How many people would believe that “Mad Max: Fury Road” might be one of the best action movies ever made?
Most “Max” fanatics would never deny their devotion to a new entry in the series, but in theory, “Fury Road” looked destined to fail. A 36-year-old franchise that hadn’t been refreshed since 1985’s “Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome,” directed by someone who’s spent the past decade making dancing penguin movies, was expected to be one of the summer’s biggest blockbusters? Even with all of this working against it, “Fury Road” somehow left a dust cloud of fresh air, while making its competition feel clunky and stale.
So how does a 120-minute car-chase movie feel fresh in 2015? For one, “Fury Road” doesn’t give its audience a chance to breathe. The film carries an edge-of-your-seat pace, while somehow pulling off four massive action scenes. It’s a rule of thumb that the more simple a plot, the bigger the bite needs to be. “Fury Road” manages to pack a bone-breaking grip that most moviegoers haven’t felt in years. Some critics have called out the film for not having much story, but underneath all the fun is still a film about survival and redemption. Just because it’s not blatantly pointed out doesn’t mean it’s not there.
It’s easy to become attached to the cast of characters in “Fury Road,” and this is much attributed to its cast. Although she’s billed as a co-star, this is a Charlize Theron movie. Her portrayal of Imperator Furiosa is on a new level of badass. Costar Tom Hardy (“Inception,” “The Dark Knight Rises”) doesn’t get much time to talk, but he doesn’t need words to leave an impact. Both Theron and Hardy’s characters work toward a similar goal that doesn’t use sex to further along its plot. “Fury Road” is being called a feminist action movie, and that’s not something typically said about a big-budget action flick. This is a film that passes the Bechdel Test while featuring a car made up of two ’59 Cadillac Coupe de Villes. Now that’s having your cake and eating it, too.
Movies are rarely written like television, with a room full of writers. To break away from the mold requires a singular vision, the way the Wachowskis made “The Matrix” or when Miller himself introduced his world more than 30 years ago. The “Mad Max” universe isn’t the easiest to present to a wide audience. Anytime “Fury Road” brings in a wacky aspect to its insane post-apocalyptic world, it somehow fits naturally into place. Crazy things happen throughout the film, but audiences know anything goes in the wasteland. I’ve even heard a few times now that a person’s favorite character in the film was the flame-throwing guitar guy.
Many parts of “Fury Road” give a crisp feeling for audience viewers. Even a hand-to-hand fight scene in the film feels like the characters are literally fighting for their life, while most action films today focus on choreography. This film may not use as much filmmaking technology that movies are capable of today, but it’s nice to see a film that doesn’t star a computer-generated robot from time to time. “Fury Road’ still contains hundreds of visual effects, but they are never too noticeable to take away from its world. The people behind this film were able to have all the style while not losing any substance. Genuine character motivations are never sacrificed for the spectacle. It’s always respectable when an audience is treated like they have a brain.
It might be bold to say, but “Fury Road” could be the start of a renaissance in action filmmaking. Who knows what the future looks like, but if its anything like “Mad Max: Fury Road,” it’s going to be bright. With more than $300 million in worldwide box office gross, big film studios should be taking notes. A 70-year-old is the frontrunner for the new renaissance of action films. Now it feels like 2015.
“Mad Max: Fury Road” is in theaters now. R. Action, adventure, sci-fi. 120 mins.
E.J. Spangler is a contributing journalist for TheBlot Magazine.