This review is spoiler free.
From the very first scene, Fury Road grabs you by the scruff of your neck and drags you into its wild and visceral world.
Mad Max: Fury Road heralds George Miller’s return to his dusty and dystopian world. A move that hasn’t sometimes worked for other directors. Peter Jackson and George Lucas are two notable examples of creators returning to their famous worlds years down the line and not being able to achieve the same heights. Thankfully, George Miller knocks it out of the park. Mad Max: Fury Road is in your face and utterly exhilarating.
The summer blockbuster is down to a formula at this point. They are loud, entertaining, special effects laden affairs that come in all shapes, sizes and colours. Whether it’s Disney, Marvel, Warner Brothers, it doesn’t really matter. The formula is the same. It is safe, marketable and clean. Fury Road is the rusty iron spike on the side of a wheel in comparison. It is a grizzled chant in defiance of the norm. It’s not perfect, as we’ll discuss, but as a package it is much more satisfying than any number of CGI scenes, perfectly crafted and presented.
Fury Road picks up our hero as he is captured by the War Boys and taken to the Citadel. From there he finds his way on an utterly insane adventure packed some wonderfully fun characters such as Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne), the godlike ruler of the tribe, and the steely Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron). The characters are serviceable and the cast have their fun playing their utterly insane dystopian counterparts but ultimately character development leaves a lot to be desired. It is bare bones and development is left to quick scenes in between the action or one liners during the action. There are a few quieter moments between characters but these are, thankfully, light on the exposition. Miller says as little as he needs to about these characters and lets the audience fill in the rest. It’s nice not to be spoon fed every little detail but it does make the characters rather one-dimensional.
The plot which carries these characters throughout the film is simplistic too. While the character development left me wanting to know more, the plot being as easy as it was to understand didn’t bother me. It was nice to be able to state what the quest or journey was and then we could focus on the action, the quirky details of the world or the amusing characters. Fury Road didn’t need a convoluted plot and if you can accept the basic premise, Fury Road rewards you with what is probably the strongest popcorn movie to come in a long time.
The action is the stand out component in this adventure. It is punchy and unbridled. Every crash and thud is punctuated by the sounds of metal on metal and the imagery of body parts, both man and machine, flying through the sand. The bullets explode and whiz through the screen as your heart thuds along with the engines, drums and guitar solo’s booming into the wasteland.
Action for the sake of action doesn’t work though. It’s the small details in the insane action that make it work. It’s the rich set design and costume design that sell the world. Things are worn down, cobbled together from anything they could get their hands on. The world has gone to hell and humanity is on the brink of extinction. They’ve banded together and survived the best they could. Subjected to the whims of mad men and tyrants. Things are grim until the vehicles take their place on stage. The vehicles, in contrast, are treated with reverence. Miller spends time on the peculiar body work, the different weapons attached to the war machines and their position and role in the war party. There is an air of religious zealotry that permeates the interactions with the machines. The War Boys are fanatics and the various vehicles are their chariots that lead them into battle.
The attention to detail follows through into the sound design and look of the each frame. At the start of the film, Max has a mask on his face and his feelings towards this mask and the impact it’s having on him is shown through the sound design. Things are gritty and distorted as he struggles with the contraption on his face and the instant he takes it off, the sound blows wide open and a sense of freedom washes over you. This attention to detail is appreciated. It’s the most fun you can have in this film looking at all the weird things happening in this world.
The soundtrack is loud. It is in charge and it thunders throughout the film providing it the fuel it needs to charge through the screen. It is the beating engine in this film and it punctuates every guttural and guzzling engine with gusto.
Fury Road is a special movie theatre experience. It is an adrenaline fueled joy ride through the sands. If you can go along with the simplistic plot, you’re rewarded with a world that utterly demands your attention. Action that begs you to ask “was that real?” because the chances are it was as real as it could be. Fury Road demands you to witness it.
And you should. You really should.
RATING (out of 100): 85, “Exceptional”
Taj Sandhu is an editor and co-founder of NovaCritic.com.