As CHRIS HEMSWORTH heads off to the sequel/prequel, we look back at the movie that brought back MAD MAX: FURY ROAD!
It is an honour and privilege to have NICK CLEMENT back here. As you may recall, Nick was one of the visionary, kind, decent, inspired and inspiring writers who donated articles to this site when I took over editing it a few years back. It is lovely to watch his career continue to grow and moving to see him now teach his beloved son the joy of movies from day one onward. Take it away, Mr Clement: Tony Scott would be proud!
“Where must we go, we who wander this wasteland, in search of our better selves.”
-The First History Man
Currently streaming on HBO MAX POWER! Fury Road is the greatest piece of physical action filmmaking that I’ve ever seen in my 41 years of life on this planet, sitting right next to The Raid 2 as a benchmark for the overall action genre as a whole.
The two films don’t really share anything in common thematically or aesthetically, but they both possess a relentless desire to pulverize the audience with visceral intensity.
Fury Road is a full-on face-melt of a blockbuster, designed to shatter the greatest of expectations, and that’s because George Miller is a genius and a lunatic. Flat out. He’s wholly certifiable. Same goes for his crew, all of whom clearly had no care for their personal well-being. The film, in its entirety, defies any sense of safety or logic; I’ll never understand how not one person was killed on this set.
This is the action picture as art film. There’s plenty of plot, it’s just refreshingly free of spoken exposition. Dialogue is kept to a minimum, with an emphasis on the stunning visuals being used to tell the story. It’s all forward momentum, stripped of any narrative fat, made with zero pretensions, and filled with one shot after another of visual dynamism so that the entire piece begins to truly feel like one long cine-gasm.
This was the sort of grand astonishment that deserved to be nominated for Best Picture and make a billion dollars at the box office, and while none of that self-congratulatory horseshit means anything in the long run, it’s downright puzzling why this film wasn’t an even bigger hit across all sectors.
This movie felt like an amalgam of everything that Miller must have fantasized over for the last 30 years; he let it all fly in Fury Road, with one utterly bonkers set piece after another. I absolutely loved the guitar player and his band – the inclusion of that bit kicks the entire production up an entire notch for me.
Tom Hardy wears that metal mask for the first 45 minutes and when it comes off you feel as invigorated as his character does. He does so much with his eyes and those fantastic grunts that you don’t realize until the end that he probably has 50 spoken words of dialogue in the entire film. But the film squarely belongs to Charlize Theron, and as usual, she’s wholly committed, fearless, never giving a shit about anything, throwing her slender body into the rough physicality of the production with total abandon and glee.
This is the most disciplined summer movie that I can think of, not a hair over two hours, knowing exactly when to call it quits, ending on a narratively satisfying note that doesn’t require a sequel to be fully pleased with. The editing is incredible, never sacrificing spatial geography during any of the extended action sequences, which is remarkable considering just how many individual cuts there are in this film.
And without ever being gratuitous with the violence, Miller keeps the R-rated integrity of the original series and throws in some seriously nasty subtext for good measure, while the picture’s overall level of energy and impact is maxed out beyond belief, resulting in a comparatively lean blockbuster, clocking in at a tight two hours rather than the customarily bloated two and half hour runtime that’s been imposed by so many other less disciplined filmmakers.
It’s also, without question, one of the finest (and most overt) Anti-Religion statements to come out of Hollywood in a long while; Miller clearly shows a disdain for the notion of blind worship, and it’s exhilarating to see all of the pieces come crashing down around Immortan Joe, a brilliant creation that seems like a hybrid of Darth Vader and Bane with all sorts of psychological internal logic that’s gone greatly askew.
This is one of the strangest movies ever to carry such a lofty price-tag, and the contempt that he showed for mass worship was bracing and thematically awesome for a non-believer such as I.
And I loved how the unrelenting energy of the entire film extends from one scene to the next, even when the story is clearly trying to catch its breath, which is a nearly impossible task. John Seale’s radiant and eye-popping cinematography at times recalls the work of David Lean, shooting vistas with a master’s touch, and then getting up close and personal to the vehicular destruction and carnage that was lovingly displayed in real-time with real stunt men and women and real explosions and real debris and real sand and real smoke, by people who seemingly could have cared less for their safety.
Miller shrewdly used CGI only in spots that were absolutely necessary (the sand-storm, body replacement, crowds of extras), while the stunt work and assorted acts of bodily insanity are positively transfixing to behold.
Even during the big sand-storm set-piece, there’s a surreal quality to the visuals that cancels out any feelings of artificiality; it’s here that Miller embraces the pop-art aspects of comic-book-inspired filmmaking and takes it to the extreme, way past the next level, practically inventing new destinations along the way.
But Miller isn’t just content to slam us with insane action scenes – he demands that we pay attention to the kinky subtext and surreal flights of fancy. Those lactating, obese women chained up to produce gallons upon gallons of “Mother’s Milk;” the Crazy Electric Guitar Guy who serves as a version of a Revolutionary War-era bugle boy who just so happens to be wearing a mask made from the facial skin of his dead mother; the willowy and sad “stilt-people” who are glimpsed during that eerie mid-film sequence bathed in varying shades of desert night-time blue, suggesting years of forgotten starvation; the extraction of a dead foetus from its recently slain mother, a woman who would rather have been killed (along with her unborn child) if it meant that she’d have to spend any more time under the power of Immortan Joe – this is a filmmaker who threw it ALL in there, and it all adds up to a wild explosion for the eyes, ears, and brain.
The final 30 minutes are tantamount to the best extended action scene ever devised, inviting a sense of awe and loony madcap into the proceedings which felt cut from the same exuberant cloth that Miller’s masterful Babe: Pig in the City originated from; the bad guys swaying back and forth on those long pogo-sticks are a dead ringer for Babe and all of his animal friends swinging from the rafters of the grand ball-room during the wild climax of Pig in the City.
The editing by Miller’s wife, Margaret Sixel, is beyond incredible to witness, as thousands of cuts rush before your eyes yet still retaining a coherent fluidity, not to mention an extreme emphasis being placed on geography and spatial distance between characters and objects. Exposition is close to non-existent, backstory is conveyed visually, hokey dialogue is kept to a minimum, and the primal, internal method-acting stylings of Hardy brilliantly counterbalance the unleashed ferocity and fuck-it-all-attitude of Theron’s Furiosa, who will go down in history as one of the all-time action heroes. There’s Fury Road, and then there’s everyone else.
Nick Clement is an independent film producer and motion picture screenplay consultant, while also serving as a journalist for Variety magazine and We Are Cult. He wrote the introduction to Double Features: Big Ideas in Film (2017), writes liner notes for Arrow Video Blu-ray releases, and is currently working on a book about the life and work of Tony Scott. He lives in Connecticut with his wife and son.