*Warning: Spoilers throughout review!
Mad Max: Fury Road is the fourth instalment of the franchise (and disclaimer: I have not seen the previous three films) by 70-year old Australian director George Miller. Mainly comprised of car chases in a vast post-nuclear apocalyptic landscape, the action sequences are built around an uncomplicated plot and simple character motivations, yet the film still manages to be emotionally satisfying. Viewers are forced to figure out the story piece by piece as we, like the titular “Mad” Max Rockatansky (Tom Hardy), are thrown into the frenzied world right at the start of the film. The breakdown: Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) and the fleeing Wives (Rosie Huntington-Whiteley et al.) are trying to escape on a war rig from the twisted Citadel, a patriarchal society led by cult leader Immortan Joe who treats women like chattel, milking them for Mother’s Milk or raping them for sons (he literally screams for the return of his property, initiating the all out chase for his harem of young girls). However, the women, unmarked by nuclear deformities, unlike the pale War Boys at the Citadel, end up returning to reclaim the land and water in order to rebuild society, in a clearly feminist message from Miller. Max is really a witness to these events and is initially reluctant to do anything other than run away. However, Furiosa and Max form a quick alliance for survival that soon turns into mutual respect as she proves to be a fearless leader and astounding fighter—beating Max in their first physical confrontation—and he shows loyalty to her cause by helping the girls escape Immortan Joe’s army at the risk of his own life.
Tom Hardy fulfils his duty playing the taciturn, reclusive Max Rockatansky (sadly spending about half of the film in a face-obscuring muzzle that hides his beautiful features) but the real protagonists of Fury Road are the women. The strong feminist messages in this most action-y of action films are strengthened by the roles that they play. The Wives, initially damsels in distress, employ their desirability and apparent helplessness against their attackers, such as using their bodies to protect Max and Furiosa, as Immortan Joe is loathe damage his own “property”, or by gaining access to another truck in order to help their own team hijack the vehicle. The Vuvalini, a small biker gang of tough, older women, prove to be just as resilient as Immortan Joe’s army. The character Furiosa speaks for herself as Charlize Theron outshines everyone else in the film as the amazingly bad-ass, one-armed Imperator, heralding a promising future for female action heroes. Not only is Furiosa worthy of respect on her own, but Max’s treatment of her echoes this as well. His deference is shown in small actions throughout Fury Road: he passes her the gun with their last round, knowing that she is a better shot than he is; he offers her his plan for taking over the Citadel but does not assert himself over the group as the de facto leader; and, a smaller but just as significant detail, she spends more time driving the war rig than he does. As a surprising bonus, their relationship stays firmly platonic: a romance is never kindled by the time he leaves the women in victory at the Citadel.
Apart from the story and characters, the real draw for Fury Road is the astounding production design. Right from the start, the stage is set with alien landscapes comprised of burnt sienna sand dunes and strange organic mutations caused by the nuclear fallout. The barren landscape changes regularly, shifting into hard canyons, sludgy mire, or impressive, suffocating sand storms as the characters journey toward hope. The rest of the world-building is shown through the punk-apocalyptic culture: souped-up, weaponized vehicles cobbled together from assorted scrap metal; stomach-churning skin mutations and mutilations, crazy-looking accessories and body armour, a man in a red onesie playing a flame-throwing guitar atop a truck loaded with amps; and the background of a violent society chasing after limited resources, such as oil, water, and even blood. In terms of film editing, the pace is quickened by speeding up the frame rate occasionally, causing movements to seem jerky and unsettled, and emphasizing the relentless, madcap energy of the entire movie. And, of course, the multi-layered sound design fills the ears with revving engines, yelling drivers, pounding bass, and endless rounds of gunfire, muffling the minimal dialogue grunted by the characters throughout the prevalent high-octane car chases, and beefing up the incredible action scenes. Watching this film is a real and exhilarating experience.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 mouths sprayed with chrome paint