Grab the wheel and rev the motor;
Shift the gear for overload;
Brace yourself and lock and load her;
Hit the gas and hit the road!
Don’t look back at what has been;
Drive for lives and don’t delay.
High on pure adrenaline,
Floor it through a lovely day!
MPAA rating: R
After reading almost nothing but great things about this movie, I finally decided to check out Mad Max: Fury Road, and I can’t say that I was disappointed. I haven’t seen any of the original Mad Max trilogy, but since each one seems to be its own adventure with one constant character, what’s there to know? The world has been reduced by war to a barren wasteland, with mankind relying on jacked-up vehicles to survive amid ruthless gangs and dangers. While I consider this automotive dystopia entirely unbelievable, Fury Road is a movie meant to be experienced, not watched or analyzed or taken overly seriously, though you’re welcome to do that too once the adrenaline dies down. Directed by George Miller, the 70-year-old director who surprisingly also gave us Babe and Happy Feet, it’s an assault on the senses, and you’re just along for the ride.
I tried watching this with my very hesitant VC, who has seen some of the first three movies and considers them weird. “Weird” still applies. The costumes, makeup, characters, vehicles, and overall package are bizarre, superfluous, and often grotesque but certainly imaginative and oddly cool (seriously, a whole rig dedicated to a background guitar solo?). The central baddies are a fanatical cult led by Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne, the first Mad Max’s villain), who rules the mountainous Citadel by controlling his War Boys’ religious fervor and the people’s access to the life-giving fluids of water, milk, gasoline, and blood. When one of his right hands, Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron), escapes for freedom with Joe’s scantily clad harem, his entire army takes off in hot pursuit. Oh, yeah, and there’s a guy named Max (Tom Hardy) along for the ride.
I was dubious about many critics considering Fury Road one of the greatest action movies ever, but it kind of is, if only because the entire story relies on action. Details like the War Boys’ method of suicide or Furiosa’s robotic forearm are never explained. They’re just presented while the thin plot and explosions roll along, letting action take the place of any in-depth characterization.
We don’t even get much in the way of character bonding or motivation until about two-thirds of the way through, but somehow it’s forgiven because we’ve already seen everyone in action, from Joe’s five wives with names like Toast and Capable to the dedicated War Boy Nux (Nicholas Hoult). My VC was a bit turned off by the frantic, sometimes sped-up editing, but it did make it hard to look away. The explosions are amazing, and all the more amazing for relying on practical effects and stunts, though one obviously CGI scene at the climax almost spoiled the effect. I also liked how it managed a happy ending that served as an inverse of the beginning, even if the final scene seemed needlessly set up for a sequel.
One aspect that I’ve seen mentioned over and over is how violent the film is, and while it’s certainly R-rated action, I wasn’t that bothered by it. I was fearing something really graphic, but the truth is that Fury Road is nowhere near as gory as things like The Walking Dead or the Deadpool trailer (both of which I’ve seen once and won’t again). There are shootings and stabbings and people being thrown off of fast-moving vehicles, but save for a couple of scenes, the R is really owed to the film’s overall intensity, and even the violent scenes are so brief in the kinetic editing that they didn’t detract for me. The bloodiest scene actually serves a latent purpose in punishing the very weird excesses I mentioned earlier, sort of like the cape critique in The Incredibles. You want to wear over-the-top costumes? Well, you may regret it. In addition, I was pleased that, for once, a gritty actioner was almost entirely free of foul language. Granted, there’s not a lot of dialogue in the first place, but think about it. Was it really missed?
Whether you watch for Hardy’s and Theron’s strong laconic leads or for the girl power thrill of women with guns or for the nonstop epic action, this is one nitro-fueled bandwagon I can’t help but jump aboard, despite its innate strangeness. While I agree on its awesome status among action films, when was the last pure action movie to be nominated for Best Picture? I rather wish Inside Out had been nominated instead. But that’s me. Brilliant at best and entertaining at worst, Mad Max: Fury Road is an unexpectedly great sequel that viewers didn’t know they wanted.
Best line: (Nux, in a line that could be even more iconic if it had been repeated; after all, it’s a lot better than “Witness me”) “Oh, what a day! What a lovely day!”
© 2016 S. G. Liput
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