Mad Max: Fury Road, the fourth film in the franchise and first in 30 years, has received the kind of critical and audience praise usually reserved for Pixar classics. Tom Hardy takes over the titular role from Mel Gibson and, while there are Easter eggs for series fans, this is really a fresh start for the franchise. I apologize for the tardiness of this review. I actually first saw the film Thursday night and I’ve been stewing on it since then and decided I needed a second viewing to write a fair review. So, after two viewings, is Mad Max worth the hype?
The simple answer is yes. Visually unlike anything before it, Mad Max is non-stop action and feels like the Max film George Miller has always wanted to make and never had the budget to do. It is the best film in the series, one of the best action films in a long time, has the best and most iconic villain in the series and sets up Max for near unlimited potential for the three future installments Tom Hardy has already signed up to headline. HOWEVER; this is not the second coming. It’s not the greatest movie of all-time. It’s not the greatest action movie of all-time. It’s a really good movie, but some of the reviews are out of control with their praise.
The plot of the film is pretty simple: it’s a chase. 90% of the film is a chase scene and that’s really not an exaggeration. Max is captured in the wasteland and brought to The Citadel, a visually striking sort of Outback Castle. The Citadel is ruled by Immortan Joe, who is even more visually striking. He’s kind of the equivalent of what you would think Darth Vader would look like in Miller’s Max post-apocalypse universe. Hard to picture? Um…..here:
At his command are a cult of warriors; a kind of wasteland Viking army on wheels.
He’s chasing one of his own gone rogue. Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) has hijacked a convoy of breast milk (yeah, you read that right) in order to try to make it back to the home of her youth with Joe’s five wives who are-understandably-keen to abscond with her. It’s actually Furiosa, not Max, who is the central character of this film. The plot centers around her and Max is a supporting character. It’s not that this is a bad thing, it’s just that I can’t really tell you much about Tom Hardy’s take on Max because Tom Hardy spends the first third of the film muzzled and strapped to the hood of a car as a human blood bag (feeding sickly warrior Nicolas Hoult). Again…hard to picture?
It’s really only in the last act, by far the strongest of the film, in which Hardy has anything to do other than react to the utter chaos around him. He’s haunted by visions of the deaths of those he’s failed, but aside from that, he’s really just doing damage control until what ultimately redeems the film: the carmageddon charge to the credits.
The problem with the film is while the exceedingly long chase sequences are very well done with excellent practical effects, there’s only so long you can watch different versions of the same attack before things start to drag badly. The movie starts out well, but as the chase drags on and on and on, the film loses momentum and the first time I saw it, quite honestly, I was getting so bored I was checking my watch. I can’t criticize Miller for any aspect of the choreography of the chases; it’s just that there’s not enough human element or character anchor that makes them strong enough to support the film’s very long middle act.
I don’t want to make it sound like I’m hating on it, because the warrior culture, their weapons, their vehicles, the stunt driving and-most importantly the greatest flame spouting guitar player in the history of film, are all fantastic. They’re actually more interesting than what’s happening in the convoy. I didn’t feel like any of the wives really was anything more than eye candy, Max is de-muzzling himself and if it wasn’t for Theron’s Furiosa, there wouldn’t be a strong character in this film. Thank goodness for her and I think Hardy is going to be a great Max from what I saw from him in the film’s last 30 minutes, but make no mistake – this is Theron’s film.
One thing I do want to praise and praise to the heavens is the cinematography and art direction. This movie looks like no other movie you’ve ever seen. It’s like an issue of the old Heavy Metal magazine come to life crossed with the video game Borderlands (which is really a Mad Max homage itself). The visual of the convoy and its pursuers headed into the sandstorm is one of the most beautiful and stunning shots in any film I’ve ever seen.
This is a must-see for cinephiles and action fans. People are going to be comparing modern action films to this for a good while and, Miller’s stunning success with practical effects, might give some film makers pause on relying solely on CGI (Chris Nolan excluded). I hope there’s a comprehensive making of documentary on the blu ray, because I honestly want to know how they did some of these stunts, and the final chase is so brilliant that it has to go up there with the best chase scenes in film history.
It’s not the perfection that it is hyped to be, but it is another surprise for the better in 2015. Who would have thought we’d be in May and two of the year’s top 5 films would be the seventh Fast & Furious and the fourth Mad Max? Franchises won’t be the death of Hollywood if they can look to films like these; turning in their best installments decades after they began. The first viewing, Mad Max did not grab me. The second grabbed me and, warts and all, I had a great time and will be looking forward so seeing Max take center stage again for Mad Max 5.