Mad Max: Fury Road (R, 120 min.)

Director: George Miller
Writers: George Miller, Brendan McCarthy, Nico Lathouris
Starring: Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron, Nicholas Hoult, Hugh Keas-Byrne
Grade: A-

The best character in Fury Road, the long-awaited fourth installment of Aussie lunatic George Miller’s apocalyptic Mad Max franchise, is named Coma the Doof Warrior. He has zero lines # and about two or three cumulative minutes of screen time. He’s not integral to the plot, serving no real purpose beyond providing another minor baddie to torment hero Max Rockatansky (Tom Hardy, taking over for Mel Gibson). But Coma the Doof Warrior wields a fully-functional weaponized electric guitar equipped with a huge flamethrower and rides a massive monster truck/tank hybrid rigged up to a wall of amplifiers so that he may provide blazing-hot licks in the heat of battle. There’s no real reason for Coma to be in Fury Road, other than that he totally fucking rules. It’s awesomeness for awesomeness’ sake — a beautiful consequence of Miller’s resolution to throw the rulebook in the trash, firebomb it with a half-ton of napalm, and immerse himself in the flames.

In the arid expanses of Fury Road’s sunbaked hellscape (played convincingly by the deserts of Namibia), Miller is able and willing to do anything. Matters of what is or is not possible have no place on Fury Road; Miller’s mind-bending analog wizardry # achieves the paradoxical feat of making its pulse-quickening action feel both elaborate and effortlessly easy. Films like Fury Road are the reason that folks took to calling this medium “movies” when it first rose at the turn of the century. The film sees the joy and glory of pure motion.

To start, Miller took the template of the prototypical Western and flayed it down to its essential components: Good guy stands up for something, bad guy takes notice, chase ensues, cue showdown. Miller pulls an ingenious bait-and-switches about a minute or so in, when the War Boys, forces of megalomaniacal warlord Immortan Joe (Hugh Keas-Byrne), capture Max, total his ride, and string him up as a human IV drip for a fragile War Boy named Nux (Nicholas Hoult). He spends most of the film out of commission, and the real hero of the film is Imperator Furiosa (an unstoppable Charlize Theron), a one-armed lieutenant for Immortan Joe. Fury Road shifts into high gear when Furiosa absconds with the five young women that Joe uses as brides and breeding centers. From there, the rest of the film plays out over a single, unrelenting, hundred-minute pursuit. Furiosa intends on leading the women to safety and sanity, Joe aims to reclaim the women he considers his property.

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With such a threadbare plot, Miller finds ample time for rich world-building. Even the most minuscule details have been thoroughly thought-out, from the widespread use of breastmilk as the lone source of sustenance in a waterless wasteland to the intimately personal relationship the War Boys have with their highly personalized vehicles. Over its decade-spanning production process, Miller’s poured plenty of care and attention into what will surely be remembered as his magnum opus.

For added fun, Fury Road’s unanticipated feminist subtext has raised a bit of dust among people who enjoy arguing about such things on the Internet. Furiosa’s ascent to the spotlight riled up Mad Max faithfuls confused about why the whole movie follows a lady rescuing ladies with assistance from other ladies. As much as Miller relegates story to the back seat in his ceaseless volley of action, he’s still got plenty on his mind. Nuclear destruction notwithstanding, the inescapable danger that women face in Fury Road makes their world frighteningly similar to our own. To the innumerable women trapped in modern society’s male-dominated social architecture, Furiosa’s longing for a respite from a global madness strikes a chord.

FURY ROAD

Words can only do so much to convey the pleasures of Fury Road. The film’s wonders are, by and large, nonverbal: the frenetic edits as Max scrambles through the labyrinthine hallways of Immortan Joe’s compound in search of an escape route, the sheer audacity of attempting a stunt in which motocross bikers drop grenades onto a fuel tanker as they jump over it, the tense spans of silence that evoke John Ford’s greatest works. In the face of Fury Road’s muscular intensity, all these namby-pamby words seem ineffectual and inadequate. I can roll out all the adjectives I want; none of them will do to the reader what Miller’s film does the viewer. He exhausts them with a moving picture that leaves those who watch it short of breath and beaded with sweat. He makes the very act of watching, passive by nature, into a workout.