Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links, which means I may receive commissions for purchases made through links in this post, at no cost to you. Please read my disclosure for more info.
In an apocalyptic future, Max Rockatansky (Tom Hardy) wanders the barren wasteland alone until he’s caught by warlord Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne) and his War Boys. He’s swept up in the escape of Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) and Immortan Joe’s Five Wives and is forced to band with them to survive in a non-stop road chase with Immortan Joe and his war convoy on their heels.
Mad Max: Fury Road review in a nutshell
In the words of one of the numerous reviewers raving over Mad Max: Fury Road: “See. That. Damn. Movie.”
Would I recommend you watch it?
In case, I haven’t been clear enough: YES.
Or continue reading for a full review with some spoilers.
Mad Max: Fury Road movie review (with some spoilers)
I had a hand in releasing this movie in Singapore. It’s my favourite movie to ever have worked on. 😀
This is a movie that I knew was a gem on our hands from its first rapturous reception by fanboys in Comic-Con 2014, and then by the subsequent, increasingly bonkers trailers that had the internet in transports of delight each time a new one came out.
Thing is, I didn’t know how we could make use of that fact, since it also looked too deranged for mainstream tastes. Mad Max in its first iteration with Mel Gibson as Max Rockatansky (the role that shot him to fame almost 40 years ago) may have a very rabid and select fanbase of motorheads and film enthusiasts in the U.S., but I didn’t know if Singaporeans knew of the first Mad Max trilogy, or if local cinemas even showed the films when they came out way back then.
I’ve never watched the previous films, nor had I ever had the interest to, so watching the internet’s response to each new trailer just had me amused and befuddled. I was always of the mindset that it wasn’t going to be my kind of thing, since I don’t usually go for such testosterone-filled, and more importantly, psycho-looking movies. (Car chases! Explosions! Unbelievable stunts! Crazy people!) But I did want to watch it, because of all the hype surrounding it. I was curious to see what kind of movie could actually be delivered from the promises of these trailers.
And then I watched the film.
Words cannot describe how much I LOVE this film. (Though I’m going to make an attempt anyway.) I adore it so much that, like a proud mama, I’m reveling in all the amazing reviews praising my baby.
Even now while writing this review, I’m listening to the EPIC soundtrack and remembering why I love the movie so much. You are not going to find a cooler, crazier, and more “alternative” blockbuster than Mad Max: Fury Road this year. If Avengers: Age of Ultron and Jurassic World are the jocks of this summer, Mad Max is the cool bad boy outsider with rumours abound that he might have killed somebody but no one dares to ask and everyone still wants to date anyway.
Here’s the gist of the story: Max Rockatansky is a lone warrior haunted by his demons in this post-apocalyptic desert wasteland which is ruled by gangs of ravagers, and where oil and water are in shortage. He’s captured by a savage warlord, Immortan Joe, whose right-hand woman and one of his most respected Imperators (drivers of his most powerful trucks), Furiosa, stole his five wives and escaped in a War Rig on a supply run to Gastown. Immortan Joe and his War Boys pursue them in a convoy full of the baddest, jacked-up, modified cars, and Max is unwillingly brought along as a “blood bag” for one of the War Boys, Nux (Nicholas Hoult). Max and Nux are separated from Immortan Joe’s gang when they encounter a sandstorm. Afterwards, Max crosses paths with Furiosa and the Five Wives, and is forced to band with them to survive.
The movie is essentially one very long vehicle chase, with anxious interludes when our heroes get to “rest”, or at least stop the War Rig, while Immortan Joe and his War Boys are catching up. But it’s like no car chase you’ve ever seen before. This was a very physical movie for everyone involved, with all the stunts being done for real and no CGI trickery, according to the filmmakers (though it’s more likely only most stunts, as I refuse to believe that much of the sandstorm scene is real, though it is gorgeous). So when you think about that while watching all the action scenes, it’s absolutely mind-blowing.
In this world, Immortan Joe is a warlord and a cult leader, and the War Boys are his fanatics, hoping to go to some sort of chrome Valhalla when they die for him. Once you accept that, the craziness actually makes sense. (Yeah, oxymoron.) To further illustrate this, the War Boys have a rocker called the Doof Warrior with a flame-throwing guitar that strums the beat to which the War Boys ride. Seriously. His truck, or the Doof Wagon as it’s called, is outfitted with amplifiers and drummers and he’s suspended on some sort of bungee thing so he can jump around like he’s in a rock concert. It’s freaking insane.
The movie also has plenty of ugly, fat old men with gross piercings and disgusting diseases. It feels like it should an M18 movie, but it eventually got an NC16 rating because it isn’t actually very gory, though violent, and has almost no nudity.
Even with all these weirdo elements, and a bazillion stunts and explosions, Fury Road is actually a feminist movie, disguised as a macho movie of the highest order, that “men’s rights activists” are up in arms and asking men to boycott the movie (because these people are misogynistic nuts, but I digress). Max may be in the title, but he’s more like a bystander forced by circumstances to go along on Furiosa’s journey. And Charlize Theron is SOOOO BADASS as Furiosa, you’re just in awe as she steals the show from Tom Hardy.
