As humankind ventures deeper into a digital being, Mad Max: Fury Road reminds us that we still live in an analog world. Life after the apocalypse will have no synthesized dings or chimes for audio cues, we will have only the roar of revving engines, bursting flamethrowers, war drums, and a gas-powered electric guitar to warn us that danger is in the distance.
It took 30 years for George Miller to return to the wasteland, but the timing couldn’t have been any better. Miller has taken the uncompromising arthouse nature of the original Mad Max movies, and combined it with 30 years of experience and the technology to create the fully realized, seemingly impossible world of Fury Road.
The result is an action movie that will be the benchmark to which every one to follow will be judged.
I won’t bother going through much of the plot and the themes that it uncovers. There are some great reviews for that including Keith Phipps’ five-star review at The Dissolve. At its base, the plot is very simple, Fury Road is an operatic, gonzo car/truck/tank chase, but it is also two hours of fiery, kinetic energy on a scale you have never seen.
Something you might notice right away is actual stunt work done in the film. Miller did not think that audiences would buy much of the action via green screen. The result is something the Fast & the Furious movies could never quite touch, a level of real inventiveness that is unprecedented in action choreography, and wholly captivating. It is Burning Man on muscle cars.
Fury Road also leaves out the things that left you feeling funny about Avengers: Age of Ultron. There are few words of dialogue, little back story, no romance, no end, no beginning, only survival. Because in Max’s world, that’s all there is. It is an uncompromising vision of the aftermath. It is brutal, pitiless, insane, and beautiful.
And yes, it is a boldly feminist film. Because Fury Road‘s real protagonist is Imperator Furiosa played by Charlize Theron. Vice’s David Perry does a solid breakdown of the film’s feminist themes. “There are no accidental feminist action movies,” says Perry, which aptly sums up Miller’s very deliberate choices for the film.
Miller has created a world in which women will — and in fact, need to — rise and confront the savage patriarchy the future has become. But every action comes with a very real cost. The women in this film cannot survive without Max, and he cannot survive without them. If Max is the brute strength and primal will they need to survive, they are the courage and compassion he needs to fight for something greater than mere survival. Which isn’t to say Max does the heavy lifting. Furiosa is the hero the people need. Max realizes this early on and defers to her.
Theron’s Furiosa joins a lineage of great female action heroines such as Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley in the Alien saga, and Linda Hamilton’s Sarah Connor in Terminator 2.
For readers of the NOC, there may be some concern that there was little POC presence in the trailer. Part of this has to do with concealing elements of the plot, but among the primary characters of the film, actress Courtney Eaton is part Maori and Chinese, Zoe Kravitz is African American, and Megan Gale is half-Maori.
The text of the film does not reveal these to be necessarily conscious choices, meaning these actresses did not need to be persons of color, but here they are. Background actors in the movie are either covered in elaborate costumes, white powder, or filth, so it’s hard to tell if POC casting extended beyond the leads.
Put aside any reservations about seeing this film. Fury Road will have you pushing yourself deeper into your seat, clenching your armrest, drawn in and lost in the wasteland. You’ll hold a clump of popcorn in your hand, mouth open, forgetting how long it’s been there. This is a fever dream of a movie, and it will be over all too soon.