“Mad Max: Fury Road” is an extraordinary film. Miller perfects his vision of a “silent movie with sound” he intended the first Mad Max film to be, in the sense that the movie is pure cinema, a tale told through primarily through visual storytelling rather than techniques like dialogue.
More than any preceding Mad Max film, Fury Road has a very strong collection of characters. Furiosa and Nux are more nuanced, and better performed, than any of the other primary characters in the other films. Nux provides a sympathetic view of Immortan Joe’s religion, and his characterisation is surprisingly sympathetic for what is effectively an equivalent to a modern religious warrior, or even suicide bomber, given how the War Boys glorify their deaths. Furiosa is played excellently by Charlize Theron. She’s more the protagonist of the film than anyone else, with the human cargo and freeing of Immortan Joe’s sexual slaves arc being the primary drive of the film, and does a tremendous job with conveying Furiosa’s emotional turmoil, strength, and bravery to defy Joe’s empire. Tom Hardy is excellent as ever at acting through his eyes, facial expressions, and other non-dialogue means (which is a perfect fit with Miller’s ultra-cinematic style), but his accent is strange and distracting at times. I appreciate he tried to do an Australian accent, and I personally like what he did with the voice, but I do understand why some find it distracting. I liked how the film delved into Max’s inner turmoil and post-traumatic stress more than The Road Warrior or Beyond Thunderdome; this film seemed more coherent with his status as a policemen in the first film as he clearly grapples with his own morality and failure to have protected people or upheld the law.
The arcs of the three primary characters are told through big images (Furiosa’s scream a memorable example) and action choreography. The film screams with propulsive kinetic energy, always pushing forward, with the few dialogue-heavy scenes more brief interludes between the visual storytelling than anything else. There are so many examples of how Miller and the rest of the crew told this story so gloriously cinematically, from the reduced framerate when Max is captured conveying his crazed and frenetic state, to the image of wasted water gushing down conveying Immortan Joe’s despotic rule better than any monologue or dialogue-heavy realpolitik sequence could have.
The film is filled with distinctive visuals and concepts, from Immortan Joe’s patchwork religion (the sprayed-on chrome as a blessing, the promise of Valhalla, the war boys, etc.), to the concept of a human “bloodbag”, to the stilt-walkers in the poisoned marshland. That’s not even mentioning the “Doof Warrior”, the blind guitarist Miller intended as a sort of post-apocalyptic version of the drummers who would attempt to get soldiers blood pumping through rhythmic music in ages past. The worldbuilding is so excellent and tantalising because it’s not spelt out, we see the world as it functions rather than have it outright explained to us. The film grapples with fairly complex ideas about gender, self-destructive tendencies, sexual abuse, religious brainwashing, political revolution, and so on, and it’s all the more impressive because it doesn’t preach, but still perfectly conveys its thematic focus.
My one criticism of the film – not a particularly major one, mind you – is that it lacks a lot of the unique Australian identity of the series. Being filmed in Africa rather than Australia is the biggest cause of this; while the setting does look similar to outback Australia, you can tell it’s not authentic in the way the first three films are. Most of the non-Australian actors don’t attempt an Australian actor (Tom Hardy attempts a sort of guttural growl, which is occasionally half-successful at approximating an Aussie accent at least).
The film is pure cinema, enormous spectacle impressively constructed (so much of the stuntwork was physical, and the VFX work was very impressive in its own right), well-performed, and absolutely bursting at the seams with great ideas and fascinating worldbuilding. Films like this don’t come around often, especially in the action genre. With “Mad Max: Fury Road”, Miller has perfected the vision he had for the series back in 1979.
I give it four and a half bloodbags, and a can of silver spray-paint.