If you go and look, you’re going to see a number of breathless reviews for “Mad Max: Fury Road” explaining just how George Miller’s return to the franchise after 30 years is utterly brilliant. They will discuss how the action is ridiculously amazing. There will be talk of Charlize Theron’s Furiosa and how brilliantly the actress portrays the character. There will be talk of Hugh Keays-Byrne’s bad guy, Immortan Joe. People will be insanely excited for the return of Max (now played by Tom Hardy instead of Mel Gibson). Mostly though there will be talk of all that action.
Each and every one of those reviews will be correct. Theron is great. Keays-Byrne is menacing. Max is back (even if he looks different). And oh man, those action sequences. “Fury Road” is a chase movie of the highest order. The cars are amazing. The stunt work you will see is ridiculous. The technical ingenuity to achieve everything that Miller has achieved is astounding.
Between that and the costumes and all the other little things that Miller has put into his world it is all enough to get away with the fact that there’s really no story here. Much as Max Rockatansky lives in a post-apocalyptic wasteland where traditional notions of what it is to live a full and fulfilling life have fallen by the wayside, so too has the notion of story in the film.
Do not get me wrong, there is a tale told here, one about Furiosa trying to save, at their behest, some of Immortan Joe’s wives, and Max just being in the wrong place at the wrong time, but it really isn’t a full movie’s worth (and Max is a supporting player in his own film). It is enough to set the action into motion, and it does that brilliantly, but nearly the next two full hours are filled with chase and little development. Certainly you can forget character development.
I think, for me, it’s this last thing that is so upsetting. This is Max because we are told this is Max, and sure he’s as badass as Max ever was, but much of the character here relies on the audience having seen in Max in those first three films. “Fury Road” doesn’t offer any insight into the character whatsoever. We see that Max is haunted, he keeps seeing the face of a girl, but there is no explanation whatsoever of whom the girl may be or why Max is haunted by her or… anything. You need to know Max’s history beyond what exists within the confines of this movie.
Without that history, without knowing Max from before this film, he is reduced to the most basic of heroes. He isn’t an antihero, he is only arguably a reluctant hero, he’s really just a hero. You know Max is going to help Furiosa on her quest to save the wives because he’s the title character of the movie and this is quite clearly an action film with good guys and bad guys. Immortan Joe and his “war boys” are the bad guys (they keep water from the people and Joe’s multiple wives are tired of being “things”). Furiosa is freeing the wives and so is good. Max? He was captured by the bad guys and so is a good guy.
It is black and white and way too easy.
You don’t go to “Fury Road” however for the story. You go because you, as with so many others (myself included) have wanted a new Mad Max film for decades. You go because you’ve seen one of the trailers or TV spots and you just have to see the sheer insanity of it for yourself. You go for the spectacle. There, as I said it succeeds. It succeeds in spades. It succeeds in a way that few other movies have ever succeeded.
It is an unbelievable, outstanding, amazing spectacle. “Mad Max: Fury Road” needs to be seen on the big screen, and not just a big screen, but the biggest screen you can find with the best sound.
Thirty years have passed since the last “Mad Max” movie and it really does feel as though George Miller has been storing up ideas that entire time for this new movie. It really is a sight to behold. I just wish it was more than that. I am giving the movie four-and-a-half stars, but if the story/plot/character arcs/etc. were an eighth of what the action is, I would be giving it five.
It is great and beautiful and brilliant and should still be more.
photo credit: Jasin Boland/Warner Bros.