Review: MAD MAX: FURY ROAD, A Tour De Force Masterpiece

Featured Critic; Toronto, Canada (@filmfest_ca)
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Review: MAD MAX: FURY ROAD, A Tour De Force Masterpiece

How's this for hyperbole: George Miller is the Australian Spielberg. You've got a director with a wide diversity of films (from The Road Warrior to Babe to Happy Feet), all injected with an almost preternaturally gifted ability to have riveting action splashed on screen.

It's pleasing, then, that Mad Max: Fury Road is Miller's masterpiece. It's a tour-de-force film, an action romp par excellence. The montage elements are often breathtaking (literally) - I found myself staring, mouth agape, as moment after moment built into a phantasmagoria of crushing metal, billowing sand and flying bodies. Yet Fury Road isn't mere action porn - scratch the dusty surface and there's story here, albeit one that's deliciously archetypal.

This is a film ostensibly about a guy named Max, and, well, he's mad. Save for some extremely tenuous connections (including a model of vehicle and a prominent knee brace) this narrative has next to nothing tying it to the Gibsonian travails of the 80s. This isn't so much a reboot as a reinvention, a decidedly more raw and rampaging film that cuts to the core of what makes these type of films work.

For the film-nerdy there are allusions to Duel or even The Wages of Fear and/or Sorcerer abound (we've got a truck, and bad things are afoot), but the purest exemplar I can equate it to is the Mercedes transport that Indiana Jones beats up midway through Raiders of the Lost Ark. For audiences this was a fun bit in the middle of the film - guy on horseback jumps onto moving vehicle, a bunch of people are punched, and our hero holds on via a whip to the undercarriage.

Broken down as a sequence of shots for those that study this stuff it's one of the purest and most extraordinary moments in cinema history for this type of film. It's both homage to Stagecoach and the bone-crushing work of Yakima Canutt, while at the same time being absolutely essential in moving both character and plot forward.

Expand this Raiders slice of cinematic magic to feature length and you get Miller's take on a truck, a desert, and a swarm of people trying to stop it from moving forward. It's this exquisite simplicity - the desiccated desert sands, the truck door with the skeletal arm, the oodles of pimped out spikey hotrods on the chase - that transcends this almost comic-book absurdity into something resembling the operatic.

This isn't the story of Max - if anything it's the story of a group of women on the run, and he's there to add a bit of gruff. Really, however, it's the story of the chased and the chasers, as ancient and sublime as can be, something that connects deeply with our flight/response in autonomic ways. The kinetic scenes are a splash of colour and movement yet always brilliantly coherent. This is a sprint where you can tell every footfall, travelling along at such speed and intensity that one becomes winded.

Tom Hardy is fully channeling his Bane character, and this, I dare say, isn't a bad thing at all. It didn't take long for me to forget that Charlize Theron was playing her character, as she once again transforms herself into a compelling and strong lead, bringing fury to Furiosa that's palpable. You've got a wonderfully two dimensional baddie in Immortan Joe, yet with Nicholas Hoult's Nux there are actual shades of grey (with silver paint smeared atop).

This is a film a quarter century in the making, having gone through numerous iterations, casting changes and script revisions. It easily could have been a disaster, some nostalgia fest that traded a famous and fun name for a series of silly car crashes. Instead we're treated to one of the best action movies of this or any year, one with both (genuine) brains and (gender inclusive) balls. There's not a moment you miss Mel Gibson, not a frame or storyline that requires you to give two shits about what's come before.

This is buckle-up and hold the fuck on filmmaking in its purest form, yet beneath the spectacle there's actual character development and a streamlined yet effective narrative that's allegorical without being obnoxious or trite.

This is a modern film using all the latest digital photographic techniques but with a decidedly analogue fascination with real vehicles (and stunts) rampaging along. The film is bonkers, yet, but it's also compelling and sly, shaming the silly men-in-tights Comic book pablum that's occupying most of the Summer slate.

With a propelling score, some astonishingly beautiful locations captured in Namibia and South Africa, a slew of gritty characters and some of the best car chase sequences every captured for cinema, audiences have got from this fourth film in the series more than they could have ever expected. Fury Road is in the literal sense amazing, a wonderous blast of fun that's sure to warm the heart of even the most jaded anti-blockbuster audience member. Go see this film, and then go see it again... and again.

Mad Max: Fury Road may have been twenty five years in the making, but it was worth every second it took.

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Charlize TheronGeorge MillerMad MaxTom HardyBrendan McCarthyNick LathourisNicholas HoultHugh Keays-ByrneActionAdventureSci-Fi

More about Mad Max: Fury Road

Ard VijnMay 11, 2015 10:08 AM

I saw ROAD WARRIOR in the local cinema with my father when I was 12. He is now 77, and we have bought tickets to see FURY ROAD in 3D IMAX later this week. I realize I'm now almost the exact same age as he was when he took me to that cinema (slightly older, in fact).

