A full 30 years after the release of Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, George Miller revisits post-apocalyptic Australia with Mad Max: Fury Road, a reboot which sees Tom Hardy replace Mel Gibson. Fury Road isn’t a direct sequel to Thunderdome, instead it takes place at an unspecified time earlier in the series’ chronology.
In the film, Mad Max (Tom Hardy) makes an uneasy alliance with Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) while escaping from Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne) and his cult of War Boys. Max and Furiosa flee with Immortan Joe’s harem in a double-engined armored tanker truck and are pursued across the desert wasteland by the horde of crazed War Boys driving anything they can get their hands on.
Is Mad Max: Fury Road worth watching? Read our spoiler-free review for geeks below to find out.
A Different Kind of Action Film
Mad Max: Fury Road isn’t like other action films. Because George Miller does something very different from the norm.
While most Hollywood action films seem to be competing to be the biggest, epic-est, expolosive-est movie around, Fury Road is content to do its own thing. Time and time again in this review I’ll be talking about how this film sets itself apart from most other action movies: the plot is tighter and more focused, the characters are deeper and more human, and it’s not a mess of digital effects layered on top of each other.
A Great Plot
Over the past few years, Hollywood has demonstrated that an action movie can be about anything. Many recent blockbusters are convoluted tales of heroes searching for one important plot device after another in a series of exotic locations.
It’s refreshing that the plot of Fury Road is the opposite: a tightly focused story that deals with a single important incident. This isn’t a story about saving the world, it’s about the fight for survival in a small corner of the middle of nowhere. Immortan Joe has several hundred disciples, not thousands or millions. His territory expands for tens of miles, rather than for an entire planet.
By dialing back on the scope of the plot, Miller’s film actually becomes more epic than something like The Avengers: Age of Ultron, where the planet is saved. Every twist, turn, collision, and explosion has meaning. Entire cities aren’t being laid to waste just to motivate a secondary character.
Strength of Character
Mad Max: Fury Road really raises the bar with the strength of the film’s characters. While the movie is extremely light on dialog, the entire cast steps up their non-verbal acting to compensate.
Other than the opening monologue, Max never strings more than three sentences together. I doubt he has 50 total lines in the film. The other characters are hardly any chattier. When someone does speak, it’s with a purpose and is always important. One of the film’s few minor flaws is that what little dialog there is can occasionally be hard to hear over the background noise.
Although Tom Hardy and Charlize Theron are central to the show as Max and Imperator Furiosa, it is the secondary characters who make the movie. Nicholas Hoult brings his A-game to the psychotic-yet-lovable War Boy Nux. Hugh Keays-Byrne — who played Toecutter in the original Mad Max — dominates every scene he’s in as the cult leader, Immortan Joe. Even Immortan Joe’s five wives, who in most films would be reduced to mere interchangeable caricatures, have their own distinct personalities and motivations.
Every character, even the titular Max, has moments of both strength and weakness throughout the film. No character is above needing help. Miller’s characters aren’t just plot devices designed to drag you between explosions — Michael Bay I’m looking at you — they feel like real people and you actually care whether or not they escape.
The initial Internet reaction to Fury Road’s great cast of characters — both male and female — has been… interesting. Men’s Rights Activists have been quick to dismiss the film as feminist propaganda, while feminist commentators have countered that it certainly isn’t a feminist film. It’s slightly disheartening to see how divisive having female characters that aren’t just action film tropes can be — but then we probably shouldn’t be surprised.
A Dark Future
One of the best things about Fury Road is how the film embraces its post-apocalyptic future. After a nuclear war, the human race has been reduced to fighting for survival in a desert wasteland. The key to success are the world’s most important resources: water, gasoline and bullets. The future in the Mad Max universe isn’t some robotic utopia. Instead, war has driven society back to its earliest roots.
This isn’t to say that Fury Road is devoid of technology. While many tools are crude or improvised, humanity is still as reliant on technology as ever.
Radiation from the bombs makes cancer an ever-present risk. Many of the War Boys display visible tumors. To prolong their lives they perform crude blood transfusions, hooking themselves in to healthy prisoners — nanotechnology this isn’t. The more important members of society, Immortan Joe, his son Rictus Erectus, and a few other pillars of the community, constantly wear oxygen masks to limit their radiation exposure.
Vehicles are a huge part of society in the Mad Max universe. The wasteland is too vast and empty to traverse without one. You can die from running out of gasoline as easily as from running out of water. Thus cars are treated with reverence.
No two vehicles in the movie are identical. Every one has been customised to a greater or lesser degree by its owners. Steering wheels are held to be a sacred symbol. While we have previously joked that Apple is trying to become a religion, Fury Road gives an interesting insight into how reverently people will treat technology when their lives depend on it.
Technology is constantly changing how movies are made. Over the last decade we’ve seen a move away from practical stunts and effects to computer-generated imagery (CGI). There are even apps that you can use to add digital effects to your smartphone videos.
When it’s done subtly, CGI can work well. However, when a film relies on it for everything it can end up being incredibly distracting. Try and watch any film that relies heavily on digital effects from the early 2000s (you can get some ideas here) and you’ll see what I mean, the CGI just doesn’t hold up. On the other hand, watch a classic film like Ben Hur, which relied on on a huge team of stunt performers, and you’ll find the film, while dated, is much more immersive.
Fury Road reverses this trend. Almost all the effects you see on screen were done practically and captured on camera. It shows. Explosions and collisions look and feel real — because they are.
Going to the effort of creating amazing practical effects would all be for nothing if the action wasn’t any good, but where that’s concerned Mad Max: Fury Road doesn’t disappoint.
The production team spent 120 days in the Namibian desert filming the action sequences with a team of more than 150 stunt performers and a huge convoy of vehicles. Through advances in camera technology Miller was able to produce ridiculous stunts and explosions while mostly avoiding relying on digital effects.
High-end consumer DSLRs were used as crash cameras to capture high quality action footage. This would have been impossible even five years ago. Every action scene is incredible, and more importantly, thanks to Miller’s skill as a director, even the most intense periods are easy to follow. The scenes are just as fast and epic as anything Michael Bay creates, without descending into a visual mess.
- Awesome, well realised characters.
- Nicholas Hoult’s War Boy Nux and Hugh Keays-Byrne’s Immortan Joe.
- The best action scenes in a film for a decade.
- A tight, focused plot.
- Watching it might draw you into silly arguments online.
- What little dialogue there is can be hard to hear over all the explosions.
When a director returns to the franchise that made them famous fans often get overexcited only to be let down. This isn’t the case with Mad Max: Fury Road. In the 30 years since Miller last explored post-apocalyptic Australia, he’s developed as a director and as a storyteller.
Mad Max: Fury Road is undoubtedly one of the best action films released in the past decade. Watching a cast of great characters tear across the desert in an epic, explosion-filled car chase is one hell of a way to spend two hours.
MakeUseOf rates Mad Max: Fury Road 5 Stars out of 5.