For those of you who have never seen any of the previous Mad Max movies (which is completely fine, as this movie does not rely on the others at all), Max is a broken, haunted man. He used to be a policeman, back when the world was still intact. But society collapsed long ago, when the world ran out of fuel and the environment turned against us. Now he’s a wanderer, drifting through the wasteland, going wherever his high-powered custom car will take him. This latest incarnation of the franchise is the story of how Max came to meet a woman called Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron, The Road and Prometheus) and how they came to fight together. Specifically, the two both need to escape from an insane warlord called Immortan Joe. Furiosa is on a noble quest to save Joe’s “wives” (or as he calls them, “breeders”), while Max is just tired of being a human blood bank for Joe’s warriors. Because it’s a Mad Max movie, there’s white-knuckle driving, ridiculously awesome cars, and explosions galore.
Now, this makes it sound like the average summer blockbuster. It is a summer blockbuster, but it is certainly not average. For starters, something around 80% of the special effects seen in the movie are actually practical effects. This means that almost all of the bizarre cars were actually built, actually driven through the desert to make those chase scenes, and were actually blown up at the fiery conclusion. In fact, some of the main things the CGI was used for was to give Charlize Theron a prosthetic arm and to enhance the already gorgeous scenery of the Namibian desert to post-apocalyptic levels. In this age of using CGI for literally everything (seriously, I saw a film where CGI was used to create a fake Iowan cornfield) the huge amount of physical objects being built, used, and finally destroyed gives me hope that maybe Hollywood can shake its CGI addiction.
Although this film is full to the brim with fast cars, explosions, gunfights, and other things which the connoisseur of summer blockbusters expects to see, it also includes something else: a strong feminist message. Imperator Furiosa’s entire goal is to rescue these woman who are, when you get right down to it, sex slaves. The movie makes no bones about this, even if it refrains from being too explicit about it. She continually tells them that they are not objects belonging to a man, that they are people who deserve better than the shitty life that’s been handed to them and that they should fight for that better life. Furiosa herself is just as bad-ass, if not more so, than Max. Even though she is played by the very beautiful Charlize Theron, Furiosa is not made-up to look beautiful. She is dirty, and scarred, and just as brutal and violent as all the men in the movie. And what I really appreciate is that George Miller refused to make a romance story out of Furiosa and Max’s journey when almost any other movie would have had them hook up. Furiosa is, in many ways, the feminist ideal.
But most importantly of all, Fury Road retains the soul of the original Mad Max movies. Tom Hardy is excellent in the role of Max; like Mel Gibson in the old films, he rarely talks, preferring to let his actions speak for him. The few times he does speaks he sounds a bit like Bane from The Dark Knight Rises, but honestly that just made me like him more. The movie retains the unique, post-apocalyptic vibe it pioneered and which has since been copied innumerable times. It has the desert punk look, bad guys in BDSM gear, and the cars so heavily modified they would make the guys from Top Gear blush. Immortan Joe even has a car in his war party whose sole purpose is to carry huge amplifiers and a crazy guy who does nothing but play heavy metal guitar licks to pump up his neo-Viking warriors.
In short, Mad Max: Fury Road is a summer blockbuster action flick. But it shows just how fun, unique, and (dare I say it) socially aware that summer blockbuster action flicks can be. So Hollywood, listen up. Stop pumping out endless remakes, shitty superhero movies, and any of that crap made by Michael Bay. Instead, take a look at George Miller’s Fury Road, and do more of this. If you do, you might actually be able to make the summer blockbuster something a little more than just mindless consumerist entertainment again. And we would all be thankful for that.