Mad Max: Fury Road Is A Bonkers Masterpiece [Review]

mad max fury road

I spent the hour before I saw Mad Max: Fury Road trying to convince myself that it would suck. Not because I actually thought it would suck, but because every review I’d seen up to that point treated it like Jesus himself had come down from heaven to make the world’s most perfect movie. The hype machine was on full blast, and I didn’t want to inflate my expectations beyond what was reasonable for fear that, even if Fury Road was good, I would be disappointed by it. Because it couldn’t possibly be that good. Right?

Add my voice to the chorus: Mad Max: Fury Road is a bonkers masterpiece.

What it also is, as my friends and I marveled after seeing the movie, is a two-hour car chase that never gets boring once. The chaser: Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne, who played the gang leader Toecutter in the original Mad Max), a despotic warlord who rules over his desert kingdom by controlling access to water. The chasee: His one-time lieutenant Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron), who rescues Immortan Joe’s five “wives” (really his sex slaves, referred to by other characters as “breeders”). Caught up in the mix are dystopian vigilante Max Rockatansky (Tom Hardy) and Nux, one of Immortan’s “warboy” soldiers, played with frenetic kookiness by Nicholas Hoult.

The plot is fairly basic–screenwriters George Miller (who also directs), Brendan McCarthy, and Nick Lathouris don’t complicate things with a messy overabundance of subplots, unlike another summer movie I could mention–and Miller moves things along at a brisk pace, occasionally easing off with a fade-to-black so the audience can catch their breath. It’s needed. My jaw dropped during a gorgeous early sandstorm scene, and it stayed on the floor through the rest of the movie. After the credits rolled, I simultaneously felt like I wanted to take a nap and run a marathon. (I am only physically capable of doing one of those things. I’ll let you guess which one.) The worldbuilding is amazing, the cinematography (from Oscar winner John Seale) is gorgeous, and–needless to say, if you’ve seen the trailers–the action sequences are among the best ever put to film.

While Fury Road is a full-on symphony of the bizarre, it’s not just muscle cars and flame-throwing electric guitars and Charlize Theron headbutting fools. There’s a reason MRAs are boycotting it: It’s feminist as hell. (I’d say that’s a reason to see the movie, not to avoid it, but you know what they say: Different strokes for people who aren’t misogynist assholes.) Make no mistake. This movie might be called “Mad Max,” but Imperator Furiosa is its main character. Miller is sneaking an R-rated female-led action movie to theatres inside a Trojan horse called “brand recognition,” and it is glorious.

The movie very much frames the Immortan vs. Furiosa conflict as one of patriarchy (Immortan and his crew are all men, and boy do they love their phallic symbols) vs. women who have had enough of that shit. What’s great about it is that Max, ostensibly our hero, doesn’t swoop in and hijack Furiosa’s cause. He’s there to support her, not rescue damsels, because there are no damsels in Fury Road. Even the five women whom Furiosa rescues all come across as well-rounded characters with their own character development arcs who do their best to fight the bad guys using the limited knowledge and resources at their disposal (thanks, Vagina Monologues author Eve Ensler). There are no quote-unquote strong female characters who shout “FEMINISM!!!!!” until it’s time for them to recede into the background so men can do the actual work of moving the plot along, as outlined in a great essay on “Trinity Syndrome” by Tasha Robinson of The Dissolve.

For Christ’s sake, for the first half of the movie, 95% of Tom Hardy’s dialogue is grunting. Which isn’t to say that they’re not nuanced, emotionally expressive grunts. One of the things that struck me so much about Fury Road is that I came to care so much about characters despite knowing virtually nothing about them. There’s no bullshit voiceover to lay out characters’ backstories and what we’re meant to think about them, (“Once, I had a wife and child… until the Fire Nation attacked.“) The plot doesn’t grind to a halt so we can get clunky exposition scenes. Everything we need to know is shown to us, not told to us, as the movie progresses, because George Miller is a director who understands pacing and storytelling and how to make a good movie. (He did, after all, write Babe.)

I’m a little worried that Mad Max: Fury Road is going to be a second Dredd: A good movie that a small number of geeks is really passionate about, but that the general moviegoing audience doesn’t figure out they should see until it hits Netflix. That this will be another case of Grown-Ups 2 making more money than Pacific Rim on its opening weekend or, or Eat Pray Love outperforming Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. You can stop that from happening. You can support good genre films. See Mad Max: Fury Road 2 this weekend, and let’s get that opening gross past Pitch Perfect 2 (which isn’t that good). Geeks: Assemble. For truth, justice, and more movies with electric guitar flame-throwers.

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