I’ve always had a theory that sequels to well-loved movie franchises that get made many years later are rarely, if ever, successful. “Mad Max: Fury Road” has proven me wrong. Not only is it an amazing sequel but it completely bests each and every film that came before it. The “Mad Max” post-apocalyptic Australian film series from director George Miller is an cult trilogy that has aged poorly though all the films have one positive thing in common: simply outstanding stunt work and car chases. Could you imagine if The Road Warrior has been made today? Well now we can with the release of “Fury Road” – and strap in because it is one ludicrous and thrilling ride filled with jaw-dropping camerawork, effects, and production value that completely blows the original films out of the water.
This fourth entry has very little setup and that’s fine: all you need to know is that it takes place in a post-apocalyptic world where water and gasoline are hot and rare commodities. Max (Tom Hardy, taking over Mel Gibson’s role) is still mad as ever and has a touch of the crazies as anyone would living in this stylishly produced desert wasteland. In the film’s opening moments his kidnapped by a bunch of equally crazy guys known as the War Boys who work for their leader Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne) a wild-eyed masked villain with a Darth Vadar-like voice. He attempts to escape as trucker Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) goes on a mission with her tanker to retrieve gasoline… though she has ulterior motives which sets off the film’s entire plot into motion: a kick-ass car chase that hardly lets up for a minute. Max and Furiosa, each apprehensive, eventually team up forming one of cinema’s greatest action duos of recent memory. And throw in Nicholas Hoult as a morally questioning War Boy Nux for good measure.
Yeah that’s basically it. You get almost two hours of crazy vehicles chasing each other through the desert and it’s all utterly amazing. The 70 year-old Miller (who’s last three films were Babe: Big in the City, Happy Feet, and Happy Feet Two) sits confidently behind the camera giving us dizzying shot after dizzying shot of explosions and automotive mayhem that Michael Bay couldn’t on dream of conceiving. Cinematographer John Seale (also in his 70s) was coaxed out of retirement. The guy is no stranger to shooting in deserts, having won an Oscar for lensing “The English Patient” but his work his groundbreaking. Miller employs mostly practical effects with real stunt people performing at high speeds. We’re talking crazy stuff here like crazy guys wielding chainsaws and flaming throwing guitars. It’s also so… Australian. It’s like Baz Luhrmann wanted to make an action thriller or something.
With all the frenetic action and amazing stunt set pieces, there’s actually a lot going on emotionally as well. The film has a strong feminist element which never felt forced and gives the story, which essentially a long chase, real gravitas. The performances are also wonderful, especially Theron who has found her Ripley role as Furiosa. Hardy makes a great action hero grunting along the way though his bad boy looks feel strange opposite all of the bizarre make-up and costume design. This is such a fascinating world Miller and team has created and everything here is simply top notch and beautifully conceived and produced. And it’s all given a heartbeat with a simply amazing, pulse-pounding score from electronic musician Tom Holkenborg (who goes by the stage name Junkie XL).
“Mad Max: Fury Road” is a complete assault on the senses in the best way possible. It’s a dazzling piece of big-budget action filmmaking. It feels like something so different from what came before it and yet it feels like a nature step in the Mad Max cannon. It may just have a simple point A to point B plot, but there just isn’t anything else out there like it. See it and you’ll never drive the same way again! GRADE: A