A Review of George Miller’s Mad Max: Fury Road—A High-Octane Action Film that Passes the Bechdel Test

Mad Max Fury Road Review Furiosa

Film: Mad Max: Fury Road
Director: George Miller
Primary Cast: Charlize Theron, Tom Hardy, Hugh Keays-Byrne, Nicholas Hoult, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Zoe Kravitz, Abbey Lee, Courtney Eaton, Riley Keough
US Release Date: 15 May 2015

The following review was originally published by Side B Magazine and can be found on their blog, here. 

Both a sequel to and a reboot of George Miller’s 1980s trilogy, Mad Max: Fury Road (Fury Road) is a post-apocalyptic action thriller set in a desolate wasteland where water is scarce and where people are mad, broken, and desperate—Max’s  world is characterized by destruction, the instinct to survive, and very little else at all. When the film opens, Max (Tom Hardy) is a man haunted by the ghosts of those he could not save. Within minutes of his opening monologue, he is also a prisoner at The Citadel, a fortress controlled by the disgusting and tyrannical Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne). After spending an undetermined amount of time in a hanging cage, Max is turned into a living blood bag for one of Immortan Joe’s War Boys, Nux (Nicholas Hoult).

As Max’s blood drains into Nux, Immortan Joe sends a party of his War Boys—young men who worship him and are nothing but tools for violence—out to get gasoline and bullets somewhere across the wasteland. This party is led by Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron), who soon takes her war rig and those following her off of their prescribed course. Just about as soon as he learns that the travelers have changed direction, Immortan Joe also discovers that his wives are missing; the 5 women are with Furiosa, who is attempting to smuggle them out of The Citadel and away from Immortan Joe’s slavery for good.

Desperate to retrieve his wives (and the potential heirs that some of them carry), Immortan Joe sets out after them with an entire war party. This party includes Max, who is still connected to Nux. What follows is a series of thrilling, original, and delightfully relentless chase scenes along with a decent amount of intelligent and remarkably efficient storytelling.

I don’t usually go in for action films, but Fury Road isn’t like most action films. It’s tighter, it’s bolder, it’s smarter; this fearless and exceptionally memorable film puts the pedal to the metal in just about every way, and the result is a film that puts the rest of its genre to shame. First and foremost, Fury Road is a high-octane visual spectacle, but it’s also masterfully crafted work of cinema. So if nearly 2 hours of car chases, guns, and destruction sounds at all played-out or uninteresting to you, think again.

Instead of lulling his audiences into a stupor with drawn-out exposition, Miller throws them into the action almost immediately and trusts in their ability to figure out things along the way. Instead of devoting precious time to superfluous explanatory dialogue, he conveys a great deal of information in transit, with great efficiency, and often with little more than a word or glance. Fury Road wastes very few moments and even fewer lines. Unlike many summer blockbusters, the film exhibits a thorough understanding of economical storytelling, and this understanding allows it to present a compelling story and layered characters without ever taking its foot off the gas.

The action and chase sequences in Fury Road are truly some of the very best I’ve seen (and may be some of the best period). Not only are such sequences thrilling to the point of being overwhelming, but they are also so visually stunning and so well-choreographed, that I could not stop grinning from sheer cinematic delight. The first of these sequences left me breathless—so much so that when it ended, the ensuing (and very temporary) calm left me almost disoriented. At the time, I thought that there was surely no way that the film could keep up such a pace or that it could continue to top itself; to my pleasant surprise, I was wrong. Fury Road is a wild ride from start to finish, and it left me with such a high, that I have felt compelled to go see it again ever since I saw the credits roll.

Fury Road does not hold back, and it should be respected for that alone. That said, there is much more to love about this film than its magnificent action sequences and the breakneck pace at which it moves. Not only does the film turn the dial up to 11 and then some, it also demonstrates an abundance of creative purpose. Watching Fury Road, one gets the sense that every single detail it contains was worked over carefully and that the film was made by someone who takes his craft very seriously. I may not be able to tell  you why each and every piece of every image and scene in the film is the way it is, but I have a strong feeling that George Miller could; yes, Fury Road is filled with madness, but whether or not there is a method behind it is never in question.

