PLOT: Road warrior Max Rockatansky grudgingly joins forces with a woman as she flees a pitiless dictator after liberating his enslaved wives.
REVIEW: I can hardly fathom my feelings toward MAD MAX: FURY ROAD. It's been about 24 hours since I've seen it, and I'm still struggling to comprehend the piece of insane art it truly is. My heartbeat speeds up when I remember its finest moments - of which there are dozens and dozens. It's a movie that seems pulled directly from the minds of action-movie fans of all ages, a veritable smorgasbord of insane stunts, vehicular mayhem, and - sometimes more powerful of all - tender character moments. It offers honest-to-god breathless excitement courtesy of a director who is 70-years-old and a genuine visionary. This was one of the most fun, suspenseful and exhausting experiences I've ever had in the theater - or perhaps in any forum - and that's not hyperbole. I love MAD MAX: FURY ROAD to death, and I'll see it a hundred more times before my days are through.
To recap the plot is to miss the point of the movie, and while I'm not usually a fan of laboriously dishing out a film's synopsis, in this movie's case it would be particularly misguided. Here's what you need to know: Max Rockatansky (played Tom Hardy in full growly don't-fuck-with-me mode) is once again wandering the barren wasteland of his world alone... until he's not. As is his lot in life, Max must once again fight for a cause greater than himself, first because he's sort of thrust into it against his will, but eventually because his humanity can't help but peek through the surly armor; the man knows right from wrong, and is always going to be forced to choose the former.
In his latest plight, Max comes into the orbit of a brutal tyrant named Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne), a masked monster hellbent on gaining himself an heir at the expense of a group of beautiful waifs he holds prisoner in his mountain fortress. After Max briefly finds himself a prisoner of Joe and his army of "warboys," he is soon enlisted into the noble journey of Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron), who has been an unwilling lieutenant of Joe's her entire life until she finds the opportunity to escape his grasp, along with his bevy of young wives. Max, as usual, just wants to be left out of this, but nothing can prevent his destiny, which is to once again fight alongside the righteous.
Hardy's Max is a bit rougher around the edges than the one embodied by Mel Gibson, though they both have - as my mom would say - "kind eyes." Hardy is at his best when he's blending his inherent brutishness with a touch of vulnerability, so while Max is almost more animal than man when we meet him, he's softened by his eventual company, and we buy it. What is very heartening to discover is that this is Max, we never doubt it for a second. The character is as tortured as ever, haunted by nightmarish visions of his deceased daughter (the movie does a little bit of retconning in that regard) and completely dependable in the face of certain doom. It's good to have Max back.
And I'll join the chorus of voices singing the praises of Furiosa and Charlize Theron, a great character played by a great actress. Furiosa owns this movie; she's the real driving force (pun intended) behind the action, she's the voice of reason, she's the bravest character on screen at any given point, as well as the smartest. Theron has played a badass or two in her time, but not like this. With a shaved head, warrior paint on her face, a robotic arm and a look of steely determination in her eyes, Theron's Furiosa becomes the coolest big screen action heroine since Sigourney Weaver's Ripley. I can't want to see this character continue to evolve and kick ass.
While FURY ROAD's heroes are low on words and overt emotion, their humanity comes through in almost every scene, a beautiful and touching thing this bonkers movie has going for it. The relationship forged by Max and Furiosa is built on respect, and the movie thankfully doesn't waste much time with a "can they trust each other?" scenario; it shuttles past their initial grievances and makes them warriors in arms. Thankfully, there's no forced romance there, though that's not what you'll be looking for anyway. These two just want to survive alongside each other, and that's good enough. Hell, maybe they'd be able to have a real conversation if they ever stopped chasing or being chased.
Enough can't be said about what Miller does here. An orchestrator of beautifully mad chaos, the director is obviously having the time of his life playing the most expensive game of toy cars ever. In a day and age when movie budgets are out of control and you're always curiously left wondering where all that money went, every dollar of MAD MAX: FURY ROAD's massive budget is right there on screen. Tricked-out cars flip, fly, crash, burn and everything in between, and it all looks real goddamn it! The plausibility of the mayhem is part of what makes these action sequences some of the most visceral and thrilling ever made. And Miller, god bless him, actually knows how to direct action - he understands how to frame a shot, he knows when to cut away, he knows how to populate his screen with just the right balance of clutter and negative space. Miller gives us a master class in directing, not just action movie directing. Directing. If he doesn't receive an Oscar nomination for his work here, the system is broken and needs to be dismantled.
There's so much I'm not even mentioning, but that's fine, you'll see it for yourself. (Didn't even get around to Nicholas Hoult's supremely entertaining turn as Nux, a quirky and likable warboy in Joe's army.) It's never really easy grading a movie you've just seen; I usually like the film to sink in for a few days before doing so, but in this case the job demands I drop one on MAD MAX. I'm giving it a 10. I have nothing negative to say about the film, no complaints come to mind; it's all like some fiery, absurd fantasy I couldn't possibly hope to be real. But it is real; this is a movie we'll be able to cherish forever. That alone makes me smile. I can feel my heart beating fast again already.