In an episode of The Big Bang Theory, Amy Farrah Fowler destroys our geeky friends’s lives when she notes that the climax of Raiders of the Lost Ark would have happened regardless of Indiana Jones. It’s one of those moments that forces you to see the film in a new light, but isn’t able to diffuse your enjoyment of the film in any way. In a similar vein, by the end of the first act of Mad Max: Fury Road, I finally understood why Max (Tom Hardy) was so mad — not only does his ostensive counterpart, Furiosa (Charlize Theron), go rogue to protect a very precious cargo from this world’s faux-Hitler (Hugh Keays-Byrne), she also decides to hijack the film right out from under him. In a certain way, the movie is more like Red Sonja, in which Conan simply makes an appearance in someone else’s film. Is Max an essential character within the framework of the film? That’s debatable, as he does make one key decision for the group that opens the door to the final conflict — but it’s a decision that could very well have been made by another character. The real question is, does it make Mad Max: Fury Road any less worthwhile?
Now I’ll be honest right up front — when it comes to the Mad Max franchise, I’ve only seen bits and pieces here and there from the original trilogy, so I have nothing to compare this review to. Basically, I’m going in with fresh eyes, having not been tainted by Mel Gibson’s personification of Max and the ravaged world he had to endure. With that said, there is nary a moment in Fury Road where we are able to get to know Hardy’s Max Rockatansky, at least in the expositional way. Instead, we learn everything we need to know about Max subliminally through very subtle, cinematic and artsy ways. The first five minutes of the film tells us almost everything we need to know about him — he’s a hardened scavenger close to a psychotic break due to the loss of his family and the ravages of the world he must now face. It’s never quite clear what happened to his daughter, who continually pops up in eerie glimpses of insanity, and because of that, it’s harder to connect with Max and how he ultimately changes over the course of the film.
The same goes with Nicholas Hoult, who brings a fun, manic persona to the character of Nux, quickly stealing every scene he’s in. Hoult brings a subtle depth to Nux throughout his story arc that allows him to be extremely relatable, whether he’s laughing at the joy of murder and chaos or falling in love with an auburn beauty. But much like Max, most of his thunder is stolen by Furiosa, taking time away from his story that would have helped us better understand his place in this world. There is a very well-done scene when Nux reflects upon his life and what it truly means to live under the thumb of a ruler that may not be everything he once perceived him to be. It’s a very personal moment that also jump starts a love story that isn’t given enough time to flourish into something on the grand scale that the rest of the movie illustrates.
There are no rules when it comes to depicting the apocalyptic world that has basically run out of water (and I guess fuel as well). The leader of the ruling tribal class has been hoarding the Earth’s natural resources, including water, which he dispenses to his subjects via a massive waterfall that he turns on and off like a faucet, wasting more water than the decrepit peasants are able to collect with their small wooden buckets. But more to the point of the film, he’s also been imprisoning a bevy of beautiful women to be used as incubators for his children. Furiosa is more upset by this than anything else due to her own experiences of having been kidnapped as a child (along with her mother — another story thread that doesn’t really flesh out into anything truly substantial). Unable to watch this pig of a man destroy these women’s lives any longer, Furiosa stows them away on a transport rig in order to take them to “the green place” — a lavish land she remembers from her childhood.
Where does Max fit into all of this? That’s really the point I was trying to make. After being kidnapped by this tribe of sickly cultists, Max is turned into a human blood bag for Nux, who upon hearing of Furiosa’s divergence, worms his way into the chase to kill her and reacquire the incubators, bringing his necessary blood bag with him. If it wasn’t for that, Max would have no part of the story whatsoever, and even as part of the story, he really has no control over Furiosa’s actions or rebellious spirit. He’s simply along for the ride — which is, let’s be honest, one massive, insane spectacle, one that uses everything at its disposal to great effect.
From the set pieces to the costumes and the heart-racing action sequences, the film rides a major high, mostly due to its glorious cinematography, which paints every scene with majestic wonder. Whether it’s one of the raucous chase sequences that somehow find a way to keep from getting too repetitive, cast in bright red and yellow hues with the burning sun, or quiet moments under the blues of the bright moon, the cascade of eye candy forces you to take in the beauty of this barren world. Not to be outdone, the production design never ceases to disappoint. No matter how big (a giant vehicle that’s basically a moving orchestra, complete with a drum line and electric guitarist… you know, to really get the full effect of your very own chase sequence) or small (spray painting your mouth with silver before committing suicide), the detail put into the work never deviates from a palette of weird, humorous and exciting visuals. Max may be outraged for being upstaged by Furiosa (and on a smaller scale, Nux), but it’s their stories that make the film complete, and give us reason to sit back and escape for two hours into a world we would never want to visit in real life.
My Grade: A-
Next week, new movies include Tomorrowland, and Poltergeist. If you would like to see a review of one of these, or any other film out next week, please respond in the comments below.