MAD MAX: FURY ROAD (2015, George Miller)
“What are you doing?”
“Anyone who will listen.”
And that’s one of the longest dialogue exchanges in FURY ROAD, which is almost all action and zero exposition. People don’t stand around like windbags. Death is whimsical and pervasive, and every minute counts. Punch the pedal, and don’t let up. But it’s a dialogue exchange that encapsulates the film’s dominating philosophies — its world is godless and desperate, and survival is the primary motivation for everything. That kind of existentialism is mirrored in the film’s greatest single image, which involves Charlize Theron’s Furiosa dropping to her knees in profile, despondent in a hostile terrain, surrounded by nothing but desert, air, and rock — and as she cries in futility, the wind blows grains of sand past her sobbing body, burned by harsh sun that cares not one whiff about humanity.
So yeah, that’s all well and good and it’s nice to talk about the profound subtext of this movie, but let’s face it — first and foremost, this is one mean, aggressive, balls-out, apeshit nightmare, loaded with looney details, bananas action, berserk characters, and a pace so frantic that it can only have a title with the words Mad and Fury in it.
Structured quite elegantly with three cleanly divided acts, Miller’s bug-eyed vision is both easy to follow and impossible to keep up with. Just as your brain is catching up with what you actually just saw, something else sails through the screen with screaming intensity and you need to put the pieces together before the next can’t-miss nugget of info. Sometimes, the insanity is explained (e.g. the smiley faces on Nux’s boils, the breast milk factory, the pregnant girl underneath the truck) and sometimes it’s just part of the tapestry (a pint-sized wheezing demon, Furiosa’s missing arm, a guy who does nothing but play guitar on the back of a war truck). But whatever it is, every frame of this film is packed with the breathless immediacy of a director who has the age and experience to know what works on film, yet the youthful soul of a rookie who acts like he may never have the chance to work in cinema ever again.
There isn’t a single element of FURY ROAD that doesn’t throb with that hunger — take the war rig, which snarls with oil and gasoline, and drools sand from its ornaments; or the pole vaults attached to trucks that can catapult a warrior onto the rig; or the dreadful imagery Max continues to hallucinate, involving a creepy girl and some screams. It’s hard to tear your eyeballs from the screen long enough to blink, because holy shit look at that. If there’s any flaw at all, it’s in the monotony of this grim future — the tone of the film is beautifully consistent: it’s dark, violent, hopeless, and leavened with the perfect dose of humor. But the movie is a two hour-long punishing submersion into it. That’s admirable, but maybe a little much. Still, it’s never repetitive — there’s a propulsive wonder about what transpires here from moment to moment, and it’s ushered along brilliantly by star Theron, who is going to be hard to beat at the end of the year in Best Actress talks. Hardy is no slouch either, even if his Max is a surprising second fiddle. His faces tell the story and it’s a pleasure to watch him experience this ride. Editing, score, photography, and production design are all peerless. See this on the big screen, and don’t fret that this summer’s (or last summer’s, or the summer before that) action films can’t live up to the mastery Miller brings to the table. Because really, very few movies of this scale ever have.