I went into Mad Max: Fury Road with just the trailers and my vague memories of the old movies in mind. I hadn’t read any reviews or looked up a plot synopsis, so I had no idea what I was in for. It doesn’t really hit you when you watch it, but Fury Road is a 2-hour chase scene with a barely a break in the action. The characters aren’t in constant motion for maybe six minutes of screen time, and the plot (what little there is of it) shares that same unrelenting pace. That’s not a dig at the movie, the relatively small amount of exposition and dialogue is a strength of the film.
Max Rockatansky, played by Tom Hardy, is a man of few words, as he should be. I’m pretty sure Max has more grunts than actual lines in the movie, but Hardy sells them perfectly. Max has been around too long, seen too many people die on his watch and its gotten to him. At the start of the film he’s been broken by the wasteland.
Charlize Theron’s Imperator Furiosa is the real driving force behind the film. She is the most well-developed character as well as the most interesting. Her distinctive look, shaven hair, forehead anointed with grease and elaborate prosthetic arm, distinguishes her from the War Boys. She looks the part the battle-scarred general. From her first appearance we can tell she’s up to something, a note of uncertainty in her sun-induced glare, but her confidence never wavers as she leads the War Boys out on the titular Fury Road.
Rounding out the main cast is Immortan Joe, played by Hugh Keays-Byrne, an aging warlord who uses theatrics and a costume to maintain his image as a powerful warrior while controlling a vast reserve of fresh water from his mesa stronghold, The Citadel. Joe provides the water, and the dusty masses below provide worship and (presumably) children that are pressed into service as War Boys, the white-painted warriors who make up the bulk of Immortan Joe’s forces.
While on a routine mission, Furiosa deviates from the plan, and Immortan Joe realizes that she is helping his harem of slaves escape, and quickly calls up all his forces to pursue her. Max finds himself used as a hood ornament for one of the pursuit vehicles, driven by War Boy Nux (Nicholas Hoult). During the first leg of the chase, Max manages to make his escape and reluctantly joins up with Furiosa and the Wives.
The relationship between Max and Furiosa is one of uncertainty and mutual distrust at first. There is one early scene where Max methodically grabs every gun and weapon in the cab of the War Rig and throws them into a bag, all while keeping a gun on Furiosa. But slowly they come to an understanding, one that is shown rather than told, as we see them relying on each other more and more in each conflict with Immortan Joe.
There is another scene later in the movie where Max attempts to make a difficult shot with the group’s only rifle. Down to the last bullet, Furiosa requests the gun. Without much hesitance, Max gives it to her and she uses his shoulder as a stabilizer to make the shot. With minimal dialogue, the film shows how Furiosa and Max now trust each other to a degree, and recognize each others’ strengths.
These small moments do more to characterize both Furiosa and Max than any amount of dialogue could. You see them begin to trust each other and work in tandem over the course of the film, which proves to be one of the best parts of the experience. There is barely a moment for characters to have the peace for a conversation, and rather than leave the characters hollow, director George Miller chooses to show you their development instead.
The action is the big draw of the film, and it succeeds at being one of the best action movies I’ve seen in a long time. If you like car chases, you will like Mad Max: Fury Road, because that’s what this movie is: one long car chase. But what a car chase it is, filled with practical effects, great stunt-work and a bizarre array of vehicles, no two of which are the same.
In addition to the cobbled-together vehicles of Immortan Joe, there are three other wasteland groups with their own interesting vehicles. I call the first group the Porcupine People, because seemingly every vehicle they have is covered in an absurd amount of spikes. Then there are the Canyon Bikers, who look very much like Tusken Raiders and employ the vertical terrain of the desert canyon along with their grenades to bring down travelers. I won’t say anything about the third group to avoid spoilers, but they also have an interesting aesthetic.
Fury Road is a more than worthy addition to the Mad Max series. Furiosa carries most of the movie, with Max acting as sort of an audience-insert, someone who is unfamiliar with this particular part of the wasteland, but knows the score. Like Max, the audience knows the world, at least in broad strokes. We know how these apocalypse stories usually go, just as Max knows roughly what’s going to happen. There’s nothing groundbreaking about the plot of Fury Road, but the characterization, action and cinematography are what make in an excellent film. The wonderfully understated performances of Theron and Hardy keep the audience invested, and the action rarely lets up, giving our capable heroes lots to do and plenty of chances to show off. So far, Mad Max: Fury Road is my favorite movie of 2015, and I highly recommend you go see it.