‘Mad Max: Fury Road’ is total chaos at its finest
“What a lovely day!”
So screams a character in the Oscar Best Picture-nominated film “Mad Max: Fury Road” as he prepares to ignite his gasoline-soaked vehicle and his comrades-in-arms are sucked into a fiery maelstrom. This scene, in many regards, encapsulates the spirit of the film: outlandish, frenetic and wildly entertaining.
“Mad Max: Fury Road” features former cop Max Rockatansky (Tom Hardy); he’s been captured by the tyrant Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne) and his fanatical War Boys, kept alive to serve as a human blood bag. As Max attempts to escape, he crosses paths with Furiosa (Charlize Theron), one of Joe’s so called Imperators — but she’s gone rogue and escaped in an oil rig. Stowed away in Furiosa’s heavily armored truck are Joe’s prized “breeders,” supermodel-esque women whose sole purpose is to carry Joe’s children. What ensues is Joe’s frantic attempt to recover his wives, with his pack of War Boys and a fire-spouting electric guitarist in tow.
If the movie sounds ridiculous, it’s because it is. The world that director George Miller has created is over-the-top, almost a parody of a post-apocalyptic wasteland narrative — everything is extreme. But this is precisely what makes “Mad Max: Fury Road” an outstanding film: It is absurd without descending into full-on comedy.
The aesthetic of the film is delightfully imaginative, an amalgamation of the mechanical and primitive set in the dusty wastelands of Australia. Joe’s pursuit of Furiosa is somewhat reminiscent of a monster truck rally; the sound of roaring gasoline engines accompanies the epic score from Junkie XL. The War Boys coat themselves in white body paint, inhaling silver spray paint before battle to ensure that they are chrome-plated and beautiful when they ascend to Valhalla. The color palette of the film is comprised almost entirely of saturated oranges and browns, contrasted against a cyan sky — there is no green in this world.
The motion picture is essentially one prolonged car chase sequence, punctuated with brief moments of dialogue and sweeping shots of the desolate landscape. The CGI is masterful: Cars fly into a fiery vortex, War Boys catapult themselves from moving vehicle to moving vehicle, Furiosa has a very real-looking prosthetic arm. It’s a mesmerizing cinematic experience, keeping you at the edge of your seat for the entire two-hour run time.
The acting is high caliber, especially unusual for a movie in the action genre. Max has very few lines, but Tom Hardy delivers a solid performance as a man haunted by his past and stripped of his dignity, desperately hoping to escape the perversity of Immortan Joe’s regime. Charlize Theron stands out as the indomitable Furiosa, bringing gritty gravitas and emotional depth to the role; despite the title of the film, she’s the real hero. The shaven-head, one-armed Furiosa is easily one of the most compelling female action stars to emerge from the big screen in recent years. And Nicholas Hoult does an excellent job as Nux, the naive War Boy who makes fleeting eye contact with his lord Immortan Joe and suddenly burns with fanatical passion.
“Mad Max: Fury Road” is a highly atypical Best Picture nominee. It’s the fourth installment of a decades-old action franchise, which does not exactly scream Oscar bait. But “Mad Max” has enjoyed almost universal acclaim from critics (it has a 97 percent approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, a website that aggregates reviews from film critics), and just picked up the award for Best Edited Dramatic film from the the American Cinema Editors, usually a strong indicator of the eventual Best Picture winner. It seems unlikely that the Academy would go with a pop culture phenomenon and commercial success like “Mad Max,” but who knows.
“Mad Max: Fury Road” is, in many regards, a typical action film. The plot is straightforward, massive explosions occur frequently and there’s a striking dichotomy between the villains and heroes. But behind all that glorious, exhilarating fun is something deeper — a message of resilience and honor in the face of the total collapse of civilization, with a distinctly feminist flavor — which is what makes it a strong Best Picture contender.
Mad Max: Fury Road
Rated R for intense sequences of violence throughout, and for disturbing images
Directed by George Miller
With Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron, Nicholas Hoult, Hugh Keays-Byrne, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Zoë Kravitz, Riley Keough, Courtney Eaton, Abbey Lee Kershaw