’ll take while Furiosa fights alongside the women she’s risked everything to rescue with only the hope that a better world exists as her shield.
Every single aspect of this film puts the viewer on sensory overload. The desert is a too-bright sienna colored-death trap, the heat seeming to jump off the screen. You can practically taste the blood and oil and sweat, and you can be sure that the disease-addled body that Immortan Joe hides beneath his bubble binding smells absolutely disgusting. And then, there’s what you hear. An auditory onslaught of souped-up engines and gun shots, explosions and motorcycle revs, knives in flesh and the absence of sound from the silent screams of those who suddenly realize, there is no green land, there is only this world of fire and blood. For those of you who watch Game of Thrones, it’s a very Targaryen take on the world. Or maybe Mad Max was the first Targaryen…or the last, who knows?
What I’m trying to say is Mad Max: Fury Road, is a masterpiece in every sense of the word. Every aspect of the film has been calculated and calibrated accordingly to work in harmony with each other. The costume and production design are completely, almost insanely, meticulous. There’s a feeling of realism and practicality to every vehicle, every outfit and every prop. You can feel the human element that went into making this film, but only after you stop to think about it. While you’re watching the film, you’re probably just thinking “holy shit” over and over and over again. The music is insistent and ever-present, equal parts soaring, bombastic and deified. And here’s where I mention that there’s a man with a guitar that shoots fire. Yes, remember in the old days of war when troops would have a fife and drum core to announce their arrival? Well they were doing it all wrong. What they needed was a mascot in bright red with a FLAMING FUCKING GUITAR. It’s insane and yet, it’s not even the craziest part of the movie.
Despite all of these visual distractions, the film never loses sight of the story. The idea of these women rescuing each other, while at the same time, needing Max in a way he always feared he’d be needed again. Max doesn’t want companionship or anyone to rely on him, because it always ends badly. In the same way, Furiosa believes herself to be the only one capable of getting these women (who are all badass in their own right, by the way) to the promised land. And yet, they very much need each other in order to make the journey.
It is a feminist masterpiece in the sense that George Miller believes that women can fight for things just as passionately as men can fight for things, but this isn’t about pitting the sexes against each other as some of those criticizing the movie might have you think. Yes, there are men out there terrified that because Theron’s Furiosa is a woman of conviction and action that means that Mad Max’s penis size must have shrunk. I can assure you, this is not the case. This is a case of Mad Max meeting his female equivalent and respecting her. What a novel idea.
If you are one of the men out there worried that your Mel Gibson Mad Max has been replaced, I regret to tell you that he has. Your Mad Max has grown and evolved into a Max who realizes that the world might be too much for him to take on all on his own, and that maybe, just maybe, he needs the help that he has steered clear of for so long, in order to remain human. In the same way, Furiosa, whose backstory is never fully fleshed out, but the audience can clearly make some pretty good guesses at it involving abuse by Immortan Joe and punishment in the form of him taking her arm, needs to know that there’s someone out there who can help her when she has been in an equally self-imposed state of isolation. They’re two sides of the same coin, as male and female should have always been,
There’s a lot of other imagery and themes that could be discussed, I mean this is basically the kind of movie that you could write a thesis on if you went scene by scene, depending on which idea you were intending to support. And yet, all of the thoughtful interpretations in the world don’t equal the feeling when a wounded Furiosa , opens a truck door, and says to Joe “Remember Me?” before tearing his face off. George Miller has created a complete escapist paradise in the form of a disturbing apocalyptic world, but with enough themes to keep you talking for days.
Would you just go see it already?