Mad Max: Fury Road ★★★★½

This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

This review may contain spoilers.

Despite the inescapable, all-encompassing praise & hype for this movie that consumed every corner of the Internet back in 2015 (and still hasn't really died down yet, to be honest), I didn't see Mad Max: Fury Road when it was in theaters. I know, I know, an intensely epic, post-apocalyptic actioner such as this just seems to scream out to be "WITNESSED!!!1" on the big screen, but I had almost ceased going to the theater at that point, and like I said before, my sole personal experience with the franchise at the time was over a decade old, and more importantly, was a rather negative one, so I just never bothered heading to teh multiplex to check out Fury Road. However, when I did finally watch it last year, I found FR to be an pretty strong entry in the series, smaller-scale home experience be damned, and while I still feel it's a slightly more problematic film than most of its fans seem willing to admit, I'm still grateful that I saw it, and happy that George Miller was finally able to make it a reality, after waiting so long in the Hollywood wasteland.

To get my biggest criticism out of the way so I can get to the rest of my mostly positive thoughts, I feel that, antagonist-wise, Miller had Fury Road cut to the chase a bit soon so to speak, as glourious a chase it may be. Immortan Joe, memorably portrayed by Hugh Keays-Byrne (aka The Toecutter from the original Mad Max, 36 years(!) ago), is destined to be an all-time great cinema baddie, with his Darth Vader/Bane-style distorted voice, breathing apparatus, and the demented permagrin of his ridiculously hideous facemask, but if we're talking about him in regards to his dynamics with the traitorous Furiosa or his "beloved wives", there's a certain step missing from the characterization of their relationships, that is, the first step.

We never get to see Joe directly interact with any of them at all before the central chase begins, something that would've given us some necessary, specific context to their conflict, and ground us much stronger in those particular character dynamics before the shit hits the fan. Don't get me wrong, as the way in which the character relationships develop during the actual chase is rather compelling and well-done, it's just kind of disappointing that Miller didn't apply the same sort of effort to the beginning of their arcs here.

That being said, while I could talk some more about minor nitpicks like the occasional phony-looking special effect, a little clunky dialogue, or the annoying way that Max's traumatic flashbacks sometimes pointlessly interrupt the proceedings, I won't, as, like I said, I still feel this is a very good movie on the whole. No longer forced by budgetary restrictions to try to pass The Outback off as a worldwide post-apocalypse, George Miller uses the Namibian desert wonderfully here, with its incredibly bleak, thirsty terrain, and harsh yellow sands (captured vividly by John Seale's surprisingly beautiful cinematography) rendering it the ultimate version of "The Wasteland" we've seen in the world of Mad Max to date.

As for Max himself, series newcomer Tom Hardy portrays what I now consider to be the definitive version of the character (sorry Mel!), with his frightened, grunting, rawly animalistic performance, as he seems like a man who truly is running from "the living and the dead", but who still manages to grow, and let his wounded sense of humanity shine through in the end. While his arc here is basically a repeat of what happened to him in The Road Warrior, and how he learned to make connections to other human beings again, I found Fury Road's take on it to be meatier and ultimately more engaging, and when he finally confesses to Furiosa as he saves her life that his name is "Max", I can't help but feel a bit of the feels every time.

Speaking of whom, I would be neglectful not to praise Charlize Theron's performance here, as a damaged, regretful woman warrior looking to earn herself a tiny sliver of redemption for the atrocities she's committed by leading some fellow, enslaved women to their salvation. As the dynamic between Furiosa and Max slowly but surely grows from being enemies, to allies of convenience, to finally, inseparable "brothers in arms", I completely believed that Theron's character would be Max's equal in this world (take that, red pillers!), and felt that Max finally having a true partner in all of the action only added to the film's overall strength, and not detracted. And all that isn't even talking about the strong characterizations of Joe's "wives", or Nicholas Holt's lost, rebellious warboy Nux, torn back and forth between his conflicting loyalties as the fury road wears on; like I said, once it gets going, this movie really does have some strong character work, without which, Fury Road would be so much less an experience in the end.

And of course, any review of Road would be severely lacking without praising all the excellent action going on in it, which is next to non-stop once it gets started. While there is some occasionally minor, unnecessary hyperactivity in style here (you don't have to try to "keep up" with the post-Michael Bay generation of action directors, George!), for the most part, Miller presents the intense stuntwork beautifully (and coherently) here, and gives us a pleasing amount of variety of it to boot as well.

During the 2 hour runtime, we get to witness humongous, downright apocalyptic sandstorm tornadoes (you read that right), divebombing biker gangs, a car being ground up into nothing between two bigger vehicles as they're in motion, and besides the vehicular mayhem you can always count on from a Mad Max movie, we even get one of the more furious and impressive hand-to-hand fight scenes in recent cinematic memory, with a surprising, positively ingenious use of props to rival even Jackie Chan in his Hong Kong heyday. Minor quibbles aside, Mad Max: Fury Road is a darn good movie, and if it ends up being the last we ever see of Mr. Rockatansky, it will have been a fitting end to the legendary icon of action cinema; witness!

FINAL SCORE: 8.5