Action Movie Film Review 2015: "Mad Max: Fury Road" (Directed by George Miller, Starring Tom Hardy & Charlize Theron)
"Mad Max: Fury Road" is, quite possibly, one of the most daring and inventive films of the last decade. Sure, many are questioning the rampant need for nostalgia trips back in time, particularly to the 1980s as films like Terminator, Conan and, yes, even the Chevy Chase "Vacation" movies are being rebooted or sequeled if for no other reason than to remind us of a time long passed. Be it marketing ploy or excellent assemblage of trailers, studios are smart to tap into these films regardless if the quality ever matches the heights of the originals. The Mad Max series, at the time, was considered B-movie action with the still-relevant Mel Gibson in the title role. Things have turned markedly different for this film and Fury Road pretty much pretends that those other films in the canon are nonexistent. From inspired casting choices to Miller's command and adept use of current filmmaking and FX technologies, he has spared no time in making the crown jewel of his series for the new generation while keeping the vital energy of his prior outings.
George Miller, the auteur behind the entire series, has taken several poignant sidesteps in his directing career. He was once known for a Babe movie and, more recently, the animated children’s flick "Happy Feet." So, why oh why return to his old stomping crowds for a late-period revitalization? Well, regardless of the answer, Miller directs the hell out of Fury Road and his passion couldn't be more aflame here. From the violent, hypnotic sandstorms with the crackle of lightning and thunder as Mad Max and Co. drive through unspeakably harsh conditions to the look and mentality of the cannibalistic War Boys, a savage tribe of skeletal and pale-looking men who police the land and deprive the vast majority of the world's population of water to keep them subservient. Oh and Charlize Theron's stoic Furiosa, a women and objective symbol of grace, integrity and power is one of the film's many bright lights. She rarely has to say a word to let us know of her importance and Theron, pretty much always in fine form even when a movie fails her, acts with her piercing eyes. Here, she has a cybernetic arm after losing her original one in an accident and just so happens to be a perfect shot with any weapon.
On the same casting token, Miller's hand-off to Tom Hardy in the title role was probably the greatest asset to this film. Hardy is always magnetic with recent turns in "Locke", "The Drop" and his breakout as the ruthless, back-breaking Bane in "The Dark Knight Rises", his man-of-few-words approach allows him to show even more range without the convenience of exposition-laden dialogue to fall back on. His opening narration is chilling with lines like: "My name is Max. My world is fire. And blood." and "You know… hope is a mistake. If you don’t fix what’s broke, you’ll go insane." More than anything, Hardy's transformation is indicative of something else: growth. In the span of stretches between movies, Max assumes the role of tribal pack leader as he's grown to becoming an expert tactician. His colorless, bleak worldview serves him well to navigate a world shrouded in mystery with lurking darkness in a wasteland that seems to grow worse with each passing year. As sand, shadows, and fog engulfs the stragglers of his crew and forces Max to make critical choices (including losing his trademark car, sacrificing expendable characters and eating inchworms right off the ground), this is all done to survive. And, survive he does even to the extent of becoming a sidekick in his own film. This may as well be Furiosa's vehicle and a vehicle for Theron to shine as amazingly as her sun-scorched shaved head.
I think the most compelling element of this film is the fact that it most likely would never have gotten made. Just look at the evidence stacked against it: its creator and director was off making kiddie movies for the last three decades, the movie's budget is enormous at $150 million, it has a non-linear storytelling structure that spits in the eye of the conventional action flick and it literally paints Nicholas Hoult, one of the most charming and debonair actors working today as a pale as a ghost cannibalistic skinhead with disgustingly chapped lips and gives him a crap-load of screen time. He yells: "Oh, what a day! What a lovely day" and he couldn't be more right for the making of the film. This picture almost never saw the light of day so those lines are oddly ironic. The thing that is most present is the fact that studio execs seem to have given total control over this. Sometimes this works as in the case of this film and sometimes it doesn't like in the case of the "Star Wars" prequel movies which resulted in Lucas making questionable choices to the derision of fans universally. Miller could have made a version of Fury Road that was vastly inferior to the one we got but, like all genuine auteurs, decided to take his time on it and make his film as impacting as humanly possible even if the wait was eternity-long.
Fury Road was a runaway hit both at the box office and critically so it is no surprise that the next chapter was announced and it is titled "Mad Max: The Wasteland." Can we hope that execs will give Miller the freedom needed to produce another masterpiece to build upon the soaring heights of this one? Most of me believes this was a one-off but if the septuagenarian Miller has his way for the sequel, we will witness more movie magic when it comes out. Here's hoping!