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Aussie director George Miller has been away from the world of action movie-making for 30 years since Mad Max: Thunderdome in 1985. During that gap, Miller has been busy in the world of family entertainment, directing two Happy Feet movies and the sequel Babe: Pig in the City. Well, it appears the time away has been good to Miller because he comes roaring back to life with the blistering and enthralling action of Mad Max: Fury Road. Miller has learned some new tricks as a director and delivers sequences that will make the time capsule and sets a new standard in blockbuster entertainment. This starts at an 11 and never moves from there.
The story functions as a sequel/reboot to Mad Max: Thunderdome, where we find Max Rockatansky (Tom Hardy), a loner warrior wandering the desert wasteland of a post-apocalyptic society. Along the way, he gets caught up in a chase between a rebel fighter named Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) and Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne), a ruthless dictator of The Citadel, who controls the water source of his land. Furiosa has rescued a group of young women known as “breeders” from the clutches of Joe and is desperately trying to escort them to her former homeland. A follower of Joe’s named Nux (Nicholas Hoult) gets caught in the middle of this battle of survival. These characters all converge in one thrilling chase across the barren landscape.
Miller, who is 70, directs with the gusto and energy of a newbie on the scene. He does not waste time on exposition and throws the audience into the chaos. Technology has advanced since his last outing with Max and Miller utilizes that to full use. He uses CGI in a minimal way, more as a backdrop and relies more on practical sets and the surrounding environment to create a world of gritty realism. This is top-notch action film making on every level, from John Seale’s masterful camera work, which captures the dark beauty of this dangerous land, to Colin Gibson’s striking production design and Junkie XL’s thundering score, to the incredible stunt work. Miller and his team have set to create something new, while remaining familiar with the world of Mad Max.
Miller’s sense of pacing never lets up and allows the audience to get swept up into this crazy world, without missing a beat. He stages action scenes with a masterful intensity, while still allowing for human moments to exist. A chase sequence through a sandstorm is awe-inspiring in its destruction. This is a movie where action truly defines character and everything is in constant motion, which Miller uses to reveal character in the most subtle of movements. There are long stretches of no dialogue and much is expressed through physical action, which is an impressive feat. The script, written by Miller, Brendan McCarthy, and Nick Lathouris, is efficient in its economy in telling a simple story and still able to convey emotional depth between the flurry. There is a feminine edge that permeates throughout the movie, which brings something refreshing and new to the series. Character is an important ingredient to the movie and Miller cast actors who are up to the challenge.
Tom Hardy is a dominant presence as Max, a man of action and fewer words. He is effective in conveying a tough physicality to the role, while revealing the ghosts that haunt this lone soldier. Hardy does not try to mimic what Mel Gibson brought to the original role, but instead creates the familiar elements of Max, while also incorporating his own rugged quality to the performance. This a new Max for a new age. Essentially, he is a more of a supportive player in the story.
Mad Max: Fury Road is Furiosa’s tale to tell and Theron brings it fully charged. She is excellent in conveying the strength of this rebel fighter, yet exposes the wounded heart of her loss. Theron brings a layered quality, which Miller slowly reveals as the story progresses. Like Hardy, Theron throws herself physically into the role, while never forgetting the survival spirit of this woman. She is the shattered soul of the movie and Theron delivers one of her best performances in an instantly iconic role, this side of Linda Hamilton in Terminator 2: Judgment Day.
Nicholas Hoult delivers memorable work as Hux, who has a change of heart in the disarray of battle. As the four “breeders” being escorted across the land by Furiosa, Zoë Kravitz, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Riley Keough, Abbey Lee, and Courtney Eaton are all solid and are allowed to have their moment, amidst the chaos. Hugh Keays-Byrne is creepy sinister as Immortan Joe and brings a formidable foe to the surface.
Miller has done the impossible and set the bar high for modern action movies, by creating insane sequences of destructive poetry, while never losing sight of the human component for what is at stake. Miller is a true visionary in bringing a wild and untamed imagination into the summer blockbuster season. It’s that rebel spirit that this classic-in-the-making charges at you at full speed and never slows down. Miller and his talented team have created a ride that will have you holding your breath and then anxiously wanting to go back on. It appears we may have our movie of the summer already. I look forward to where Miller’s rebel spirit takes us next. Strap in and hold on tight. In the words of Hux, “What a lovely day.”