It has been a long, long time since I’ve put together one of these, but damn is it good to be back. That’s likely what Mad Max: Fury Road director George Miller had on his mind his first day on set for one of the most impressive action films in the past decade. I can only marvel at what Miller has achieved with his latest film, mouth agape and eyes fully dilated. Fury Road was one of the wildest rides I have ever had the honor to take.
Miller’s latest film in his Mad Max series is an odyssey made entirely without an Odysseus, a spectacle of cinematic success and a victory for live-action, real-time exploits in a digital age where CGI has become the norm. Miller made his first Mad Max film in 1979, and it’s hard to oppose him as a titular “genius,” having watched all 120 minutes of what has been the most enjoyable and exhausting cinematic experience I’ve had since Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King.
Fury Road is an operatic, unwieldy, barreling mess of crashes, burns and explosions heretofore unseen in the cinematic world. Each moment is a movement, sped on by guzzling fuel, bloody death and raw emotional horsepower that puts the pedal to the metal and burns nitrous like Fast and the Furious wishes it could. Mad Max: Fury Road is what Wild Wild West dreamed it could have been, Days of Thunder with the lightning and the storm turned up to 12 and — well, it has to be said — Miller’s 1979 Mad Max on some dastardly combination of hallucinogens and amphetamines.
Though this most recent version doesn’t feature Mel Gibson, it’s got everything else. Whether that’s a grunting, bloodied Tom Hardy — chasing down white make-up clad Valhalla-worshipping “War Boys” on motor-bikes, war-waging oil rigs on wheels or 6000 horsepower revved up monster trucks in the Namibian desert — a bad-ass, war-ready Charlize Theron like we’ve never seen before — taking Face/Off to a new level — or real-life, impossible stunts shot by a classical master, Mad Max: Fury Road is willing and ready to rock your face off.
Miller stated that he wanted to make a film that Japanese audiences could understand without subtitles, but Mad Max strikes at something universal, something deep within the human core: the need to survive, to keep pushing forward, to fight when there’s nothing left in the tank but rust and dust and blood and sweat. Following a dystopian society where oil is more precious than water, Fury Road never lays off the pedal and never stops to catch its breath. Hardy and Theron are an imperfect, oil-in-water match that could only work in a non-stop, adrenaline-fueled performance that explodes on impact.
It’s hard to put into words what Miller has put onto screen here. The world-wide, overwhelmingly ecstatic early reviews don’t do his work justice, and I’m not quite sure anything besides multiple viewings might allow film fans of any kind to understand just how improbably dastardly perfect Fury Road is. For lack of more fitting invective, this film is one badass mother*****in’ masterpiece.
The first Mad Max film was made on a budget of $350,000 and became the most financially successful film for decades until CGI came along. Fury Road, shot over a 3-year period, done almost entirely with stunts and without graphics and with $150 million in the bank, eclipses any Marvel film and inspires a feeling of wonder that little art can muster. This is Star Wars on earth, Avatar in the desert, Titanic on wheels. It might be the best fourth installment of anything, ever.
The film’s cast is just as unbelievable as its budget and plot, with Rosie Huntington-Whiteley fleshing out on the big screen, Nicholas Hoult channeling his inner monster, Riley Keough (Elvis Presley’s grand-daughter) kicking ass and Lenny Kravitz’ own daughter Zoe rocking out. Hugh Keas-Byrne reprises his villainy from the original film, this time in an entirely different role as a monstrous, pale-white tube-breathing, fully-armored war-lord who terrifies as much as he thrills. He’s Vader-esque, wielding his empiric power over his subjects (all of the above-mentioned cast included) with an unstoppable force. He’s one of the most impressive villains I’ve spotted on-screen, yet he is completely overshadowed by the cast of incredible women (Theron, Whiteley, Keough, Kravitz, and more) who blow up gender norms and take Mad Max to the next level.
With as many twists and turns and reversals and goliath eruptions as Mad Max has, it’s hard to believe how it’s feasible to make a film this air-tight, undying and thrilling. Miller seems to understand something that few else can: how to make a literal blockbuster. Achieving a victory this satisfying should be nigh-impossible, but Mad Max is proof to the contrary. Fury Road is exhausting — a two-hour experience that leaves you flat and wasted and yet leaves you wanting so much more. It’s good to be back, but Mad Max: Fury Road was better. So, so, so much better.