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The sense of scale in this movie is often breathtaking, especially having seen the trailers where the immensity of it really is just teased.

Mad Max: Fury Road is a masterpiece, and will go down as an instant classic in a landscape that seems to produce fewer of them every year. This is a singular movie, the product of a revitalized 70 year old director who has seemingly lost no steps in the years between the unfairly maligned Beyond Thunderdome and now. If anything, Miller has raced ahead of pretty much anyone else making large-scale action epics. There’s a sense of the old school that prevails throughout Fury Road, not only in its consistent use of real stunts over CG, but also in the style of its action, performances, and storytelling. In spite of the heavy stakes and cruel acts of the villains, Fury Road never stops being vibrant, fun, and alive. It’s refusal to over-indulge the grim realities of its setting nicely underlines the the theme of hope that runs through the movie. All of this combines to create a mythic epic, the kind of movie that seldom gets made now packaged in what seems like something not even a little bit appropriate for that approach. The Mad Max films have always been back-pocket Westerns, and that still holds, but it’s also somehow an insane travelogue into a post-apocalyptic Wasteland that has loomed large in our imaginations for decades. But that isn’t even what is most astonishing or surprising or unlooked for in this film. It was always gonna be a post-apocalyptic action movie… but I don’t think anyone expected a feminist post-apocalyptic action movie.

And that’s what Fury Road is. And it makes no bones about that. It starts immediately, with the co-lead credit tags, and follows through into its ethos, in which the patriarchy doesn’t hurt just the women, but also the men. It grinds them up, makes them into savages, all at the behest of old white guys who try and hang on to whatever scraps of power and privilege are left even in a world of fire and blood. The women are our focus, because they are the ones most obviously and dramatically misused. The extremism of Mad Max has always been a reflection of stuff in the real world, like all good science fiction is, but my generation were too young to appreciate that when last this franchise graced our screens. But now, even at 70, Miller perfectly evokes the gender politics of today, where we are becoming more and more aware of not only the ways women are oppressed by unchecked patriarchy, but also how men are. Fury Road makes room for that element, rendering all the bullshit Men’s Rights (not even a thing) complaints utterly meaningless and obviously clueless. They’re just mad that Miller hired Eve Ensler, writer of The Vagina Monologues, to help him make sure the movie gave proper weight to the feminist themes and characterizations (what, he was supposed to hire Adam Baldwin?). It works like gangbusters, half because Fury Road is so confident and uncompromising about it. Just when you think it’ll satisfy itself with a badass female lead standing up against oppression and cruelty, the movie introduces the cheekily named “Vuvalini”, a tribe of female motorcycle warriors.

Anyway, that 90% Fresh rating on rottentomatoes.com is no fucking joke. I don’t care much for review aggregating websites, but I want to mention this because the hype is real this time. Fury Road deserves your attention, and it will reward you with one of the grandest visions of action cinema you’ve ever seen, and tons of thematic weight and subtext you might never have expected in a movie like this one. Fury Road embarrasses other action movies so much that I really hope it begins a revolution in how these movies are approached and made, teaching us again the value of verisimilitude, vision, and perhaps a little bit of madness. I think this is the kind of thing that comes along and inspires a whole generation of filmmakers and filmgoers, much the way that the audacity and strangeness of the older Mad Max films did.

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*Growl*

The movie quickly sets up who Max (Tom Hardy) is and what the world he lives in is like. That is, a war-ravaged and depopulated nightmare of death, decay, and insanity. I used to think that the Wasteland of these films was just Australia, with whatever is happening in the rest of the world being basically impossible to know due to the oceans. In Fury Road, there’s a bit of dialogue that hints strongly at the possibility that the Wasteland is the whole world, with salt flats stretching for thousands of miles perhaps being what is left of the ocean. That makes for a pretty fucking bleak world. This stuff puts you in the head-space of a guy who is basically an animal, focused utterly on survival and having long since given up trying to help other people. This Max exists somewhere between the guy in Road Warrior and Beyond Thunderdome, but we are never told when in his life the events of Fury Road take place, which leans the movie away from the typical continuity worship we see in reboots, franchise resets, etc. Max is just Max, whenever and wherever, and his life is a series of episodes like Fury Road.

