mad max. damn. Where do I even start? My ever-growing crush on Tom Hardy continues. Granted he barely spoke during this film but the entire story defies dialogue in place of action, which is emphasized with stunning visuals and haunting sound. I first saw Hardy in Bronson but wasn’t really sold on him until Warrior, which made realize that this guy has more to him than just his “look.” And now I can appreciate that “look” just a little bit more.
warning: this entire post will spoil the movie for you.
In the opening scene, Hardy narrates, “My world is reduced to a single instinct: Survive. As the world fell it was hard to know who was more crazy. Me…or everyone else.” We know this is some time in the distant future where humanity has fallen and resources are scarce. What we understand about Max Rockatansky (Hardy) from the get is that the dude has been through some shit (major PTSD), whatever it may be, we get glimpses (literally) of some sort of chaos from his past (hears voices in his head). We are to assume it is familial cause really, what else gets the hero in motion right? What was interesting about the approach is that we never really learn about this girl (daughter), this woman (wife) and the tons of other images of people (a mob he couldn’t save perhaps?) that flash before his eyes every time he is faced with some action point. As my friend Ashley pointed out, George Miller (director/writer) assumes his audience is smart enough to figure out what happened to Max without beating you over the head with backstory. After eating a two-headed reptile, Max is kidnapped by a gang of War Boys from the Citadel. The War Boys are a fanatical cult: powdered bodied (due to their diseased nature), branded with various tattoos symbolizing their Hierarchy status, a little crazed with the idea of sacrificing themselves for their water-hoarding tyrannical emperor, Immorten Joe (Hugh Keays-Bryne) in hopes of reaching the shiny, chromed out heaven-like Valhalla, where Joe has promised them eternal life. Max is a universal blood donor (O Negative, which is realized by an intense tattoo session) and becomes a blood bag for super sick, mechanic War Boy, Nux (Nicholas Hoult).
Then there’s this bad-ass:
Charlize Theron plays Imperator Furiosa, a one-armed, sharp-shootin’, big rig-driving heroine with a shaven head. It’s here that I will mention that this film is really about Furiosa. Plain and simple, it’s true. Actually, I came to discover this entire film is a commentary on women and their multiple placements in society. We can get to that later. Furiosa is in the War Rig on her way to Gas Town to collect fuel in exchange for water. Every resource is precious or so we gather by the way things are going so far- Immorten Joe has claimed all the water in the Wasteland and the grossly obese ruler of Gas Town, The People Eater (John Howard), well he hoards all the gasoline. Immorten Joe is awarded with the best costume: the maw (air-filtration mask) fitted with a chrome mouth plate and horse teeth, a Plexiglass body of armor (which hides his gross skin boils) that makes him look super fit, a belt buckle that goes on for days, medals of valor pin his shoulders, and that awesome hair, come on, what’s not to love? Dude is scary as all heck.
After making his due speech atop the only cliff in Citadel, Joe opens the aquifer and lets loose gallons of water down the rocks. He watches smugly as the wretched fight one another for their ration. Then he abruptly stops the flow and tells “his” people not to become addicted to water. This is quite telling as we have seen the sad state of health of humanity: inhabitants are pale, have mutations, skin disorders, etc. It is obvious that without normal and very necessary resources, the people of this Wasteland have adapted quite poorly to its pathetic conditions. Soon it’s brought to Joe’s attention that Furiosa has turned the War Rig away from Gas Town and is headed onto the endless Fury Road. Suspicious of Furiosa’s intent, Joe enters his lair, passing through rooms (one of which has the only signs of lush green plant life in the desert) and discovers that his Five Wives are missing. The ladies made sure to leave behind bloody notes on the walls to let him know that they are no longer his property. Enraged, Joe calls upon his War Boys, loads up The Gigahorse and so the chase begins.
The war crew is a motley one: from pole swinging vaulters to bungeed Doof Warrior, the red onesie wearing war crier/electric guitarist/flamethrower dwarved by a wall of amps, and gang allies from neighboring territories Gas Town and Bullet Farm (where all the bullets are made). Even Nux, as sick as he is, fights his way into the convoy that pursues Furiosa and the Five Wives, determined (like every other guy involved) for the glory of Valhalla. Nux has Max, iron-masked and strapped to the front of his coupe, which allows him to continue his blood transfusion while barreling down Fury Road screaming (infamous trailer line), “Oh, what a day. What a lovely day!” At first you kinda hate Nux because he has our hero imprisoned but in time the character really grows on you. When it comes down to it, Nux just has high religious hopes and really wants to be validated by Joe so he can make it to Valhalla. Nux even tries to sacrifice himself (and Max) by blowing up his car into the War Rig, which is headed straight into the biggest sandstorm anyone has ever seen.
