I’ve never known the feeling of having five consecutive sex bouts with five different partners (call me old fashioned), but I imagine it feels like the overwhelming combination of exhaustion and adrenaline left by Mad Max: Fury Road. It’s the kind of movie that more or less defies critical analysis, and yet will be think-pieced to death. Even without the attention given by a certain “men’s rights activist” website (which will go unnamed; the asshole deserves way less attention than he has been given), director George Miller will be lauded for using his testosterone-informed instincts as a platform for properly employing several strong female leads. His execution feels less like shut-up money or a fulfillment of “female stuff.” He’s succeeding where Joss Whedon has become powerless.
In fact, I’ll take it one step further; George Miller has succeeded where the Marvel conglomerate has been steadily failing. Though Fury Road is technically a sequel, Miller has dubbed it a “revisit” (reboots need not apply). Just like the original films, it’s a Motorhead song: rip-roaring, consistent, unique, deliciously disgusting. Even if you haven’t seen the originals (you should), the audience will not feel lost. That’s what’ll make it a greater summer entertainment than Age of Ultron: it’s a film made for everyone, with or without the knowledge of a franchise that saw its last film released three decades previous. If Fury Road is a newcomer’s gateway drug (or chrome huff) into the franchise, you could hardly ask for much better.
You could also hardly ask for a better replacement of Mel Gibson. Tom Hardy is a truly physical performer, and as Max, the exception to the rule that a protagonist must be the center of a film, he brings tremendous presence. For such a badass, Max is truly flawed; he suffers from PTS flashbacks, always finds himself getting caught, and generally can’t hold it together. He is imperfect, and full of heart. He’s out for self-preservation, yet he was a father and a husband once, and when he’s matched up with the beautifully menacing Furiosa (Charlize Theron), he becomes compelled to aid again. It’s a refreshingly platonic relationship that is never marred by a kiss, but strengthened by the recognition of equality and, in the end, superiority.
At first, we’re acquainted with a familiar image: a roasting arid sun baking a hairy drifter and one hot set of wheels. Max is surely a younger man, and yet it looks as though he’s aged thirty years in a short time. After a light snack of two-headed reptile, he charges on. Such is the life of a road warrior; when you’ve got a bunch of white-faced slaves chasing you, are you in much condition to stop, even under all that heavy clothing? He’s caught, but he’s not giving up; his earliest attempts at escape are the first of the breathtaking rollercoaster loops Fury Road offers.
While he is imprisoned, we see what the governing systems have become: a nation of stink and poverty, led by King Immortan Joe (High Keays-Byrne, also Toecutter in the original), a repulsively obese tyrant who sends Furiosa on a gasoline (or gaze-o-leen) mission. When she embarks, she already holds precious cargo: Joe’s Five Wives (Rosie Huntington Whiteley, Zoe Kravitz, Riley Keough, Abbey Lee, Courtney Eaton), who embark in secret to a fabled place far, far away from the empire. Because Max has been serving as a blood bag for War Boy Nux (Nicholas Hoult), he is immediately brought along in the pursuit of the women… as a hood ornament. I’ll leave the synopsis alone with two words: fire tornadoes. Any further details will have to be discussed among friends, all of which prefaced with words, “Oh, man, remember when…”
Just like Max and the gang in the final act, George Miller has gone back with gusto and purpose. He’s thrown a bomb-spear at the rigid structures of franchises and action films, and with the assistance of original collaborator Nico Lathouris and cartoonist Brendan McCarthy , each scene unfolds like a well laid-out collection of panels. For a film with such a clear head on its shoulders, the body’s remainder is one composed of buttnuts lunacy. It’s not as though the story makes no sense; Miller has constructed a world so beyond the points of logic and reason that the story makes nothing but sense. And yet, gaze-o-leen spitting and tumor-naming aside, it’s not entirely alien to our present world. Of course the desert is enduring a restraint on water. Of course young men are willing to die for the benefit of a patriarchal society that strangleholds mothers. Of course the idea of paradise is drying up. Of course we’re being endlessly pursued by a tankard powered by a giant drum corps and a Vic Rattlhead-ripoff playing a flame-vomiting guitar. What? Why’s everyone looking at me like that?
Fury Road is the first film I have ever seen where pre-show trailers are required viewing before the film begins. Whether they are Jurassic World, Terminator Genisys, or the blockbusters of one, two, ten years from now, they must be judged accordingly along the bar set by George Miller. The bar must be raised further. Our children’s future depends on it. When the world finally falls to the desert-punks, we’ll want to fondly remember a past in which we say, “Well, at least we were able to trump Fury Road.” Considering my film critic chops won’t do very well in that post-apocalyptic future, I’d like to at least enjoy those thoughts while twisting my dreadlocks on a motorbike.