Max has been captured by the Warboys of Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne). Joe rules over the Citadel, a block of mesas in between Gastown and the Bullet Farm, from whom he gets resources in exchange for his vast supply of water. We see how the people around the Citadel live, carrying their possessions under shells made of gods-only-know which protects them from the ferocious sun in between brief occasions where Joe turns on the water. Joe controls his people with the promise of redemption, and a Norse-mythology inspired afterlife that his Warboys, an army of pasty white cancer victims devoted to him with religious zeal, can win if they serve him well and fearlessly. At the top of Citadel, he keeps his wives and breeders… some of them obese women who produce “mother’s milk” for his army to drink, and others with whom he tries to breed more Warboys. The trouble is, the Warboys have a “half-life” before cancer or some other illness makes them too sick to fight. Some of them can buy a bit more time with a “blood-bag”, a person like Max who is a universal donor. They literally stick a transfusion tube into him and cart him around this way.

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The movie’s colors are not this washed out, but for some reason most of the screenshots are.

Joe’s generals are called “Imperators”, and the main one we meet is the tough-as-nails cyborg, Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron). She is mounting a supply run to Gastown as Max is being kept in a dungeon until the Warboys need his blood. When Joe realizes that Furiosa has absconded with his harem, especially his favorite, The Splendid Angharad (Rosie Huntington-Whiteley… who surprisingly steals the show a couple of times), he gets pretty mad about it. The women have written graffiti of Splendid’s feminist phrases, stuff like “We are not things”, to make sure Immortan Joe understands just why they’ve left him. Joe, not being one to take rejection well, mounts his entire army of Warboys in pursuit. This is how Max ends up connected to Nux (Nicholas Hoult), by chain and blood tube, and dragged along for the preposterous and amazing chase which from then on, basically never ends.

Fury Road is, no hyperbole, the ultimate chase movie. Almost every frame revolves around the pursuit of Furiosa’s “War Rig”, a huge long-haul truck that is basically half train and half tank. In other words, the most badass post-apocalyptic vehicle in a movie that delights in continuous revisions and improvements on that very concept. At the close of the second act, the “chase” becomes not only about the plot (can Furiosa escape with the wives?) but also the symbolic pursuit of redemption for both her and Max, who grudgingly join forces first out of necessity and later out of mutual respect, common purpose, and old school heroism predicated on the symbolic and actual restoration of hope. If a two hour long movie where 80% of it is a ridiculous post-apocalyptic car chase with attendant huge-scale action sounds boring or exhausting, then you’ve definitely been paying attention to spectacle cinema the last decade or so. But even with that in mind, you’re in for a treat here. Miller makes none of the typical mistakes of action “blockbusters” we’ve become largely bored of at this point. Everything is clear and precise on a technical level, but you’re also treated to crazy ideas and reversals and events that raise the stakes without playing a game of masturbatory one-upsmanship (which many big action movies end up doing to themselves). The early fistfight between Furiosa and Max is a wonderful microcosm of the movie’s approach to and execution of action in general. It’s a highlight, but it’s also just an appetizer.

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The wives are iconic and evocative in appearance, but also full characters with their own personalities and reactions to the things they experience. They are not just things to ogle, or pursue, or to win or lose. That is crucial. Without this care, the whole movie would fall apart.

Though Tom Hardy’s Max is incredibly watchable, delivering tons of humanity, insanity, and humor in small expressions and grunts or growls, this movie really belongs to Charlize Theron. At one point, Miller wanted to make Mad Max: Furiosa and legend (already) has it that he wanted to do a female led movie in the same vein as Mad Max and snuck his way into just that by making it a Mad Max movie at all. For what it’s worth, the two leads are equally game and amazingly supportive of each other, as actors as well as characters, throughout. Their initial fight is one of the best bits of the movie, and this only blossoms into fleeting but wonderful expressions of trust, respect, and concern. It’s the ultimate partnership of male and female lead, where the gendered expectations and biases of the audience dovetail with the realities of the performances and the confidence of the story to create something truly special. It reminded me a lot of the unexpected dynamic of Mako Mori and Raleigh Beckett in Pacific Rim but does it perhaps a step better or two better, and more fully, due to Fury Road being a much more singular and elemental movie in general. There’s just not a lot of distraction, or dialogue for that matter, in Fury Road, which makes its focus and control so goddamn exhilarating.