When the storm has subsided, Max wakes up to find Nux unconscious, so he drags himself (and Nux, who he is chained to) toward the War Rig. Furiosa is busy with repairs and the Five Wives appear like muses: perfect, glowing skin (majority of them are supermodels after all), dressed in swathy whites, drinking water and ridding themselves of their metal-toothed chastity belts. These women are the best of the land, an imprisoned harem set aside for breeding perfect little Immorten Joes. In a move I didn’t quite expect, Max pulls a (non-working) gun on the girls (mostly to cut the chains that bind him to Nux) and fights (so awesome) Furiosa, managing to steal the War Rig for a few seconds before it dies. Furiosa clues him in on the kill switch, which only she knows the sequence. Without choice, Max allows all the ladies back on the rig and the chase continues, leaving Nux behind. They head into Biker Gang territory, where Furiosa has made a deal to exchange fuel for safe passage but the whole deal is a bust when the Bikers realize that the convoy is not too far behind. The narrow passageway is detonated and the War Rig makes a run for it.
Meanwhile, Nux has gloriously found his way to Joe’s stead and tells him that he can get back on the War Rig. As the convoy moves past Biker Gang Territory, Joe bestows Nux a pistol and a promise of entry into Valhalla, who’s gates are shiny and chrome. It’s believed Valhalla is an all-chrome Heaven and I think that before these boys think they’re going to gain entry they spray paint their mouths in shiny chrome as either a symbolic gesture or so they physically fit in perhaps. They also cry out, “WITNESS ME!” right after they chrome themselves probably as an amen-like gesture before sacrificing themselves. Nux flies onto the War Rig, dropping the gun, and is thereby admonished by Joe and the rest of the War Boys for his blatant failure. Joe attempts to shoot Furiosa but his very pregnant wife, The Splendid Angharad (Rosie Huntington-Whitely) reveals herself and blocks his target. The convoy does not stop and a great battle ensues, leaving behind Angharad, forcing Joe’s convoy to come to a screeching halt while the War Rig reluctantly moves on. Capable (Riley Keough) discovers Nux, who is hidden in the back of the Rig, distraught over his failure. Furiosa tells Max that she is taking herself and Joe’s Wives to the Green Place of Many Mothers, where they will be safe from Immorten Joe. She recalls this place from her youth and remembers its paradise.
Before long, Joe’s ally, The Bullet Farmer (Richard Carter) catches up with the War Rig and a barrage of bullets ensue. Night has fallen and the War Rig is stuck in the muds of some weird deserted, burnt treed, crow-laden with scarecrow-stilt-walkers, swampland where Nux helps the Rig get back on its way in pursuit of paradise. The next morning, the Rig comes upon a tower with a naked, crying woman, Valkyrie (Megan Gale) which Max identifies as a trap but Furiosa takes her chances, proclaiming loudly that she is of the Vuvalini clan. This signals the entrance of desert bikers, which is one of those parts where you are totally surprised because when the bikers reveal themselves, they are a group of elderly women. How cool is that? I’ve never seen anything like that before: old badass women. They confirm that Furiosa is from their all-female clan but was kidnapped alongside her mother long ago by Immorten Joe. The women let her know that the swampland they crossed during the night was once the Green Place, which has now become uninhabitable. The group decides to cross the salt flats in pursuit of a better life whilst Max takes his own journey.
But Max quickly changes his mind after another vision of his daughter and encourages the group to go back the way they came because the Citadel truly has everything they need and the only thing in the way is Immorten Joe. And so, the chase continues as the War Rig makes its way back from whence it came. Epic warfare ensues as the Rig meets up with Joe’s army near the Biker Gang Territory. The Vuvalini unleash epic warfare on the remaining War Boys while Max battles Joe’s overgrown son, Rictus Erectus (Nathan Jones). After many sacrifices, the War Rig crew, now in the Gigahorse, makes its way into the Citadel. The War Boys are on high alert as the Gigahorse’s new inhabitants display the horse-toothed ventilator mask as proof of a new ruler. The little War Boy crew who churn the elevator up and down allows the new Gigahorse crew up on the cliff. I love this part because the children who are doing all the labor take matters into their own hands and bypass their elders. As the crowd cheers their new ruler, the overweight wet nurses (who produce the much vied after “Mother’s Milk”) turn on the aquifer letting the water flow gloriously toward its people. Max, who is down below, gives Furiosa a knowing nod before disappearing into the crowd.
Ugh, I love this movie so much.
