Movie Review

Mad Max: Fury Road

 GENRE

Drama, Action/Adventure, Sci-Fi/Fantasy

CAST

Tom Hardy as Max Rockatansky; Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa; Nicholas Hoult as Nux; Hugh Keays-Byrne as Immortan Joe

DIRECTOR

George Miller (Happy Feet Two, Happy Feet, Babe: Pig in the City, Lorenzo’s Oil, The Witches of Eastwick, Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, The Road Warrior, Mad Max)

DISTRIBUTOR

Warner Bros.

IN THEATERS

May 15, 2015

REVIEWER

Paul Asay

Water. Gas. Blood.

Those are the currencies in Mad Max’s world—liquid assets, if you will. Water and gas are rare wonders in this dry, dusty dystopia—the elements that keep its people alive and their vehicles moving. Blood is cheaper and easier to come by; of value only to the person to whom it belongs, and sometimes not even him. But there are those who crave the blood, who treat it like a narcotic biofuel.

Immortan Joe built his empire on these three commodities. He hoards the water inside his stone citadel. Sometimes he’ll open the floodgates and allow it to gush from the rocks, where his serfs below can lap it up. He relies on raids for his gasoline, sending out war parties in their makeshift machines to pillage and steal precious fuel. The blood is for his War Boys, white-bleached zealots who form his army’s spine. They love the stuff, and so Immortan Joe keeps them happy with a steady supply.

Yes, Immortan Joe is a rich, rich man. He owns everything of value in this picked-over world, including the women. He keeps several “breeders” in his citadel, for both his amusement and his legacy. There’s nothing he’d like more than to have a bevy of Immortan Joe Jr.’s all set to inherit his broken kingdom.

So when one of his most trusted generals, Imperator Furiosa, absconds with the women and speeds into the desert driving one of Joe’s most intimidating war machines, the Immortan one takes issue. He sends his army out to retrieve his stolen goods, with he himself taking the lead. His War Boys are thrilled: They pick up their steering wheels, strap a few living “blood bags” to the front of their vehicles and settle in for a few hours of glorious carnage.

But one blood bag—Max—plans on being more than a hood ornament today.

POSITIVE ELEMENTS

Mad Max: Fury Road is as bleak as all get-out. But if you dig into the dust of this flick, you’ll find that it’s actually (just like its predecessors) about hope. Sure, the world’s been shattered, but maybe, somewhere, there’s a little glue to piece some of it back together.

First piece: The idea that people are not property, no matter what Immortan Joe says. “We are not things!” Joe’s wives insist. Furioso believes that to be true, and so she rescues them and promises to take them to a “green place of many mothers.” It’s a risky mission. She admits that she’s looking for redemption—a way, perhaps, to make up for all the nasty things she’s done in Joe’s employ. And, frankly, she’s more a consistent hero here than the titular one.

See, Max starts off a little crazy. He says that the stress of this broken world distilled his motivations to one very simple instinct: “survive.” But as he spends more time with Furioso and her truckload of beautiful stowaways, he begins acting more self-sacrificially. He risks his life for them and, when given a chance to go his own way, continues on with them—helping them to see what they all hope is a more promising future.

Their example seems to rub off on their cargo. During the course of this adventure, Joe’s “breeders” become more than pretty, objectified playthings. They become helpmates, sometimes putting themselves in harm’s way for the benefit of others. They also stress the value of all life, even the lives of their enemies, begging Max and Furioso to not kill needlessly.

A War Boy named Nux has a change of heart, too: After he falls out of Joe’s good graces, he finds a new purpose with Max and Furioso.

SPIRITUAL CONTENT

Immortan Joe styles himself as a sort of savior-god. “It is from my hand that you will rise from the ashes of this world!” he thunders to his serfs before bestowing upon them his “gift” of water. He promises his War Boys that if they fight and die well for him, he will meet them in Valhalla (the violent Norse heaven), perhaps leading them through the gates himself.

The War Boys believe his shtick: When Joe casts a glance in Nux’s direction, the pale rider sounds like an 8-year-old boy who got a real Iron Man suit for Christmas. They go to their deaths with zealous glee, coating their mouths with chrome spray so they’ll look their shiny best when they arrive in the afterlife. They seem to pray before a pile of steering wheels.

The good guys are not so superstitious. When one of Joe’s ex-wives prays, another woman asks her, “To who?” “Anyone that’s listening,” she responds.

