FRESH POUR: Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)

Fresh Pour is back! Every week, Clint takes a look at one or two new releases – just a short look at what’s being released in theaters, along with some drinking rules for your own perusal.

mad max fury roadMad Max: Fury Road
dir. George Miller
Warner Bros. Pictures

If you asked the average person which action movie would turn out to be better – Joss Whedon’s Marvel juggernaut and follow up to the most profitable movie of all time Avengers: Age of Ultron, or a deliberately weird, largely wordless resurrection of a 30-year-old cult post-apocalyptic film series by George Miller, the 71-year-old director of Babe: Big in the City and Happy Feet – my money’d be on the former. And oh, how they’d be wrong.

While I’ve seen the first three Mad Max movies (all at once, in a fevered marathon with a buddy after glimpsing the first trailer for Fury Road), I wasn’t really prepared for just how balls-to-the-wall aggressively weird Fury Road becomes. The series itself doesn’t really lend itself well to labels like ‘sequel’ or ‘reboot’ – Max Rockatansky (Tom Hardy, slightly gruffer and more animalistic than Mel Gibson’s wryer take on the role) is himself a folk legend in these films, a tale told by the people of a post-apocalyptic world where water, gasoline and safety are in short supply. It’s like if every Indiana Jones movie took the approach of Temple of Doom, with every new story just about Max wandering through a new conflict in a world gone to hell and begrudgingly helping out. With that in mind, the recasting of Hardy as Max (and some tweaking of his backstory and timeline) feels perfectly natural, as “Mad Max” is more of an idea than a person to these cast-off communities at the edge of a dying world.

In this installment, Max finds himself in the middle of an escape attempt involving the nubile ‘wives’ of warlord Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne), who have been freed by principled defector Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) in order to escape his evil clutches and make it to the “Green Place,” Joe’s War Party on their heels the entire time. That’s it, really; while Age of Ultron felt the need to justify its runtime with a million different characters and storylines all vying for screentime, Miller and crew keep it simple, establishing clear-cut and well-resolved conflicts and relationships often without having his characters say a word. After all, most of the lines are shouty Milleresque punk poetry (“If I’m gonna die, I’m gonna die historic on a fury road!!”) shouted in muddled Australian accents over the blaring of diesel engines and explosions – at a certain point, the dialogue just becomes part of the background, the story being told through fire and smoke and bullets.

While Max’s name graces the title, it’s really Imperator Furiosa’s story – she’s a stone-cold badass, committed to her mission, resourceful and decisive, but not without some vulnerability to give her resolve dimensionality. The movie’s definitely a grrl-power film without being explicitly feminist; that’s not a bad thing, mind you, but the grace by which Fury Road lets its female heroes simply be themselves is infinitely admirable and refreshing in a world that’s still arguing over whether or not Black Widow thinks she’s a monster for not being able to make babies. Max and Furiosa enjoy a wonderfully fraternal chemistry, their respect for each other driven by the mission and their mutually growing compassion, without it delving into traditional romantic territory. The rest of the characters are standouts as well, including Keays-Byrne’s manic pageantry as Immortan Joe. Even the Five Wives are surprisingly distinct in personality, each one easily differentiated from the other instead of being a monolithic MacGuffin the real heroes have to save. Most surprising is the oddly sweet trajectory of Nicholas Hoult’s character Nux, a weaselly War Boy who dreams of glory, only to find himself constantly shifting alliances between Joe and Furiosa’s party.

Much as the clarity of character and story is refreshing, there really aren’t enough good things to say about the film’s virtuoso action sequences, which are the film’s greatest strengths. Miller shot this film over the course of several years with hundreds of stuntment and cars, using mostly practical effects, and it shows; he clearly just said, “Hey, what if the end of The Road Warrior was the whole movie?!” and made it happen. The first half hour of the film contains one of the most awe-inducing car chases I’ve ever seen, and then the movie just keeps going. The oddball weirdness of the Mad Max aesthetic goes a long way toward making these films unique – Joe’s War Party features a giant Rock Truck with people strapped to constantly-banging war drums and a man in front constantly shredding on a flaming electric guitar, satisfyingly synced to Junkie XL’s pulse-pounding musical score. All of the major setpieces are a joy to behold, and it’d spoil it to go into any more detail. Just go see them. Go see this movie.

In short, Mad Max Fury Road is exactly the kind of imaginative, high-stakes panacea we needed in a summer of sanitized superheroes. It’s dirty, ugly, and impenetrable in a way few major-studio movies have the balls to be, and shows audiences that you can actually hold up a woman-centric action film without her wearing a catsuit or cracking wise about being in a boys’ club. Sure, you can whine about some dodgy-looking day-for-night post-processing in places, or one particularly cartoony shot at the climax of the film, but those are minor complaints that, if anything, only contribute to the over-the-top circus show that Mad Max Fury Road excels at being. Plus, it makes MRAs mad, which can only be a good thing.

Verdict: Loved It!

Mad Max: Fury Road Drinking Game:
1) Drink whenever you see skulls
2) Drink every time Max (Tom Hardy) actually speaks
3) Drink any time a car or vehicle gets destroyed
Finish Your Drink When:
Max actually states his name to another character.

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About Clint Worthington

Clint Worthington is a Chicago-based film/TV critic and podcaster. A member of the Chicago Film Critics Association, you can find his other film work at Consequence of Sound (where he is a Senior Staff Writer), Crooked Marquee, IndieWire and UPROXX. He is also the co-host of Nathan Rabin's Happy Cast.

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