I read that Charlize Theron lobbied for the role when she read the script, and I didn’t understand why before, but I do now. Tom is still plenty cool himself, but you kind of forget that at first because he’s a prisoner, and he’s grubby and muzzled for the first half hour of the movie. And then he takes off his mask, and you’re taken aback when you remember that he’s really hot. He barely talks, so his actions shine through more, and this gives his character a very manly cool.
But the Five Wives aren’t weeping damsels in distress either. Rosie Huntington-Whiteley is the Splendid Angharad, the leader of the Wives, and she’s surprisingly good in what is only her second feature film role. (Her first is as Megan Fox’s terrible replacement in Transformers: Dark of the Moon, hence my surprise.)
And the film isn’t non-stop action, which is good because that would be exhausting to watch. The first half of the movie is so frenetic that it feels like you’re tripping on acid — I’m pretty sure my jaw was hanging open for most of it. And then comes a slow part where you’re floating dreamily on weed. In the third act, the movie is back on the hard drugs, but it also feels more grounded because they have a clear purpose now and aren’t just fleeing.
Some nitpicky reviewers say there isn’t much of a plot, or character development. Um, yes, there is.
You want plot? The characters escape in search of a better place, only to find out that that place doesn’t exist anymore, and so they turn back to the great place they came from and kill the evil people who made it a horrible place to live in.
You want character development? Furiosa looks for revenge and both she and Max want redemption. And they get it, in the process developing from mistrustful allies to intuitive partners who understand each other. Nux the War Boy becomes a real boy too, after being brainwashed his whole life.
You want food for thought? The film poses the question: “Who killed the world?” (Like seriously. We’re on our way to becoming a barren wasteland, so you better think about it.) You want to analyse the film even deeper? The lead female character is the star of the show, and she only has one arm. Her other arm is replaced by a mechanical arm. Bam, feminist, disability and cyborg studies for you! The Five Wives are escaping from sexual slavery! I’m sure there’re things you can discuss about that.
AND THE SCORE. It alternates between hard rock and heart-pounding screeching, and melancholic sections; I get chills listening to it even now as I recall the epic scenes they underscored.
(Update: I recently watched an extensive analysis of music in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and I found out that my favourite track in the Fury Road soundtrack, “Brothers in Arms”, was modelled after the soundtrack of Captain America: The Winter Soldier. ? I still love that track, and the scene it accompanies, but now I know it wasn’t as original as I thought.)
Seriously, this film! I don’t usually get so impassioned about a movie, but when I do, I defend it to the death. It feels very different, the way 300 did when everyone first saw it in 2007. I’ve never seen anything like that at all. It surprised me at how AWESOME it turned out to be, and for that, I love it. If I can compare movies to children, the Avengers would be like my favourite kid who can do no wrong, and Mad Max is the kid that I’m bewildered by, and have no idea why he likes the thing he likes, but he just won a super championship in a thing I don’t understand why he likes, and I’m really proud of him anyway.
Still, with a US$150 million price tag, it’s a very expensive gamble for Warner Bros, especially for a sequel to a franchise that most of the younger generation hasn’t heard of. I hope it earns it all back and much more. (Update: I don’t think it did, since it only earned US$375 million before the revenue split with theatres. :S At most, it broke even, I think. Though home entertainment receipts could have put it squarely in the profit column.) It probably still is too crazy for mainstream audiences, despite all the fervent stamps of approval it’s gotten, so I’m resigned to the fact that it will be beaten at the box office by Pitch Perfect 2, which opened on the same day in Singapore, since it’s more to “mainstream” tastes. But Fury Road is unquestionably the much better movie. You CANNOT miss a masterpiece like that.
(Update: It’s a masterpiece that won 6 out of the 10 Oscars it was nominated for, the most of any movie that year! 😀 George Miller should have won Best Director though. Alejandro G. Iñárritu won for The Revenant — which Tom Hardy was also in — and while it was a very difficult movie to shoot, so was Fury Road, and it was 10,000 times more enjoyable than the torturous-to-sit-through Revenant. What even was the point of that movie, besides showing how nasty men can be, how far wronged men will go for revenge, and giving Leo his Oscar? ?)
There have been stories for years about how Tom Hardy and Charlize Theron didn’t get along on set, which amused me because Tom is such a rough guy from the streets whereas Charlize is so elegant and classy, and I thought that was why. In this oral history by the New York Times on the 5th anniversary of the movie’s release (which you should read the full thing, if you’ve watched and love Fury Road), they go into further detail on why they didn’t get along.
Basically, they had different working styles. And it was a grueling 9-month shoot for everybody involved, in unpleasant desert conditions, and they were stuck in close quarters most of the time cause of all the truck driving scenes. And the actors had no idea what George Miller was trying to do during the chaotic process, and they were having difficulty with figuring out their characters at the same time. Good thing it paid off with critical acclaim, if not with outsized profits. Nothing’s worse than suffering through an arduous process and putting in your blood and sweat and tears only to have it be a complete flop.
Also, apparently Jeremy Renner was in the running to be Max! That’s cool to know. He fits that gruff look too, though Tom Hardy mumbles and grunts better.
Where to watch Mad Max: Fury Road
Streaming services: Mad Max: Fury Road is on fuboTV, but not on Netflix Singapore or US, Amazon Prime Video or Hulu. Because it’s a Warner Bros. film, it should end up on HBO Max (owned by the same parent company) someday, but that doesn’t seem to be today.