SEXUAL CONTENT

The women taken captive by Joe are referred to as both “wives” and “breeders,” and he regularly calls them his “property.” They are indeed his sexual slaves, and he forces them to always dress provocatively. Cloth or leather covers critical areas, but legs, shoulders and midriffs are frequently bared, and sometimes those bits of critical cloth aren’t very thick. Each woman initially wears what looks to be a fearsome, teeth-lined chastity belt. (They remove them at the earliest opportunity.)

Joe also keeps a number of heavy, well-endowed women on hand for their breast milk. We see their breasts and the devices used to milk them. (Characters both drink and wash their faces in the milk.) Max, Furioso and the rest happen upon a naked woman in a crane-like tower, begging to be released. (We see her from the side and rear.)

VIOLENT CONTENT

Mad Max: Fury Road is, essentially, a two-hour car chase through the wastelands of Armageddon. It stops only reluctantly for the occasional breather. And the violence it proffers is sporadically extreme.

A good chunk of someone’s face is ripped away at one point, with the camera giving us glimpses of the resulting gore and blood. Max is shot through the hand by a crossbow bolt. Chained to an unconscious War Boy, he tries to shoot the guy’s hand off (but the shotgun doesn’t work). People hang upside down from Joe’s citadel ceiling, providing blood for the War Boys. Some of the bodies don’t look like they’re still all there—a suggestion, perhaps, that they’re being slowly eaten, too. (There’s no indication that many of these folks are alive.)

War Boys are analogous to today’s suicide bombers, and they consider it a point of honor to die in battle. As such, we see one warrior leap onto a flaming porcupine of a car to blow the thing up. Another fills his own vehicle with gas, planning to smash into a massive war machine, Kamikaze style. People are shot, slashed, stabbed, choked, run over, die in cataclysmic explosions and are thrown around by storms. One man is smashed repeatedly by a piece of machinery.

Lots of the combatants here are women, including (of course) Furioso. That means that much of this violence is perpetrated by or against them. Furioso and Max themselves tangle, hitting, kicking and trying to strangle each other.

We see Max remove a hook from his neck. When someone’s lung begins to collapse, Max stabs her in the side to help her breathe, then transfuses his own blood into her (via a pain-inducing makeshift IV) so she’ll survive. He stomps on a lizard and seems to eat it while it’s still squirming.

Joe demands that a dying pregnant woman’s child be cut from her body. It is (offscreen). When the baby also dies, we see its body carelessly discarded like refuse. (The umbilical cord becomes a plaything.)

CRUDE OR PROFANE LANGUAGE

What with all the explosions and such, there’s not a lot of room for dialogue in Fury Road. And what there is is often muffled by the cacophony of kabooms. But we still hear characters utter one instance each of the words “b-llocks” and “f-g,” and perhaps a full-blown f-word as well.

DRUG AND ALCOHOL CONTENT

As mentioned, the War Boys seem to treat blood as a kind of narcotic. One such warrior is eager to take a half-crazed Max out on the warpath with him (they’re connected via a chain and a thin tube), believing that Max’s madness will make him super-aggressive, too.

OTHER NEGATIVE ELEMENTS

Several people are burdened with horrific infirmities, including bulbous bumps and boils and grotesquely swollen ankles. People spit in others’ faces. Max occasionally “sees” frightening flashes of his dead daughter as a wraith or skeletonized specter.

CONCLUSION

Mel Gibson may no longer be Mad Max, the mantel now having fallen to big, glowering Tom Hardy. But even though the defining star of the series has long since driven out of the frame, Fury Road may well be the most Mad Maxian of all the movies. All of the series’ elements are supersized here. Crazy vehicles? Crazier. Creepy, theatrically dressed villains? Creepier, more theatrically dressed. Bloody action? Bloodier.

Director George Miller takes what fans loved about the now-classic series and blows it up like a supersized balloon, and the results have triggered a litany of glowing reviews. One such write-up, published on southcoasttoday.com, declared that “Mad Max: Fury Road will leave your inner 12-year-old giggling with glee.”

Now, hold on there one minute, bub. Isn’t Fury Road rated R? When you set it up beside Avengers: Age of Ultron, doesn’t it look a wee bit like Saw on wheels? Should we really be saying that Fury Road is made for tweens, inner or not?

Look, there’s no question Fury Road has its merits, including that thread of hope I mentioned earlier. And for an R-rated movie, it is actually more restrained than it could’ve been. But we should not lose sight of the brutal fact that this movie caters to our childish affection for frenetic activity and explosions with some very disturbing content in tow. The world of Mad Max, for all the ludicrous dystopian license it takes, is a world that’s designed to haunt and shock. If the movie’s endgame is to show us 10 minutes of humanity in an inhuman world, let’s not forget that 110 minutes is filled with some terrible inhumanity indeed.

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