Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) / Action-Adventure

MPAA Rated: R for intense sequences of violence throughout, and for disturbing images
Running Time: 120 min.

Cast: Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron, Nicholas Hoult, Hugh Keays-Byrne, Josh Helman, Nathan Jones, Zoe Kravitz, Rosie Huntington-Whitely, Riley Keough, Abbey Lee, Courtney Eaton, John Howard
Director: George Miller
Screenplay: George Miller, Brendan McCarthy, Nick (Nico) Lathouris

Review published May 15, 2015

Film critics appear to be going mad for Mad Max: Fury Road in a way I don't quite understand, even if I feel that it does deliver the goods, action-wise, with sufficiency. It's wacked-out fun, and a welcome return, but if you've come here expecting me to chime in with the chorus, perhaps you're in the wrong place.

This time out, Max Rockatansky is played by Tom Hardy (The Drop, Locke), an established actor known for playing many complex, troubled antiheroes, so a natural fit for the part.  He's an ex-cop in post-apocalyptic Australia. His travels eventually lead him to abetting the fierce and heroic Imperator Furiosa (Theron, A Million Ways to Die in the West), who is on a cross-country journey in a mega-tanker through desolate wasteland to transport five pregnant women used by a vicious, slaving despot named Immortan Joe (Keays-Byrne) for breeding purposes to a legendary oasis of her youth ("the place where it's green").  As one of his children is ready to pop, Joe is going to get that child at any cost, so the deadly chase is afoot, with Furiosa and Max greatly outnumbered against the horde of sadistic "war boys" in Joe's command, willing to do whatever it takes to stop the exodus from succeeding.

Series creator and director George Miller returns as helmer and co-scripter, which gives the movie the authenticity and cred it needs to continue on, despite the absence of Mel Gibson.  The clips and sound bytes at the beginning of the film dabble with portions of the three Gibson films, which makes Fury Road technically a sequel, though the fact that he's younger in appearance here than the accelerated age of Max in Beyond Thunderdome makes the continuity a problem, so I would call this much more of a reboot.

Even if his Aussie accent is inauthentic, Hardy has the kind of gravitas needed for the role, though I have to say that, even with a star like Hardy, his character is one of the least interesting in the film, and for some lengthy stretches, he's not much of a factor, getting lost in the shuffle of the zany craziness afforded the supporting characters.  Charlize Theron's Imperator Furiosa feels like much more of the lead character, and is more of a traditional hero, more approachable and sympathetic than Max.  Taciturn Max has occasional flashbacks to past traumas to give some indication that he's not all there mentally, but in a world gone completely insane, he seems like one of the least "mad" characters in the movie.  There aren't many dramatic, emotional scenes in the film in which Hardy can showcase his skills as a top-tier thespian, but the same could be said of the character throughout the series, so it's futile to knock the screenwriters for not giving him a juicy part to play.

Now, some of you are here on my site probably wondering why I don't give this film five stars, and are probably frothing at the mouth from anger.  Relax.  It's just an opinion.  Personally, while I admire all of the stunts, special effects (though some are too CG), character touches, exposition from showing rather than saying, and the off-the-rocker world that Miller has created, as I watch Fury Road, I'm admiring it consciously, rather than being absorbed in the moment.  Instead of sitting with mouth agape, out of breath from the gripping nature of the action sequences that grip me by the throat and never let go, instead, Fury Road has me admiring the avalanche of bells and whistles of the action sequences -- the heavy metal guitar player, the battle drums, the pole vaulters, the retro-mod car designs -- but I'm not actually involved along with the characters and their plights so much as waiting for the next oddball development to occur.  It's a lot to soak in visually, so much that perhaps the multitudinous distractions kept me from caring that there's not much of an interesting plot underneath.

It's the kind of movie where you point at the screen to a friend to make sure they haven't missed that little cool tidbit, rather than that movie where you point at your friend for being so enrapt in what's about to happen to our hero that he's visibly shocked, surprised, biting his nails, perhaps even screaming aloud. To me, that's what a truly great action movie is all about, and, much as I'd like to be on board, I wasn't really that engaged by it.  Plus, it's a bit more surreal and other-worldly than real and of this Earth (echoes of the less successful parts of Beyond Thunderdome), and a lot more cartoony, like a mix of Terry Gilliam if he were trying to do a live-action adaptation of an inspired anime property (Japan loves the Mad Max films, so no doubt this one targets their sensibilities pretty hard).  Sorry Fury Road champions, it's fun and entertaining to a good degree, and has phenomenal, beautifully ugly design work, costumes, and make-up, but I won't agree much further than that, regardless of how much hate mail I receive.

Fast-paced and frenetic, and pretty cool to boot, Mad Max: Fury Road proceeds forward in its two-hour run at a breakneck speed, almost as if it is one long chase sequence with a few much-needed quieter moments to breathe.  But, no matter how many special effects and kooky character quirks they toss up on the screen, I'll gladly take the older and lesser budgeted The Road Warrior over Fury Road, where all of the effects are practical and feel so viscerally real, done entirely on the roads instead of half done on someone's computer.  Plus, Miller has now done the end of The Road Warrior (a massive vehicle in motion battling against dozens of smaller vehicles trying to take it down) three times in a row. It's a bit tired at this point.

I'm sorry if this review, which should have been positive, now comes off as negative.  The early rave reviews have practically forced my hand on this, I'm afraid.  I'd still put Fury Road above the original Mad Max, and definitely above Beyond Thunderdome, but, regardless of the collective fervor that has apparently taken hold for this entry, for my taste, there's still a lot of room for improvement in the franchise that has me awaiting the next entry as eagerly as those who think this is an instant action masterpiece.

-- Trivia: Hugh Keays-Byrne, who plays Immortan Joe, was also the main nemesis, though a different character named Toecutter, in the original Mad Max.

Qwipster's rating:

2015 Vince Leo