A Sci-Fi Honey New Release Review

Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)

It’s been a Mad May for this Sci-Fi Honey: gearing up for the release of the fourth installment of George Miller’s Mad Max series, last Sci-Friday’s review was a three-part retrospective on the original Mel Gibson-starring Mad Max (1979), Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior (1981), and Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome (1985). While the series as a whole has had its ups and downs, all three films are much-beloved fixtures in the canon of action cinema, entertaining audiences for over three decades. This past weekend, a new generation of filmgoers experienced Mad Max: Fury Road, Miller’s latest addition to the ongoing saga of Max Rockatansky to hit the big screen. Now in his seventies, Miller was up against some difficult odds: can an aging filmmaker create a sequel to a treasured cult classic thirty years after the previous installment – with a different actor in the titular lead role – and still produce a film that is faithful to the spirit of the overall series while remaining relevant to the landscape of modern cinema?

About five minutes into Mad Max: Fury Road, the question above is answered with an unequivocal HELL YES. After a brief expository introduction to this latest incarnation of Max (played by a gruff and buff Tom Hardy), the audience is thrust headlong into rousing action at a breakneck pace that doesn’t let up until the end credits are rolling. Set in an unspecified future when war over a dwindling fuel and water supply has collapsed society and turned everyone into lawless survivalists, outback-nomad Max is captured by the “War Boys”: a band of sickly and bloodthirsty fiends faithful to the whims of their oppressive leader, Immortan Joe. The War Boys, with Max unwillingly in tow, are in pursuit of Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron), who has stolen Joe’s “property” – five wives held in sexual slavery as “breeders” to populate the pseudo-kingdom. Charging down a treacherous passage known as the Fury Road, which winds its way through an unforgiving desert landscape, Max becomes a reluctant accomplice in Furiosa’s mission to liberate Joe’s indentured wives.

Hero status definitely achieved.
Let’s take a moment to address Furiosa, because her mere presence in the film has been a recent point of contention for so-called “Meninists” – men who feel threatened by seeing strong, independent, and/or assertive female characters depicted on screen, especially in films where a man traditionally fulfills the “hero” role. It is true that Furiosa is one of the strongest female characters we’ve seen in the history of sci-fi and action films, maybe since Ellen Ripley or Sarah Connor, whose stories are as decades-old as Max. It is also true that the film focuses a great deal of its runtime on other female characters – a half dozen or so in a sea of hundreds of men, mind you – whose motivation to escape a life of captivity and systematic rape are concepts perhaps not easily understood in equal measure by the male of the species. 

Pictured: feminism!
Miller does change a few aspects of the story to fit what one could deem a “feminist” framework; the colony Furiosa wishes to escape to is inhabited entirely by women, and even the gender of Max’s murdered child (a boy in the first film) has been changed to a little girl. From a story standpoint, this particular change makes sense as a way for Max to assuage his guilt over being unable to save his wife and daughter by channeling his grief into aiding other victimized women. Max does emerge as a hero of the story, as does Furiosa – but so do several other characters both male and female, who each have their moments of courageousness, compassion, and self-sacrifice throughout the film. If Fury Road is “feminist” simply by putting Max and Furiosa on equal footing as agents of their own destiny, that should in no way discourage someone of either gender from seeing it – and is in no way a threat to anyone but those whose issues are rooted in their own absurd insecurity.

So get over yourself already.
Now that that’s out of the way, we can talk about the real reason everyone wants to see this movie: not just the ass-kicking characters, but also the ass-kicking visuals. True to Miller’s form, Fury Road is a cinematic cornucopia of elaborate real-life stunts supplemented only in small part by CGI, the way the Action Movie Gods intended. A majority of what you see on screen are genuine cars, trucks, and motorcycles, modified into certifiable murder machines, crashing into each other and exploding in real infernos of fire and twisted metal. The entire film is essentially one elaborate car chase, and the film is in perpetual motion from the very first rev of an engine – yet Miller varies up the route and the attack vehicles often enough so that one never tires of Fury Road’s kinetic energy. War machines beset with spikes, machine guns, rocket launchers, and even flame-throwing electric guitar players besiege Miller’s vast dystopian panorama at full tilt, searing across the screen in all their fuel-injected glory. 

'Splosions galore!

While Miller’s knack for action-packed eye candy satiates the craving of contemporary audiences hungry for big budget stunts and effects, Fury Road also fits into the overarching mythology of the Mad Max series from decades past. Allusions to the previous films are abundant: the first film’s baddie ‘Toecutter’ is played by the same actor as the villain here; one of Joe’s wives is keeper of a music box similar to one from The Road Warrior; Thunderdome’s pallid, black-eyed child resembles the War Boys; even ‘Master’ of Thunderdome’s ‘Master/Blaster’ is present here in some manifestation. Fury Road may be derided for its wafer-thin plot, but the three films preceding it also had very little in the way of story aside from the immediate peril of its lead character. For nearly the first third of Fury Road, Max is a helpless captive who is along for the ride against his will and only chooses to get involved when an opportunity to ensure his continued survival presents itself. Gibson’s Max was a man of few words, and Hardy is similarly taciturn; however, Fury Road expands on the internal struggle of the character more than any Mad Max film that came before it, with a torturous inner monologue that expounds on the “madness” implied in his namesake. It is in this sense that Fury Road delves deeper into the character of Max than ever before, and it’s a trend that is likely to continue in the film’s three sequels that are slated to follow.

So come one, come all – male and female alike – and treat yourself to one of the most thrilling cinematic experiences you’ll have on the big screen this year. If it’s combustible, high-octane action you seek, you’ll find it on the Fury Road.

Sci-Fi Honey Rating: Four-and-a-half furious war machines out of five. What a lovely day, indeed.

Feeling Furios-a? Or maybe a little Mad?
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