George Miller. Come on. This man, aged 70, made this film in his late 60s, which blows my mind. It is very difficult to blow my mind but that he did. Of course the Mad Max franchise was part of my childhood and actually exceeds the length of my lifetime but I admit that I didn’t really follow Miller’s career too closely. I remembered watching Babe: Pig in the City when I was a teenager and thought, dang this movie is dark. And now I know why. Not sure if I ever got around to Happy Feet, but I am glad, so very glad, that Miller got to realize this fine piece of filmmaking. A part of me really can’t fathom how he actually got this made, especially when you know how studio politics work, it’s weird because it felt like there was a lot of trust put into Miller. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not upset about it, actually I’m pretty excited about it because I feel that if a studio can sometimes just leave well enough alone then the reward can be so great. There is a lot going on in this film and it is very hard to digest everything since it is all zooming at you at extreme velocity. It’s been a week since I’ve seen it and I still can’t stop thinking about it. I had to read a lot of articles and interviews to really understand the movie and where Miller was coming from.
Some themes that Miller tackles:
- Women’s Rights
- The Wives left behind phrases like “WE ARE NOT THINGS,” on the walls of Joe’s lair, which is pretty obvious how they felt about being used for breeding purposes only.
- When Max first approaches them, they are struggling to get rid of their chastity belts, another nod at the ladies’ enslavement to only Joe.
- Furiosa is a leader, entrusted to take on impactful tasks and obviously she takes matters into her own hands when she realizes the treatment of the Wives. And although she has a shaved head and one arm, she is still a gorgeous badass who is not afraid of a tyrannical dictator. Not only is she trying to save these women, but she is also trying to save herself and later seeks revenge on the man who kidnapped her and possibly maimed her.
- The Five Wives all go for it in the sense that they trust Furiosa enough to leave behind everything they know in order to claim what is rightfully theirs: their bodies and lives.
- The Vuvalini clan is the coolest thing ever. I love how they ride motorcycles, know their shit and aren’t afraid of fighting Joe and the War Boys. Miller does a great job of keeping the battles between them pretty even and love that it’s the women who who win the war (with a little from Max of course).
- Limited Resources of Oil and Water
- Miller has always been intrigued with the effect of dwindling resources, he tells Daily Beast, “I’d lived in a very lovely and sedate city in Melbourne, and during OPEC and the extreme oil crisis, where the only people who could get any gas were emergency workers, firemen, hospital staff, and police, it took ten days in this really peaceful city for the first shot to be fired, so I thought, ‘What if this happened over ten years?’” Miller recalls.
- Miller’s inspiration for water-hoarding: “We’re almost a desert, Australia, so it’s a crisis just like in California,” Miller says. “In the mid-aughts, I was in India and first heard the term ‘water wars’—that people in Kashmir and other places were fighting over water. Sadly, things don’t change a lot. In terms of the commodification of women, we’re becoming more and more aware of that. But everyone in this movie is a commodity—they wear the brand of Immortan Joe on the back of their necks.” (Daily Beast)
It’s so easy to fall in love with George Miller when you experience the brilliance of this film. Apparently, there was no shooting script but instead a super extensive storyboard created by Brendan McCarthy, who is a writer and artist of comic book fame. I read that there were 3500 panels created for Mad Max: Fury Road, which is truly astounding. I’ve heard there is very little computer-generated imagery, as Miller was hell bent on making sure his crashes and stunts looked super real and that they were as created by Guy Norris, who also worked on Road Warrior. This film was exquisitely shot by John Seale (this was his first digital effort). Everything from the super high contrast to the color palatte to intricate shots, all of it: YES.
This film is a thrilling ride from start to finish, which would be nowhere without the score of Tom Holkenson (also known as Junkie XL). From the tribal thumping of the war drums, radical guitar riffs to the Hitchcockian-Bernard Hermann-like strings, it leaves you pretty much in an anxiety-ridden trance the entire time. Jenny Beavan, the film’s costume designer, was tasked to create the epic dystopian wardrobe for the film; she could not make you want to live in the Wasteland more. I heard that she repurposed a lot of the old Mad Max costumes to create the unique looks for each character and group.
There was no detail left unturned, every small thing was thoroughly figured out and had some sort of meaning. It’s this kind of thing that really matters to people. Viewers who care about that sort of thing (aka me) truly appreciate it when the filmmaker gives a damn about what they are doing. I really didn’t know what to expect from this film, I was skeptical for sure, but man was I impressed. Miller’s vision paid off, big time. And now we shall await the subsequent Mad Max films… I just hope George Miller will still be involved with them (fingers crossed).