Big budget studio movies like Mad Max: Fury Road don’t come along very often. I can only think of two others that rose to the same echelon and were made in my lifetime: Raiders of the Lost Ark and Inception. Like those films, Mad Max: Fury Road begins in the midst of action, slows down to let the viewer get acclimated to the world that has been created, and then once it reaches a certain point propels its audience full throttle ahead through amazing set piece after amazing set piece and explodes in a dynamite denouement. All three of these films are masterpieces of pacing and editing.
All of the hyperbole swirling around Mad Max: Fury Road is not hyperbole. Those who have heralded it as the best action movie ever made are saying that because it is. The reviewer who said it will melt your face off was almost right…for the record, it will rip your face off, not melt it. Even if you’ve seen the original Mad Max films, you’ve still never seen anything like this. And if you haven’t seen the previous films, it doesn’t matter one lick.
In a post-apocalyptic hellscape where water and gasoline are the holy grails and people pray to a god called V8 (one is to assume named after the engine and not the drink) while spraying their mouths with chrome before dare-devil-ing to spectacular martyr deaths in defense of their tyrannical warlord Immorten Joe (Hugh Keayes-Byrne), a woman haunted by the distant memories of a “green-land” named Imperator Furiosa (an indomitable Charlize Theron) teams up with a man left for dead and haunted by the ghost of his dead child he failed to save and protect (a perfectly cast Tom Hardy, madly stoic) to transport by oil tanker-turned-war caravan the prized breeders/wives of Immorten Joe to a new-found freedom.
What transpires is an epic spectacle of non-stop pyrotechnics (both physical and emotional) across a scorched landscape that are so complete, intricately detailed in their controlled chaos, and engrossing that you breathlessly try to keep up with it while your eyes barely blink lest you miss something amazing. Part two-hour apocalyptic car chase echoing a runaway stagecoach from Western mythos, part subversively progressive tirade that could serve as an allegory for our times (if you want it to), and all guts, George Miller’s rollicking roller coaster is a wonder to behold. Some of the editing (by Margaret Sixel) and cinematography (from Oscar-winner John Seale) harken back to Silent Film Era masterpieces (and certain Citadel scenes rank up there with Fritz Lang’s Metropolis), while the stylistic sound design melds with a heart-quickening music score from Junkie XL that will leave your head spinning.
Miller brilliantly lets the viewer catch their breath and their hope in the film’s closing moments, as Max looks up at Furiosa’s just and physical ascendance, Charlize Theron stares down at him and at us, appearing as a blazing mix of Carol from The Walking Dead and Maria Falconetti from Dreyer’s The Passion of Joan of Arc – a genius bridge between the old celluloid art and our modern cinematic blood lust. She’s iconic, and seems to be saying to us silently with her eyes, just as Farmer Hogget said to Miller’s immortal pig, Babe, “That’ll do…that’ll do..”
Written by David H. Schleicher