Mad Max: Fury Road

Movie Information

The Story: Max Rockatansky helps transport some refugee concubines across the desert to a supposedly better land. The Lowdown: While it isn't likely to change your idea of cinema (at least I hope not), isn't worth the hype and has its share of problems, this is one wild — even hallucinatory — ride that's worth taking.
Score:
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Genre: Futuristic Dystopian Action
Director: George Miller
Starring: Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron, Nicholas Hoult, Hugh Keays-Byrne, Josh Helman
Rated: R

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To start with — no, Mad Max: Fury Road is not one of the Great Films. It is not a “masterpiece,” nor is it an “instant classic.” It will not, as has been claimed, “melt your face off” (is that even desirable?), though I suppose it may “leave your inner 12-year-old giggling with glee,” assuming you have one. (This may be truer if your inner 12-year-old grew up with Mad Max movies on VHS.) However if it “redefines the action film,” it does so by burying any idea of story in a fit of sound and fury signifying nothing comprehensible for about the first half of its running time. The result of this — at least in this corner — is a film that I pretty thoroughly disliked for its first hour and pretty thoroughly loved for its second hour. I suspect I would feel more positive about that first hour on a second viewing when I knew what all this was in the service of — that’s to say I might well think it’s only 20 to 30 minutes longer than it needs to be.

 

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I can feel the fanboy wrath mount with every sentence — even though I’m by no means threatening its treasured 98 percent “approval” rating on Rotten Tomatoes. (I expect there are voodoo dolls with pins in them for the four — so far — lost souls who gave Fury Road a negative review. Fandom can be a scary place.) No. I think this latest entry in the series — or reboot or whatever it is — is fascinating and far and away the best one yet. It’s bigger, it’s better acted, it’s better looking, it’s more creative and once it gets down to it, it’s a lot smarter, funnier (intentionally) and more subversive than its predecessors. It’s also considerably more grotesque, which with a movie like this might be viewed as a plus.

 

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Basically, the film is one long chase scene — or maybe two long chase scenes, depending on how you look at it — with time given over to ever more elaborate bouts of mayhem between the good guys and the bad guys. For some that will be quite enough, though that comes perilously close to the ethic of “stuff blows up really neat” — except that here you may change that to “really neat and creatively.” But the truth is, if you’re willing to wait for it and dig a little beneath the surface there’s more to the film than its more obvious enticements. Everything you’ve been told to expect is true, but that hardly covers the whole package. You’ve been told the film is strange, but that may not prepare you for the borderline surreal trip it takes you on.

 

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This is Mad Max as if it was redesigned by Jean-Pierre Jeunet. This is Mad Max where the bad guys drive around with their own musical accompaniment — including a guy with a flame-throwing electric guitar. (And didn’t Jeunet sneak an orchestra into the proceedings for a similar purpose in Micmacs?) This is Mad Max gone Rube Goldberg — in some casually grotesque ways (milking machines for women?). This is Mad Max on acid — acid of the Ken Russell kind. (If you think there’s no connection between Miller and Russell, watch The Witches of Eastwick back-to-back with Lisztomania and get back to me.) Look, this is a movie with a tough-as-nails, one-armed heroine (Charlize Theron) and an even more haunted Max (Tom Hardy) transporting a preposterous group of scantily clad pinup girls across the desert wasteland and its terrors various and sundry.

 

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It’s not interested in realism as such — except as concerns relying on amazing practical effects and old-school movie trickery for its thrill ride. (The solidity and realism of all this is undermined by unrealistic digital coloring so heavy-handed that Max is often as orange as the original Oompa Loompas.) Plus, Fury Road does have something on its mind — including that streak of feminism that got those “men’s rights” activists all in a dither. It is very much a matriarch-minded movie. The patriarch-oriented bad guys are all diseased and deformed by radiation — and ultimately ineffectual. They exist in a culture of death with henchmen being promised instant trips to Valhalla should they die in the service of their masters. Bombastic and even overbearing as it is, this is not a dumb movie. The cast (especially Theron and Nicholas Hoult) is splendid — as is the musical score by Junkie XL. And, yes, Tom Hardy is a better Mad Max than Mel Gibson. Rated R for intense sequences of violence throughout and for disturbing images.

 

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About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress from December 2000 until his death in June 2016. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

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23 thoughts on “Mad Max: Fury Road

  1. leonard pollack

    I do not make the connection between The Witches of Eastwick and Listomania. Just don’t get it.

  2. T.rex

    Can’t wait. It’s probably downhill after this one. The other “big” summer movies look fun but not this good. I know you are not a fan of the “car porn” of the 70s but what are your thoughts on the first three Max movies? Lisztomania is on my list now.

    • Ken Hanke

      If Lisztomania is on your list be sure you see the WB Archive copy. The others fellate the moose.

      The only of the old “Mad Max” movies I’ve seen recently is the third one. My major take-away? Tina Turner should never be given dialogue.

      • T.rex

        “But he’s just a ragigty man!” She did offer a cool song to the flick. Did you know Master of Master Blaster was in Todd Brownimg’s Freaks?

        • Ken Hanke

          If you mean Angelo Rossito, he was in a lot of movies — in larger roles than Freaks afforded him. Hell, he appeared with Lugosi in Spooks Run Wild, The Corpse Vanishes, and Scared to Death. He played Warner Oland’s imprisoned (by Oland) brother in Old San Francisco (1927). He also pops up in the 1935 Midsummer Night’s Dream and in the Laurel and Hardy Babes in Toyland (aka: March of the Wooden Soldiers). Oh, he’s all over the place. Invariably as a dwarf or a gnome or a pygmy (painted black).