Needless to say, this review fills me with warm joy!

Jason GorberMay 11, 2015 10:39 AM

...mostly because I wrote it, natch :)

FideliolioliMay 11, 2015 10:48 AM

Um - there is literally NOTHING of BANE in Hardy's performance in this film. Not one inch. I have no idea what this reviewer is talking about there. I don't even think the reviewer has even seen Hardy's Bane in TDKR for him to make that comparison. Bane was a loud and flamboyant villain who talked like he was a preening British King speaking from a lectern. Hardy's Max hardly says a word and is literally the opposite of flamboyant. No idea what this guy is talking about.

KurtMay 11, 2015 10:54 AM

"buckle-up and hold the fuck on filmmaking" -- I smell a poster quote!

KurtMay 11, 2015 10:55 AM

I've been beating the drum for this film for literally years. I'm so satisfied it is living up to its potential in terms of critical love, and I cannot wait to see it!

Cort WilliamsMay 11, 2015 11:15 AM

I called my mother yesterday and asked her plans for her 70th birthday on Friday. She said "Oh we're going to see Mad Max!" Of course!

MikeMay 11, 2015 11:21 AM

Whoa, even with as hip as the trailers have been I actually wasn't expecting the reviews for this to be any good.

Jason GorberMay 11, 2015 11:24 AM

Hugs.

aFriendlyAgendaMay 11, 2015 11:33 AM

"...twenty five years in the making."

This is the difference between a film that takes its time to do it right and a hollywood producer driven product meant to cash in on a trend by blockbuster season.

I'm so happy to read these reviews so far.

aFriendlyAgendaMay 11, 2015 11:38 AM

It was well written.

Sonny HooperMay 11, 2015 12:11 PM

Did you see this in 2D or 3D? Just wondering if it's worth the extra $ to see it in 3D.

Todd HarringtonMay 11, 2015 12:18 PM

I think it depends on what you take away from Hardy's performance in RISES: for me, those moments that you mention are Bane's mask, the role he steps into because he needs to in order to serve Talia's desires; his more natural state is seen in his body language between those moments and in his post-failure pose at the end - non-verbal and primal, either in rage or in miserable failure.

Hardy brough a LOT more to that role than most people gave him credit for at the time and while I don't really care for Nolan's films - and have not seen FURY ROAD yet - my "guess" is it is that physical language that the reviewer is referencing.

YojimboMay 11, 2015 12:50 PM

Voted up for the mention of stunt God Yakima Canutt.
That guy had balls bigger than a bonobo.
Cant wait to see the movie thanks fer the review.

JoshMay 11, 2015 1:03 PM

Straight to your opinion and then some good breakdown. I liked this review Mr. Gorber. I'm now looking forward to seeing this. Tom Hardy has yet to let me down.

Jason GorberMay 11, 2015 2:12 PM

I saw it in 2D, but hoping in Cannes to see it in 3D (a tech that I've written about lots here on the site positively) - will let you know when I see it a second time should the stars align

Unflinching_EyeMay 11, 2015 3:42 PM

I too am keen to hear how it looks in 3d before I take the plunge. Gonna go normal screening first time around.

BenUmsteadMay 11, 2015 4:08 PM

Really looking forward to reading your review after I see the film Saturday or Sunday. ;)

APrince66May 11, 2015 8:48 PM

I grew up transforming my old Tonka trucks into Road Warrior vehicles, so damn right I've been waiting a long time for this. My fear though is an over use of CGI making things look off.

GaryMay 11, 2015 9:47 PM

Put your fears aside old man. Early critics have given the film a 97% approval on Rotten Tomatoes and an 87% on Metacritic. It is going to be glorious; and afterwards you can rip up your car and make the Road Warrior transition. Maybe tie a kid to the front. They like that sort of thing.

billydakingMay 11, 2015 10:34 PM

From most reports, Miller used very little CGI in the movie. Especially when it came to the stuntwork.

In an Entertainment Weekly interview published back in January, Miller pretty much echoed what you said about overusing CGI: " I know when I see too much CG, that sort of takes me out of the experience. You want to have that sort of almost, I’m not going to say documentary experience, but you want to feel it like you’re really immersed, like it’s really happening." So, every stunt and every crashed car is real. Just watch the trailers; it's obvious that they're done in camera. I saw the second trailer in the theater, and even though I'd watched it dozens of time on Youtube, it left me breathless. There's an intensity there that is absent from most blockbusters.

I really hope that Fury Road proves to be such an mindblow for audiences that it encourages a return to using practical effects more heavily. Miller, in another interview that I can't find right now, explains that, along with massive advances in digital technology, the stuntwork and camera technology also have advanced, and he can do all kinds of things he couldn't when making the original films. I think as CGI became a way to keep production costs and schedule over runs down, filmmakers have become obsessed with it, and audiences have gotten comfortable with CGI effects the way older movie audiences got comfortable with rear projection and blue screen, and Mad Max is going to be a shock to their systems.