It may be worth mentioning Age of Ultron at this point, for a potentially minor bit of comparison. I think that in spite of Age of Ultron‘s many rewards, it’s obvious to most people that it is the result of a compromised vision. Leaving aside Whedon’s own (passive-aggressive) comments about it, it’s easy to see in the movie that there are seams and stitches and patch-jobs and hanging threads which amount to a movie where the genius is in how good it is in spite of these flaws. In contrast, Fury Road shows us a genius who is in complete control and shows us what happens when a pseudo-auteur filmmaker gets to 100% deliver their vision to us. For this reason, and on this axis of comparison alone, Fury Road is the superior film. It is uncompromised and uncompromising, and a good example the function of this in the film is in how Miller knows just when to dip into cruelty or horror to keep the audience aware of the grimmer realities driving the conflict they’re experiencing. This undercuts the pulpy nature of the setting and the glorious and ridiculous names, aesthetics, and behavior of characters and places. But it undercuts it precisely, in a measured and crucial way that always keeps Fury Road from becoming a cartoon version of The Rover.

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Immortan Joe is fucking terrifying.

One thing I would say that might seem critical of the film is that it has a notable disregard for exposition. The very little exposition present is delivered almost fully in the first few minutes, in a slightly over the top voice over by Max. After that, the intricacies of the dynamics between characters and factions is left to the audience to decipher in the moment, via incidentals and context. This works for a viewer like me, and I think is a sign of the movie both respecting our intelligence and not getting bogged down in its own minutiae. These details are never as important as what we’re actually seeing on screen, and that’s the kind of choice Miller makes which leads to everyone calling him a genius. In case you were wondering about that. Anyways, I do think it’ll be tough for some people to follow what’s happening and why. The motives are very elemental, so it’s easy to figure out why Furiosa would help the wives. It’s easy to understand Max’s journey from bystander to reluctant ally to full-fledged participant. But if you have a hard time with Aussie accents, or if you want to really dig into the meat of this world, you’ll have to listen close and pay attention.

Earlier I mentioned Nux, the sick Warboy who needs Max’s blood. He ends up being an ally to the wives when he begins to understand, on a basic but profound level, what it is that Joe has created him to be. The Warboys are perhaps more complete victims of Joe’s patriarchal megalomania than the wives and breeders and milk-givers. They are an army of “boys”, immature and devoted and kept that way, ready to die for the “Valhalla” that Joe promises them. This sounds great to them, of course, just as the promise of patriotism and service and glory sounds to us when we are shown enticing visions of what it is to be a soldier. Fury Road calls that shit out for the farce that it is, taking the time to give the audience a lot of reasons to be sympathetic to the Warboys in a general sense, and to Nux as their avatar. Nux gets one of the best arcs in the film, and sometimes feels like the audience surrogate in spite of his manic energy and bizarre appearance and vocabulary. He is fully inducted into the world Joe has created, and believes in it with all of his heart, until he is given a good reason not to. Until the wool gets pulled off his eyes, the chrome spray-paint dries off his face, and the realization sets in that the patriarchy, embodied in Immortan Joe as a symbolic (and probably actual) father figure, is just using him. Then he changes, gains agency, and responds to his situation heroically. Somehow, even with Furiosa and Max having their understated and archetypal arcs, the movie sneaks a character like Nux in to give us a third, very earnest, redemption arc.

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There’s no romance in this movie, but the bonding between Capable (Riley Keough) and Nux could be interpreted as close. I think the relationship is more filial, though, with Capable treating Nux as a little brother.

So again, the hype is real. Mad Max: Fury Road puts most movies of its approximate kind to absolute shame. You know those times when something exciting, cool, or unnerving happens in a movie and you get those little shivers down your back? Well Fury Road is That Feeling: The Movie. People are going to necessarily feel a need to cut it down and diminish it in response to the unprecedented praise it is already receiving, but don’t listen to them. They are hilariously misguided, and are going to lock themselves out on a very awesome experience.

This movie never stops moving, mixing in all the chaos and clarity with beauty and mayhem. All of it clear, all of it executed with technical perfection by a total fucking master. I really hope that Miller has three more Mad Max movies in him, as has been rumored. I really hope that the next one is about Furiosa, because she’s an instantly classic character. Usually these never-ending franchises resurrected from the VHS tapes of my childhood just make me feel tired. But Mad Max feels totally new, and exciting, and even a little bold.

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