Mad Max: Fury Road stars Tom Hardy as Max Rockatansky, a post-apocalyptic desert survivor haunted by a dark past where Mel Gibson played his character. The first Mad Max film since 1985’s Beyond Thunderdome, Fury Road doesn’t expect moviegoers to be intimately familiar with Max’s past or any of the film franchise’s previous entries.
As Fury Road opens, Max is captured by the War Boys — a group of fanatical warriors who follow desert despot Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne) — and becomes an unwilling blood donor for ailing War Boy Nux (Nicholas Hoult). When Immortan Joe’s lieutenant, Furiosa (Charlize Theron), goes AWOL during a routine gasoline run and takes Joe’s wives with her, Max and Nux join the War Boys in giving chase. Alliances shift and Max, Furiosa and Nux become involved in the search for “a green place,” all the while pursued across the desert by Immortan Joe and his cavalcade of war vehicles.
The action in Fury Road proceeds along a line, with any combination of cars, motorcycles or big rigs crashing into each other and creating opportunities for mayhem. Despite this seemingly simple formula, the movie’s action sequences are unlike anything else in recent blockbusters. For lack of a better comparison, Fury Road feels like a combination of “Mario Kart” and Pirates of the Caribbean. Action featuring War Boys swinging from one vehicle to another and scenes in which Max has to fight his pursuers on the back of a big rig resembles the seafaring swashbuckling of the “Pirates” franchise in the best way. Also, the pure glee the movie’s chase scenes inspire evokes the nostalgia and chaos of “Mario Kart” without ever feeling anything like a video game.
While it does share some of the same chaotic energy that 1960s chase movies like It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World and The Great Race had, Fury Road’s endless desert pursuit is something all its own. Unlike the lengthy epic comedies of the 1960s, Fury Road clocks in at a lean two hours and uses its run time wisely by never spending too much time in one place but always pushing forward.
Not only has Fury Road earned all its bombast — it owns it, from the lengthy chases to the score by Junkie XL. In contrast, one might think of Hans Zimmer’s recent film scores, which have featured unrelenting, omnipresent drums that threaten to drown out the image on the screen. (You may have walked out of The Dark Knight Rises or Man of Steel with your ears ringing and your stomach churning for this reason.) Junkie XL’s score features such drums as well, but in a stroke of campy brilliance, writer-director George Miller includes a rig in Immortan Joe’s cavalcade that features four oversized drums with fanatical drummers beating away, and a guitarist strapped to a wall of amplifiers by bungee cords. Did I mention that his double-neck guitar doubles as a flamethrower? Whereas the music on its own may have elicited eye rolls from the audience, the inclusion of these oddities propelled the movie onward.
Though it has an R rating, Fury Road rarely disgusts, and its explosions are never gratuitous in the way Michael Bay’s Transformers movies are. During a chase through a sandstorm in which Furiosa has to contend with the War Boys along with her environment, the destruction is muted and has a quiet beauty.
Some audience members may be disappointed that Hardy’s Max isn’t more prominent in the film — or “mad” enough. (He’s more of a stoic, Clint Eastwood-esque man with no name.) Though the movie bears his name, Max is hardly the central character, and Fury Road benefits from this. In fact, Theron’s Furiosa shines in a way that provides a pleasant change in the typically hyper-masculine action genre.
Apart from the first three Mad Max films, Miller has been responsible for more obviously wholesome movies like Happy Feet and Babe. The same director who gave us all the grotesqueries of Fury Road also co-wrote the heartwarming moment in Babe when James Cromwell’s farmer, Arthur Hoggett, sang and danced a jig for an ailing pig. In Fury Road, Hardy, Theron and their motley gang of runaways share a surprisingly similar affection — just in a post-apocalyptic wasteland and not a quaint farm.