What is there left to say about Mad Max: Fury Road that hasn’t already been said? Well over a decade since its troubled production began, George Miller somehow managed to achieve the impossible: resurrect a 30 year old franchise WITHOUT its iconic leading man, WITHOUT much in the way of plot relating to the previous trilogy and WITHOUT the obligatory studio mandated PG-13 rating. Not only did he manage all of that, the film found the elusive combination of commercial AND critical success, and has been declared an unmitigated masterpiece by virtually all who laid eyes on it. All this from a 70 year old man whose last directorial effort was Happy Feet Two…
The premise is as simple as they come—it’s a two hour car chase. Literally, that’s it. Drive from point A to point B and then back again. But, as they say, “the devil is in the details,” and you’d better believe that Max is coming back (and Hell’s coming with him) bigger, louder, smarter, and MADDER than ever, proving that any day on Fury Road is a lovely day indeed. Sure, it might be “just a car chase,” but it’s also a masterclass in storytelling, world building, visual distinction, stunt choreography, and proof that practical effects still make a difference in the all-digital, all-the-time 21st Century.
The Mad Max franchise, though beloved and held in fairly high esteem by its fans, is still viewed by many as exploitation. Much like George Romero’s groundbreaking spin on zombie lore, Miller basically defined what a post-apocalyptic Wasteland should be like: heroes and villains alike punked-out in fetish wear that’d make a Cenobite blush, locked in a never-ending Road War for the only resource left that could grant one any real power–precious “guzzoline.” It defined an era when a gas shortage was thought to be a very real & frightening probability. But as those tumultuous days ended, so did a franchise…or so we thought.
The Road War never ended for Miller, and despite it taking nearly 30 years, with a willingness to not only reinvent, but wholly rethink the world he created, Fury Road eventually roared to life to nearly unanimous accclaim. The most common gripe? Max is a sidekick-of-sorts this go ’round.
I’m sure Miller can be accused of any number of things in his nearly 40 year career as a filmmaker, but shying away from strong female characters isn’t one of them. Call it “stunt casting” all you’d like, but Tina Turner’s portrayal of the nuanced kinda-sorta-villain Aunty Entity put the “THUNDER” in Beyond Thunderdome. Not to mention, this is the man that pitted the likes of Michelle Pfeifer, Susan Sarandon, and Cher against Jack Nicholson’s horny lil’ Devil in Witches of Eastwick. So why anyone was surprised that a woman could go toe-to-toe with Max in the business of badassery is beyond me. I’m, of course, referring to the internet’s latest darling, Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron).
This is HER story…HER journey. Max Rockatansky (Tom Hardy) just happened to get dragged into it, quite literally. Max makes his motivation crystal clear in the opening narrative, “A man reduced to a single instinct: survive.” Max is a personification of the Wasteland—a decaying husk of what came before haunted by the ghosts of failure. He’s a dinosaur, and one that has less than no interest in looking out for anyone but himself. Max can’t be the hero of this story, because he’s not the same Max we knew all those years ago. He’s as vicious and feral as all the other Wasteland animals.
Which is why that role is left to Furiosa. Taken from her peaceful homeland as a child, she is thrust into into a kill-or-be-killed world and forced to become the deadly warrior that we meet in Fury Road. But just as you can never truly tame a wild beast, Immortan Joe and his tribe of War Boys forged her into what suited their needs…they just couldn’t touch her spirit. And when she goes, she goes big. Not for one moment is she fighting for herself, though, save for a sense of redemption. She’s fighting for those unable to fight for themselves in an effort to spare them from a fate worse than the one she was dealt. She’s fighting for a sliver of hope in a hopeless land, and it’s inspiring enough that she even gets the-shell-previously-known-as-Max to come around and remember a shred of his humanity.
With this role, Charlize Theron has FINALLY accomplished her goal that she failed at years ago in the abysmal ÆON FLUX adaptation (though I’d say that blame rests squarely on the shoulders of the filmmakers): she’s given us an iconic character worthy of being counted amongst the pantheon of all-time great action heroines—characters like Sigourney Weaver’s Ellen Ripley, Linda Hamilton’s Sarah Conner, Uma Thurman’s Beatrix Kiddo, Carrie-Ann Moss’ Trinity, and many more. They’re big shoes to fill, but Theron has stepped up with a vengeance and I doubt this is the last time we’ll see her strapping on a robo-limb made from recycled engine parts.
Employing every screenwriting lesson and filmmaking trick he’s picked up over the years, George Miller has given the world high art disguised as a popcorn flick. He infused more plot and character development into a two hour car chase than nearly all of the other summer movies can lay claim to combined. He pummeled us with gritty, non-stop carnage and dazzled us with “How the hell did they do that?” Cirque du Soleil-esque action setpieces. But, honest moment…what did everyone walking away from that film remember most of all? Imperator Furiosa.
Well…you know, her AND that “doofy” dude playing the flamethrower guitar. Oh c’mon, that guy ROCKED! I mean, talk about a friggin’ “facemelter.”