By Jarrod Jones. We may have the technology to create incredible worlds that could never exist, and spectacular action sequences that deliberately spit on the physics that hold our humdrum reality together, but none of it means a damn thing if you’re not allowed to feel it. The summer movie season is upon us, and thus its ceaseless bombardment of computer-generated fantasia is primed to numb the masses as thoroughly as the frigid, air conditioned multiplexes that contain it. But all is not lost.
There is a fire that still burns in filmdom, one that’s sat mounting behind the eyes of Road Warrior mastermind George Miller for over three decades. It’s a fire that has finally been unleashed, and it burns with an intensity that, if you were to touch it, your flesh would immediately begin to blister and pop. If we’re being honest with each other, it’s been a long, long time since an action film burned with such ferocity as Mad Max: Fury Road, and even though studio moguls have their finest interns jotting down notes right now in the vain hopes to recreate it, there will not be another quite like this for some time.
Because Fury Road isn’t interested in playing it safe. As a matter of fact, there are moments in the film where you might find yourself astonished that everyone who had a hand in making it came out alive. With its unrelenting pageantry of practical effects and all-or-nothing stunt work, Miller’s first Mad Max film since 1985’s Beyond Thunderdome has only one thing on its mind, and that’s to knock you dead. Fury Road dares you to flinch, and then it kicks you in the teeth.
Of course, it does dip into the CGI well every once in a while–hell, even The Searchers used the day-for-night technique once upon a time–but when Miller’s digital artistry is applied it’s used only to achieve maximum effect. The rest of the time we’re bombarded with a deafening, this is happening cacophony of shattering glass, twisting metal, slashed flesh, and speeding bullets.
And since it’s Miller who’s putting us through the visceral grinder, it’s only fine that his leading man is such a quiet fella. Tom Hardy, filling a Mel Gibson-sized hole just enough that it’s okay to forget that Max ought to have charisma, only speaks when it’s absolutely necessary. Hardy’s Max is definitely worthy of the character’s “Mad” qualifier, as he’s prone to startling visions of the dead that occasionally come in handy amid all this violent skirmish. And when he’s not a lizard-devouring maniac, or a put-upon, one man blood bank drained by chalk white shitheads, he’s a chivalrous blank slate surviving in tandem with Charlize Theron’s Imperator Furiosa and her squadron of purloined sex slaves (Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Riley Keough, Zoë Kravitz, Abbey Lee, Courtney Eaton). Thankfully, he doesn’t achieve white knight status until the movie makes him earn it.
Once Miller pulls away his veil of thundering doom, what we’re left with is a surprisingly considerate action film that has far more ideas attached to it than you might expect. What is equally surprising, not to mention refreshing, is that Hardy’s Max (and his lilting, Bane-esque voice) plays second fiddle to Theron’s Furiosa (“Now pick up what you can and run,” is but one example where she asserts authority more so than our Mad protagonist). Hardy is there to slug any instigators that come their way (and when the film allows it, he’s particularly good at it), but Theron is the living heartbeat of the film. As a bubbling cauldron of iron-clad strength, Theron is all determination without an inch of Hollywood sass. She bellows with a wrath that tells a better tale than any exposition ever could.
That’s only fitting for an action flick that has the audacity to inform us that we’ve forgotten where we came from. Yeah, San Andreas is but two weeks away, and folks will instinctively flock towards its plasti-sheen CGI spectacle, but if they have a chance to see George Miller’s Fury Road beforehand, they might encounter a daunting thought: in the proper hands, an action film can transcend its trappings and become a form of high art. And if that’s the case, if a movie can truly be considered a symphony, then Fury Road is all crescendo.