BY VINCENT ABBATECOLA
Between 1979 and 1985, director George Miller gave us in the “Mad Max” series an inventive vision of a world that had descended deep into anarchy. The films told the story of a police officer, played by Mel Gibson, doing what he can to combat the dangers that crossed his path.
Now, 30 years later, Miller returns to the franchise with his gloriously crazed action-thriller, “Mad Max: Fury Road.” In a film that’s absolutely intense and relentlessly fast-paced, Miller continues the series in a spectacularly bonkers fashion and has made what may be the best entry of all the “Mad Max” films.
In the future, where a global catastrophe has left civilization in ruins, Max Rockatansky (Tom Hardy) lives his life in constant survival mode. When he’s captured by a group known as the War Boys and brought to the citadel of their leader, Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne, who played main villain Toecutter in the first “Mad Max” film), Max is locked up and forced to provide blood for an ill War Boy named Nux (Nicholas Hoult). Soon after, citadel resident Furiosa (Charlize Theron) is charged with the task of driving a rig to collect some gasoline from the nearby Gas Town.
Immortan Joe soon realizes that she has actually led the escape of his Five Wives (Rosie-Huntington Whitely, Riley Keough, Zoë Kravitz, Abbey Lee, and Courtney Eaton), a group of women he uses for breeding. When Max eventually meets up with Furiosa, he decides to help the group flee to a safe haven, while Immortan Joe sets out on a violent pursuit to get back his wives.
Similar to Gibson’s approach to the character (particularly in the second and third films), Tom Hardy portrays him as a battle-hardened, brooding loner who has been through the worst of humanity. Although his character doesn’t have much of a personality, it works because of how much suffering Max has experienced before the beginning of the film, reducing him to a man who doesn’t have anything left to lose.
Charlize Theron offers her role the sort of action-heroine strength that we saw from Linda Hamilton as Sarah Connor in “Terminator 2: Judgement Day.” She fiercely displays her character’s unflinching fearlessness and perseverance, but also shows a bit of motherliness as she commits herself to protecting the Five Wives. With this, Theron’s performance is a prime example of how female roles in action films should be handled, and is something to be emulated in movies like this in the future.
Hugh Keays-Byrne gives a very intimidating performance as the citadel’s relentless leader. Keays-Byrne was memorable as the villain in the first film, but he is now given an antagonistic role that’s a huge step up from Toecutter. With his deep, overlord voice, nefarious glare, and freaky mask, he’s a fitting adversary to our heroes in the film’s wasteland setting.
Although the screenplay by Miller, Brendan McCarthy, and Nico Lathouris is light on overall story and character development, this void is compensated for with gorgeously executed chase sequences. Yes, I know “gorgeously” is a strange word to use when describing the action scenes of a “Mad Max” film, but once you experience this movie, you’ll see how positively stunning they are. Despite the movie being mainly a series of elaborately choreographed chase sequences, there are still moments between these scenes that allow us to get to know a little bit about these characters.
The 30-year gap between “Mad Max 3: Beyond Thunderdome” and “Fury Road,” hasn’t caused Miller to lose his ability to stage explosive and beautifully structured action sequences, and he isn’t afraid to go big early on in the film. Within the first third of the narrative, we’re given one of the most breathtakingly filmed chase scenes in quite some time, one that culminates with a sandstorm that brings viewers into its near-suffocating intensity. Although that may be the most memorable sequence of the film, there is certainly aggressive competition to be had with the final chase, which is so wonderfully excessive with its vehicular chaos that you’ll be left exhausted in your seat.
While it can be a risky venture to revive a franchise from years ago, “Mad Max: Fury Road” succeeds and makes the most out of today’s filmmaking technology to expand the world of the series. While you don’t have to see the other three movies first to understand what’s happening in “Fury Road,” you should consider giving them a view afterwards to get a sense of how much this franchise has evolved from its modest, low-budget beginnings.
As far as summer movies go, you certainly couldn’t ask for a better cinematic ride than the one gifted to us from George Miller.