Or I could be wrong.

ThisGuy01May 12, 2015 3:55 AM

What a lovely lovely day!

UilickMcGeeMay 12, 2015 8:47 AM

Unilaterally positive reviews make me wary. Don't get me wrong, there's nothing I'd love more than for it to be as good as the review says. I'll gladly shut my mouth in that case. But past experience makes me think there's rose-coloured glasses involved, especially when dropping a Raiders bomb in there.

GaryMay 12, 2015 9:12 AM

I'm thinking its going to be the best blockbuster of the summer.

Rage72May 12, 2015 12:36 PM

Bane was not loud and flamboyant in TDKR!! He was the most laid back of all of Batman's villains.

Rage72May 12, 2015 1:09 PM

I cannot wait to see this!! And just think about how awesome that Justice League movie would've been had Miller directed it years ago.

rickyjames56May 12, 2015 2:13 PM

2D for me too. I get headaches trying to pull my eye focus in and out a few hundred times on a run-of-the-mill 3D movies. I'm afraid 3D on Fury Road would put me in a coma.

rickyjames56May 12, 2015 2:15 PM

I saw Road Warrior at a drive in on its initial release. Fifteen minutes in, I realized I had unconsciously reached down and buckled my seat belt.

rickyjames56May 12, 2015 2:15 PM

I too LOLed.

rickyjames56May 12, 2015 2:18 PM

Anybody who was 20-40 in 1982-1985 and saw MadMax2&3 is going to be at Fury Road this weekend. Including me.

We used to be cocks of the walk. Now we're just featherdusters. Say that to your mom, she'll get it.

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt00...

APrince66May 12, 2015 9:17 PM

Outstanding. Even more pumped than before

GaryMay 12, 2015 11:01 PM

98%!!!!!

Art VandelayMay 13, 2015 2:15 AM

My idea of a kiddie remake of Mad Max: Fury Road

Mute Max: Candy Lane

"My name is Max. My world...was cookies and cream."

The backdrop is a downtrodden school and sugar has been banned from the entire town. Candy has been scarce and children have been out of their minds to steal and obtain every single source. Teachers are hopeless to do anything about their behavior.

Max used to be a hall monitor, the very best. Until his pet hamster, Gyro, was killed. Since then, he had reported and expelled every one of The Tyke-fighters and has been left mute and adrift ever since.

Curiousa, a friend and ex-Hugger of the leader of The Sugar-raiders, The Toothpuller, has had enough of his escapades and has taken action on her last day ever at school. She decides to take one of his precious belongings, The Pups, consisting of FIVE dog "younglings", ready to be trained to become attack dogs for their treacherous deeds.

Max ends up in the middle of this situation and regains his voice and purpose when he joins forces with Curiousa to reach journey's end, which involves many obstacles like the gymboree, various classrooms, adverse weather conditions, the agriculture farm and others; all the way to the school gates, where the cavalry is waiting.

Characters include The Brat, Wooly Bully and Carrie the Girl (she's one of the toughest characters), Titus Midas and others.

What you think? Contribute if necessary. Haha!

Ard VijnMay 13, 2015 3:17 PM

You forgot to mention that Curiousa has an egg-whisk for a hand.

Caleb ShepardMay 14, 2015 5:13 PM

To celebrate Fury Road I am parting with my 34 year old vintage Mad Max 2 Road Warrior T-shirt. Its a bit thrashed but I have never seen another like it! http://imgur.com/a/9PJTa

Josh HalberdierMay 17, 2015 4:33 AM

What character development? The action, style, and cinematography were great but I feel the characters made awkward jumps in development. Someone was nice to me when I was sad equals bye bye extreme indoctrination?

Josiane OchmanMay 18, 2015 10:52 AM

I too am weary of unilaterally positive reviews and in fact have read none before going to see Mad Max. Went yesterday and can truly say I haven't been on the edge of my seat like that, for a film, in what feels like years. It's visceral film making, wonderfully refreshing after all the CG super hero pablum which litters our screens, so damn tired of those stories,fake heroes never in danger. Went to see Avengers/Ultron out of boredom felt nothing, cared nothing and this by a director I do respect.

billydakingJuly 15, 2015 11:36 AM

Nux really didn't lose that indoctrination. He was still looking for a glorious death, and was shattered when he failed his god (who, in the most hilarious line of the movie, called him "MEDIOCRE!") and knows he's been abandoned, and when Capable finds him, he's completely lost. He's simply looking for a new purpose, and the Wives give him one. Just look for his reaction when the word comes back that Immortan Joe was dead.