OP-ROB RATING: BENCH
About half way through “Mad Max: Fury Road”, Max leaves the overheated "war rig" and his band of survivors to try and save them from an oncoming enemy. This oncoming enemy happens to be a dune buggy packed with assailants armed to the teeth with machine guns and other weapons of destruction. Max departs carrying only his clothes and a can of gasoline. He walks down the road into the fog and out of view. A few moments later we see a large explosion and Max emerges back from the fog carrying belts of ammunition and a bag full of guns and more ammunition. What did Max do? How did he do it? The entire scene takes place off-camera and we are simply left to guess. If you walk into “Fury Road” expecting answers for every character and explanations for how this all came to be, then you will not enjoy the film. However, if you are a person who can stand back and just soak up the vivid imagination of director George Miller splatter onto the screen, then the reward will be all yours.
The last Mad Max film, Beyond “Thunderdome”, was released thirty years ago in 1985. The franchise began with the original “Mad Max” in 1979 and was followed by “The Road Warrior” in 1981. Obviously filmmaking has come a long way since those early years, and after seeing “Fury Road” it is clear that director George Miller has not missed a beat. The appeal of the early Mad Max films were in the epic road chases featuring Max battling crazy people. From 1979 to 1985 the franchise became increasingly weird. The energy-crisis setting from the first film deteriorated into a full-blown post-apocalyptic wasteland in the third, and the villain’s went from being normal human being psychopaths to being deformed freakish psychopaths. Regarding the earlier films, Miller has once again ramped up the weird in “Fury Road” and has injected more action and more special effects than ever before.
Mad Max portrayed by Tom Hardy is a survivalist who “runs from both the living and the dead… a man reduced to a single instinct: survive.” As is apparent from the opening scene, Max is haunted by people he has failed to save and is visited by their faces in flashbacks throughout the movie. The backstory regarding the “Fury Road” version of Mad Max is barely explained. All we can really tell is that he has been in “the struggle” for quite some time. He has long scraggly hair and a Duck Dynasty beard and his iconic V8 Interceptor is a cobbled mess of what it was in the earlier films. The film’s opening is short and is narrated by Max as he explains basics of his situation. This narration is curtailed when Max has to flee from a group of enemies. Max is captured and in the first few minutes of the movie the audience is boldly thrust into the hostile, derelict wasteland that George Miller has been dreaming up over the past thirty years.
The guys who captured Max belong to a group known as “war boys” or “half-lives”. They are unhealthily skinny, bald, severely scarred and all look the same. These high-energy creeps serve Immortan Joe, lord of the citadel, in a cult-like fashion. For their sacrifice in his service and a glorious death in battle he promises them “You shall ride eternal. Shiny and chrome.” Joe is played by Hugh Keays-Byrne, who actually played the main villain in the original Mad Max. Clearly very old and in ailing health, Joe waddles around the in the top of his kingdom drinking fresh water and impregnating his “breeders”, beautiful women imprisoned in his lair. The citadel is this massive rock structure complete with an aquifer, hanging gardens, and a massive elevator operated by the “war boys”. The peasants of the citadel all mull around beneath the structure begging for water. Joe sometimes pours water down onto the people through two gargantuan faucets on the citadel, but cuts off the flow before anyone can really quench their thirst. The economy of this world is defined by fuel and water, both of which Joe has plenty. As you can imagine, logistics in a post apocalyptic wasteland can be quite dangerous, the road is wrought with marauders and rival armies. That is why Joe employs Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) who drives a battle-ready big rig from town to town to conduct trade. In an act of mutiny, Furiosa helps the breeders escape the citadel and embarks on a journey to the “green place” where the women can live fulfilling lives. Joe freaks out and sends his entire army of War Boys after the big rig. Max comes along for the ride strapped to the front of one of the War Boys’ buggies. This particular War Boy is named Nux (Nicholas Hoult) and needs Max as a “blood bag” so that he has the energy to join in the chase.
The setting for “Fury Road” is quite spectacular. However, nothing is really explained and we are left guessing about 95% of the plot and the characters. The timeline of the Mad Max films is not continued with Fury Road, and the backstory for the movie will actually be revealed in a series of comic books being released by DC comics. The world that Miller has created is intricately designed, intense, and undeniably unique. Everything from the War Boys down to the explosive tipped javelins they use in battle are unlike anything I have ever seen before in a movie. From the opening scene the pace is high and the action non-stop. For those people who are fans of the devastating car chases in the earlier films, “Fury Road” will be more than pleasing.
On the other hand, “Fury Road” is not thoroughly explained at all. The plot is muddled, and too many of the characters prove only to be set pieces for the aura Miller is trying to create. Behind the carnage and weirdness Miller is trying to convey a message of environmentalism and feminism, yet neither idea is fleshed out enough to make any sense. By the end of the movie I felt somewhat misled, and unhappy with Max’s character development. Tom Hardy was more vocal in the role of Bane in “The Dark Knight Rises” than as Max Rockatansky in “Fury Road.” Perhaps none of those complaints matter though. Perhaps “Fury Road” needs no explanation. Perhaps George Miller has decided to show his audience that “yes” he can contend with Michael Bay in the area of special effects and that he can keep producing some of the most eccentric characters and pieces in film. If Miller’s goal was to deliver a movie that will be remembered for its action and not for its narrative heft, then he has certainly succeeded. However, as a member of a 21st century audience living in a time with complex and interesting issues, is a movie like “Fury Road” really worth watching? Can’t I find something that might expand my mind a little bit? Make me think in a new way about something? “Fury Road” makes subtle points regarding the role of women and the health of our planet, but just as Max fades out of view in the fog, so do those important subjects, and in the end all we get are explosions.