Film reviews and more since 2009

Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) review

Dir. George Miller

By: Steve Pulaski

Rating: ★★★★

After allowing it to lie dormant for nearly three decades, George Miller reboots his beloved Mad Max franchise in a manner that, I believe, very few saw coming. While it’s the season for raucous, summer blockbusters that require little thought and provide for passing entertainment, Mad Max: Fury Road changes course for the series and the idea of a blockbuster. This is an exhilarating, uncommonly brutal display of some of cinema’s most kinetic and coherent actions sequences of the last decade, sewn together with everything from grotesque characters and characters that tread the line of being impressionistic.

For the first time, the titular character isn’t played by Mel Gibson, but instead, Tom Hardy, who provides a large amount of subtlety. In addition, I’d say that he also has about two full pages worth of dialog in a one-hundred and twenty minute film. He is less a character and more a brushstroke representation of an action hero, even moreso than in the last three films. Taking place, yet again, in a distant future where societal order has collapsed, Max is kidnapped early in the film by a gang known as the War Boys, led by the ruthless King Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne), to be used as a blood donor. Meanwhile, a woman known as Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron), who was assigned to use an enormous, armored truck to collect gasoline, the most sought after commodity in the community, is driving off course with all five of King Joe’s wives, all of whom meant for breeding. Max winds up escaping and hitching a ride with Furiosa, resulting in a long chase throughout the entire desert.

There is a simple moral of personal redemption in Mad Max: Fury Road, and it’s a moral that keeps the film from being entirely empty. However, it’s not tacked on or exploited in a way that feels heavy-handed. This is one of the many tricky dances Fury Road manages to pull off and do so very well. It’s also a film of details, with screenwriters Miller, Brendan McCarthy, and Nico Lathouris essentially playing around on the large, spacious canvas of the desert, seeing where they can go and what they can do in order to create a film entirely focused on creating tension and breakneck action. Consider little inclusions like a deformed character who rides on an enormous truck, shredding on an electric guitar with dozens of loud speakers behind him. It doesn’t add much to the story, but it provides for some incredible sounds throughout the whole film. Credit is also due to Junkie XL, who handles the overarching score and injects adrenaline during the chase sequences and somber, reflective strings during the quieter ones.

The film also bears the best cinematography and visual effects so far this year. The desert has scarcely looked more attractive in all its sun-soaked glory, and cinematographer John Seale gets some of the best, most vivid shots of it throughout the entire film. Consider the scene when Furiosa collapses to her knees in the desert, as the sand and the sun are shown as limitless representations of time and space and stray sand grains softly glide on top of more compact sand, effectively creating what looks like a mirage. Or even consider the longshots that show the intense scenes of the War Boys catching up to Furiosa’s truck. All of these beautiful inclusions and more are thanks to an extraordinarily talented visual effects and cinematography team.

Finally, we have the action, which makes up about ninety-five minutes of the entire film, and for the first time, I’m not complaining. For one, the action in the film is captured clearly and vividly. Miller never loses us in the camaraderie; everything is so visually pristine and clear that there’s never a lost sense of suspense because the camerawork is shoddy or the editing failed to do the scene justice. Editor Margaret Sixel really shows her talents in the beginning of the film, a briskly paced opening sequence involving Max, who is haunted by past memories, desperately trying to outrun the War Boys whilst being burdened by visions of his past encounters. These kinds of scenes are haunting, and add a layer to what would otherwise be standard situations in action films. However, the action is captured so crisply that it’s impossible to ignore the sheer magnitude of talent on display here.

For me, Mad Max: Fury Road is an early candidate for the most surprising film of the year and favorite summer blockbuster. This is a film that pulsates with life and energy, taking one exhilarating, cacophonous circumstance after another and bathing it in road rage, gasoline, and unbridled chaos. Its immaculate portrayal of madness almost works to call out other big-budget films that have skimped on their own visual clarity, proving great results can be achieved if time is taken to do such great work. It appears that during his time away from the franchise, Miller reflected on where he wanted to take it, and what results is a fully realized film that struts with confidence and swagger. The film proves a lot of things about action films, but most importantly, also proves you can have a franchise lie dormant for years and, if seriously handled and given to the original creator, there is still potential for a spectacular comeback.

NOTE: As of this writing, Mad Max: Fury Road is available to stream on Max.

My review of Mad Max
My review of Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior

My review of Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome
My review of Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga

Starring: Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron, Nicholas Hoult, Hugh Keays-Byrne, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Riley Keough, Zoë Kravitz, Abbey Lee, and Courtney Eaton. Directed by: George Miller.

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About Steve Pulaski

Steve Pulaski has been reviewing movies since 2009 for a barrage of different outlets. He graduated North Central College in 2018 and currently works as an on-air radio personality. He also hosts a weekly movie podcast called "Sleepless with Steve," dedicated to film and the film industry, on his YouTube channel. In addition to writing, he's a die-hard Chicago Bears fan and has two cats, appropriately named Siskel and Ebert!

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