What do you expect from an action film? Extreme chases supplemented with explosions and a barrage of bullets? Maybe you’re accustomed to a leading man, his body glistening with sweat and blood, leading a heroic charge against antagonists with European accents? Or maybe you’re like me, and you just love a good old fashion cheesy one liner. It seems like I begin most reviews for action films with a disdainful opening, lamenting over Hollywood’s lack of innovation or character implementation in the action genre. I apologize if I’m continuously regurgitating the same opinion, but I find a lot of action films are too fucking boring these days. Yes, there’s a place in this world for mindless entertainment. Con-Air, a film I watch when it’s on cable without hesitation, is perfect mindless entertainment. But it doesn’t resonate beyond its frames, nor does it ignite my adrenaline. It’s a hollow, fleeting rush. Considering my lack of allegiance to action films, when I discover one that’s legitimately enthralling, I fall deeply and madly in love with it. Mad Max: Fury Road is such a film.
Staged as one long car chase, writer/director George Miller wastes no time starting the action by having Max Rockatansky kidnapped by a gang of powdered maniacs called the War Boys. Easily captured and brutally treated as a blood bag,he’s actually referenced as “Blood Bag” in the film’s first act, Max finds himself caught in the middle of a revolution beginning at a depraved city known as Citadel. The leader of Citadel is Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne), a self-prescribed God that hides his eroding body behind muscle-bound armor. Joe rules the sand blasted land by teasing its inhabitants with scant traces of water. He also exacerbates his legacy and power by dumping his seed in his “wives,” who are nothing more than reproductive tools. Joe faces little retaliation for his destructive ways, until his prized warrior, Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron), turns the tables on him. Furiosa uses a trip destined for oil retrieval as a masquerade for extracting Joe’s “wives.” Furiosa going rogue excites the War Boys, particularly a dying scamp named Nux (Nicholas Hoult), who thinks there’s no finer way to die than in his leader’s honor. Facing a disease that requires a blood transfusion, Nux takes Max as his blood bag to the Fury Road, where he hopes to stop Furiosa and achieve martyrdom.
All of the players collide across the rugged landscape, where insanity and ruthless aggression are survival tools. Shot by cinematographer John Seale, the burning plains of sand our characters drive across are absolutely gorgeous. The expertly choreographed crashes and explosions show no respect for the audience’s blood pressure, but there’s also a measured grace to them. Through the use of practical effects and good old destruction, each bravura moment feels authentic and seismic. When juxtaposed against the scenic backdrop, Miller’s blueprint for carnage is damn near balletic. Miller’s dangerously ingenious vision faces little resistance from us, especially when he buries us in his eccentric wasteland. From the meticulous creation of re-purposed vehicles to the freakish construction of the characters, there’s a deranged War Boy who plays a guitar flame thrower amidst battle like a drummer boy playing taps, Mad Max Fury Road is deeply committed to its strange world. Even though the world feels so distant from our own, there are some real life issues in play.
Now, I won’t dig too deep into the film’s gender politics, nor will I come outright and say Fury Road is a feminist picture. What I can say is that it’s one of the few films where a female character is the hero at the center, so much so that she nearly usurps the film’s title character. Furiosa is the force her name suggests. She goes toe to toe with the men, often getting the best of them in physical and intellectual battles. She is the one, not a man, who tries to save the damsels in distress. Before she commits to betraying Immortan Joe, she’s even a valued piece of his entourage, with many of his male soldiers giving way to her orders. Charlize Theron provides Furiosa with an impenetrable stoicism and grit, convincing us that only death can prevent her from reaching her goal. Mind you, Hardy’s silent vigilante Max is wildly engaging, too, but Furiosa is the voice of the resistance, and her battle cries echo loudly through the empty canyons of the Fury Road. Furiosa is Miller’s avenue for upending the action genre as we know it, forcing us to see that ingenuity and a level of social reflection need not be absent of fun. Most importantly, he convinces us that the action genre is no longer senseless and just for the boys.