“Mad Max: Fury Road” is very much a film obsessed with the instant: particularly frantic instants of fire, twisting metal, and endless sand. Miller has taken the Mad Max concept and not only expanded on the world of the story, but pushed the elements that made the earlier movies popular as far as he could.
The plot of “Fury Road” revolves around Max, played by Tom Hardy, and Charlize Theron’s Imperator Furiosa as they attempt to steal the wives and war rig of the tyrannical warlord Immortan Joe, played by Hugh Keays Byrne, who also played the villain in the original Mad Max. Immortan Joe, not too happy about theft of his wives, sets out after the heroes with a whole party of white-painted warriors on an array of deadly vehicular monstrosities. The breakneck narrative of “Fury Road” takes place almost entirely in, on and around these constructions — particularly the war rig, a giant semi equipped with armored hatchbacks and machine guns.
The whole movie is basically a giant chase through the desert, with Max constantly on the move, caught in between different factions of marauders. Max rapidly maneuvers over moving and exploding cars, swings on poles attached to cars, and is generally involved in constant high-speed chaos from start to finish.
Every set piece in Mad Max is put together with incredible speed and intensity and, even more notably, clarity. Action sequences are always a challenge to get right — particularly those that involve large machinery, multiple protagonists and the rapid-fire editing that is currently popular in Hollywood action films — but none of this holds Miller’s vision back as he brazenly forgoes the use of a master shot in most scenes, instead focusing the camera squarely on the center of the action and emphasizing the right moments with slow motion.
The result, as counter-intuitive as it may seem, is a clearer form of chaos than is present in the typical action film. The scenes all fall into their own rhythm that is often represented visually, a la Max sawing off a mask, the doof warrior riffing on his flame-guitar, and the viewer is sucked into the madness without having to reorient every time there is a cut.
Perhaps the most impressive thing about “Mad Max: Fury Road” is the intense attention to detail in both the action and the world. Although he never lingers, it’s clear that Miller knows his story. Every car has an interesting design, like dune buggies modeled after Australian echidnas and trucks covered in amplifiers, and the cult around Immortan Joe is a great touch with the reincarnation-obsessed war boys huffing silver spray paint before going into battle.
Even the names bespeak a society that is losing its grip on language with great, over-the-top names such as the previously mentioned Immortan Joe and Imperator Furiosa, as well as other doosies like Toast the Knowing and Nux.
Miller took his time making “Mad Max: Fury Road,” and it shows onscreen. Every sequence fits into the film precisely with no fat whatsoever, and the narrative is deceptively simple with some poetic use of imagery and character symmetry. There is a sense of tension in the quieter moments that never lets up, and constant motion is the only hope. In this, Max is a classic anti-hero and his tale in “Fury Road” is western mythology seen through the dusty driving goggles of pure insanity.
Nathan Reynolds is a freelance reporter for the Daily Lobo. He can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @DailyLobo.
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