Along with its fantastic visuals, effects, and chase scenes, Fury Road also presents a slew of memorable and surprisingly well-developed characters and tells a story that carries both emotional and conceptual weight. This tightly made and exceptionally well-edited movie proves that action films are more than capable of giving viewers a story that they can sink their teeth into and can become truly invested in. With just a few lines here or a single shot there, Miller is able to give significant depth to his characters and to instill powerful emotions in his viewers. This film may be defined by its spectacle, but its efficient and layered story also set it apart.

Two other aspects of the film worth mentioning are its distinct aesthetic and its powerful score. The images in Fury Road simply could not have come from any other film. The world in which it takes place is fully realized and the resulting images are a little bit steampunk, a little bit rock and roll, and a whole lot crazy. Together, the film’s consistent aesthetic, it’s distinct color scheme, and the fact that so many of its shots include images unlike anything viewers are likely to have seen before (how many creatures with no eyes playing flaming electric guitars for war convoys are there?) all contribute to the fact that this is not a film that will be easily forgotten. At the same time, the film’s heart-pounding score further enhances the distinct and undeniably intense cinematic experience that is Fury Road. Composed by Junkie XL, the music in the film is as badass and as distinct as the rest of it. It’s primal, it’s industrial, and I still can’t get it out of my head.

On the acting side of things, Theron and Hardy both pull their weight quite impressively. Though neither of them (especially Hardy) says all that much, they both manage to tell entire stories with their eyes and their movements, and their ability to do so has quite a bit to do with the film’s success.

In addition to all the areas I have mentioned thus far, Fury Road also succeeds in passing the Bechdel Test, and it does so with flying colors. One can easily imagine a film in which Immortan’s Joes 5 wives are nothing more than a sexualized set piece or background detail, and one can just as easily imagine a film in which Furiosa is nothing more than a convenient side kick who plays second fiddle to Max, but Fury Road is neither. Eve Ensler was a consultant for the film, and it’s clear that Miller isn’t afraid of being called a feminist (as if anyone should be, but that’s another story). Not only does Fury Road feature more women than any action film that I can think of, it also places them in a position of power. Unlike the women in many other films, those in Fury Road “are not things”; beautiful as they are, they are far more than their appearances. As Immortan Joe’s desperation and many of the film’s earlier scenes make clear, The Citadel could never exist without them. Furiosa and the 5 wives are aware of this fact, and this knowledge enables them to destroy the man who claims ownership of them; in doing so, they challenge the patriarchal violence that enslaves them and the War Boys alike. These women don’t need a man to tell them that they deserve better than sexual slavery, and they are more than capable of standing up to the system that oppresses them on their own. While Max does help Furiosa and the wives, he needs them as much as they need him, and he only ends up with them at all, because he taken prisoner.

Fury Road does not make the mistake of spending too much time on its male protagonist (Hardy is signed on to make 3 more Mad Max films, so there will more than enough time for him later). It doesn’t try to make Max superior to or more capable than Furiosa, and it never seeks to establish some contrived and perfunctory romance between them either. In this film, Max is a man who has realistically been broken by his environment, and to say that he is inspired—and even outshined—by the women around him wouldn’t be unreasonable at all.

Fury Road may not be perfect in every way, but it is so daring, so thrilling, and so memorable (and all of that without being sexist!) that any small faults it may have quickly fade away. In fact, Fury Road is bursting with so much energy and with so much sheer creative force that I have no problem at all calling it “sublime.” Fury Road left me reeling unlike any other film I’ve seen this year, and I cannot help but think that it may be quite some time before I witness another action film as mad, as intense, and as unforgettable as this one.

Until Next Time
Thanks for stopping by. I’d love to discuss this film further with those interested, so feel free to leave a comment below!

3 thoughts on “A Review of George Miller’s Mad Max: Fury Road—A High-Octane Action Film that Passes the Bechdel Test

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s