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Movie Review: 'Mad Max: Fury Road'

The spectacle of Mad Max: Fury Road is equaled only by its uncompromising brutality.

Review by Matt Cummings

The Mad Max franchise is one whose fans cling to it like the last tank of gasoline on planet Earth, while others state and wonder, "What's the big deal? Simply put, the franchise is one of the most brutal, thunderously loud and oddly-cast in movie history. Filled with memorable and outright weird characters like the hockey-masked Humungous to the assless-chapped Dex in The Road Warrior, to Master/Blaster and Pig Killer in Beyond Thunderdome, the entire experience can be difficult for some to get through. But with its trend-setting action sequences and dark, gritty tone, Mad Max has endured since it premiered in 1979. Its follow-up/reboot/sequel Mad Max: Fury Road is a spectacle of vehicle manslaughter, furthered by images that could be some of the most disturbing in recent film.

Set in the mire of a post-apocalyptic world, one-man wrecking crew Max (Tom Hardy) is captured and delivered to Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne), whose tyrannical leadership has spawned a motley collection of desperate followers like the War Pup Nux (Nicholas Hoult), who believes it's his duty to die in battle. When the War Rig driver Furiosa (Charlize Theron) runs away with Joe's prized women, Joe sends out a menagerie of Frankensteined vehicles filled with Bullet Farmers and War Boys to get them back. Hell bent on delivering the women out of Joe's long reach, Furiosa enlists Max's help to get them to The Green Place and Furiosa's all-female Vuvalini motorcycle gang. But the cost of escaping - and surviving - might be too much for a man haunted by his past and facing certain death in this maelstrom of decay.

Road feels like the much wilder, younger brother to The Road Warrior and Beyond Thunderdome who's had cocaine and three energy drinks before 9am. From the moment the engine of Max's Interceptor roars to life, you know this one is going to be loud. But as the film progresses, its true nature emerges: disturbing, ugly, and gritty are merely placeholders to describe one of the most intense and unique films I've seen in awhile. It defies expectation for what a summer movie should be: shrew in the way it sucks in the viewer, smart in its efficient storytelling, and completely uncompromising in its action. I'm not kidding when I say this film features the most intense and innovative action with vehicles I've seen...ever. The scale and scope of what is essentially a non-stop chase across the desert is stupendous, enhanced by the now-classic Frankensteined desert vehicles, and mixing in a bizarre fetish of nipple-clamped warlords, silver-spray painted battle teeth, and radiation-produced cankles and boils.

The menagerie of mayhem starts with the those vehicles, including a 50-loudspeaker monstrosity with a rock guitarist threading Heavy Metal riffs from a axe that also shoots out flames, just because it can. The only thing missing here are leather-clad Dominatrixes whipping their slaves on another ridiculously-conceived vehicle, while Max and Furiosa's team is pursued. I'm not even kidding when I say this sort of imagery would fit right in. It's as if Judge Dredd, the cars from Furious 7, and the tank epic Fury had a head-on collision. Director George Miller and Cinematographer John Seale compose both epic action set pieces and beautiful desert scenes that show just how dire Max and Furiosa's situation is.

But Fury Road isn't just a visual spectacle; its story tells of a broken world filled with broken people who blindly follow Immortan Joe because that's all they know. Nux spews the same kind of empty promises of reaching Valhalla that Joe does, until Nux realizes that he's been fighting for the wrong side. Furiosa, Joe's ladies, and the bikers are really the story's emotional core, as three generations of them fight against Joe. Contrary to popular belief, this really isn't a movie with Max at its center, nor is it vestal virgins needing rescue from a shining knight: this is an uneasy truce of convenience whereby the women initially stare down Max and Nux before bringing him into their community of escape and redefinition. Max is merely the wheels and the might which Furiosa needs to stay alive.

Fury Road isn't a predictable film either, with the good suffering as much as the losers. There's a high price to pay for freedom in this wretched land, and Miller throws nearly everyone under every bus, tank, semi, or hauler before it's all over. That makes for an amazing amount of brutality, some of which we've never seen before. One scene in particular will make every woman nearly choke on their popcorn, so gentlemen you should warn them before buying their ticket. Whether that scene is ultimately necessary will probably be a matter of debate for quite awhile, but I suppose that is exactly what Miller desired. But the one thing that cannot be denied is the terrific universe building in Miller's story. We get to learn much more about these maniacs, their enemies, and the reasons why they fight so brutally. In terms of story, it feels as if Miller has opened the throat of his high-powered Interceptor and mixing it with practical action that's simply not be attempted anywhere else.

Some critics are suggesting that Fury Road is destined for Oscar glory; I disagree. Lacking any real character development, short of the nightmarish sequences in Max's mind of those he's lost over the years, Road isn't here to wax Shakespearean. It knows such dialogue will only slow its engine blower kits, explosive javelins, and porcupined vehicles waging war for the precious juice and the women that Furiosa has smuggled out. Miller doesn't try to mask this perceived shortcoming by piling on the eye candy; his Opus simply doesn't need it. Still, Theron and Hardy are forces of nature, even though the two hated each other by the end of production. Hoult has proven his ability as a character actor, immersing himself in the role much like Daniel Day Lewis does with such constant perfection. With that sort of pedigree, one could imagine seeing this pop up somewhere come February, although I think that's much too early to call.

When it's all said and done, moviegoers will no doubt compare Fury Road to The Road Warrior, and try to rank it against Avengers: Age of Ultron. The first is a good argument to have, while the latter is frankly fruitless. Both are technically proficient, endearing themselves for vastly different reasons, and filled with memorable dialogue and actors who portray their characters with cool efficiency. My recommendation is to enjoy each as the best in its particular subgenre because each also has its rather huge shortcomings. But if you're masochistic enough to try placing one over the other, let me know as I'd love to enjoin you in battle.

Unapologetic in its awesomeness, Mad Max: Fury Road is a marvel of mayhem, grit, and ugliness. Keep children far away from this one, unlike the one woman in our screening who forgot that babies count as children, too. You'll find the experience almost too much for your eyes as well, but that's the point of the beauty which Miller has wrought. It's an amazing experience, and perhaps even a game changer.

Mad Max: Fury Road is rated R for intense sequences of violence throughout, and for disturbing images and has a runtime of 120 minutes.

Discuss this review with fellow SJF fans on Facebook. On Twitter, follow us at @SandwichJohnFilms, and follow author Matt Cummings at @mfc90125.

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