          • Ken Hanke

            The scary thing…I didn’t have to look that up. Something is very wrong with me.

          • T.rex

            Nah, that’s impressive. But…..do you know all the great lines from Ford FAIRLANE? Ha, now that is sad I know those.

          • Ken Hanke

            The idea that there are “great lines from Ford Fairlane” is inconceivable to me.

  3. Reeves Singleton

    As someone who’s never watched the originals, I liked this a lot and might eventually come close to loving it. I didn’t really have the problems with its first half that you did and I ended up much more invested in its central characters than I would have thought likely beforehand. It actually reminded me a lot of SNOWPIERCER, right down to its near-constant volley of invention and its admirably progressive outlook. (Come to think of it, I’d wager that the people who were upset by SNOWPIERCER’s stance on the environment and class issues are a lot of the same ones outraged by the feminism in this.) Not that I think this is as nearly well-constructed as SNOWPIERCER, and it’s certainly not as affecting, but it’s not immeasurably far off.

    That said, it’s definitely getting more, or at least more zealous, praise than it deserves. Hell, I’m not even sure it could be called the best action movie of the year–KINGSMAN probably deserves that distinction at this point.

    • Ken Hanke

      This strikes me as at least significantly far off Snowpiercer, but I understand where you’re coming from with that. The gap for me may be that — Nicholas Hoult to one side (and that character was more clichéd than the ones in Snowpiercer) — nothing in this actually moved me.

      As for Fury Road being over-praised, that was inevitable. I even had to delete a long comment from a fired-up fanboy troll who took issue with the review — not because he took issue with it, but because it boiled down to nothing but a personal attack. And what first piqued his ire? This on Rotten Tomatoes — “While it isn’t likely to change your idea of cinema (at least I hope not), isn’t worth the hype and has its share of problems, this is one wild ride that’s worth taking.” How that can be construed as worthy of attack frankly defeats me — except that he was incensed that I didn’t love it as much as he did.

  4. bob

    had Nicolas cage been incorporated, you would have given it 5 stars

  5. Jim Bishop

    Ah, you walked a fine line with this one, Ken. I thank you for at least qualifying what seems like SEA OF UPTURNED THUMBS (I hesitate to say which digit I might use). As far as I can tell, the movie is the visual analogue of a heavy metal concert. Words (if any) are quite beside the point. ditto, narrative. ditto character development. and so forth, and so forth. It’s all about sensation. OK, so be it. But what scares me are the comments you referenced to the few negative reviews. I thought I was back inside the movie with the screaming bad boys in hot pursuit. Anyway, thanks as always for one of the more thoughtful reviews.

    • Ken Hanke

      Thank you. The wrath of the fanboy is similar to that of the hot gospeller. The slightest hint of dissent riles them — almost as if the existence of someone who doesn’t subscribe to their particular worldview threatens them personally.

      • Jim Bishop

        Yeah. What frankly scares me is the vehemence and mean-spiritedness of much of that stuff. It seems to have become an acceptable substitute for any serious thought or engagement with the subject. I wish I could dismiss it, but it has become a prevailing current in online commentary and therefore worrisome.

        • Ken Hanke

          I probably should find it more worrisome than I do, but I’ve been dealing with this so long that it’s numbed me to it. It actually goes back to when I started writing about old horror movies in magazines. (You want to upset folks whose lives revolve around when they first saw Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man on TV when they were 10, just try discussing the James Whale horror films in terms of Whale’s sexuality. “This is nonsense and you have tainted my childhood.” Well, which is it? It can’t be both.)

          Weekly reviewing was different until I got on Rotten Tomatoes, which used to be a real wild west affair where reviewers out of step with the fanboys were called every name imaginable. This is why RT disabled the comment function, but by then the Xpress had its own commenting section, which came into heavy use about the time I trashed 300. Boy, did that bring ’em out. I was upbraided by a woman whose accomplishments included speaking “Elvish,” and accosted for not realizing that the ancient Spartans had fought for my freedom. (I’m still baffled by that claim.)

          We actually have a pretty reasonable community of posters here — except for the ones who have followed the link from Rotten Tomatoes, but those tend to mostly explode over some faith-based movie or right-wing claptrap like the Atlas Shrugged movies. The deleted Mad Max comment was fairly aberrant for here. My all-time favorite was on Ken Russell’s The Devils. It was deleted, but I saved it — “Ken Hanke, you are a slimy, cowardly worm. You are most likely a homosexual who gets all pretentious when seeing weird sadism depicted on film by casting it as art. You are exactly one of the cogs in the Socially engineered Marxist’s wheel. When you perish, hopefully soon, your legacy will be that of a feeble follower who towed the line of the debased Socialist society. You are not a critic. You are not an artist. You are a puppet and a scum.” Now, that’s writing — and only mildly illiterate, however otherwise nutso.

          • Jim Bishop

            That’s what you get, Ken, for towing that debased Socialist line –I should think all that towing would be a drag.

  6. Dino

    Look, I appreciate how imaginative it is and how it squeezed in as much story as it could to try to please me, but boy, I couldn’t wait until it was over.

    • Dino

      Also, I didn’t get the whole fuss about it being anti-male? It seems misogynists would be too dumb to hate this movie, what with all the Australian model eye-candy lounging around.

  7. John

    Just saw this movie last week and read your review just now. You are a good writer and have encapsulated the strong and weak points of the movie. It is worth seeing. It is a fascinating and creative glimpse into a time “when humanity is broken”. If we look around the world today perhaps it is already.

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