Mad Max: Fury Road Is Glorious, Thrilling, Overwhelming Lunacy

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1. I quit smoking more than four years ago, but nothing—not a night full of drinks, not a table full of smokers, not a gasoline IV—has made me want a cigarette more than Mad Max: Fury Road did. You leave the theater still shaking, everything still pumping and throbbing, a treadmill stopping on a dime and sending you careening through the back wall. The movie roars to life, commences a dead sprint into hell, and never stops. Some reviews claim it’s almost too unrelenting, that it’s too exhausting, that it’s somehow overwhelming. I suppose, for some delicate souls, this may be true, but I’m not sure why those people go to the movies at all. We’re all chasing an experience, zombies in search of escapist narcotics, and I don’t remember the last time a movie so fully delivered An Experience. What it does, it does absolutely perfectly. To complain that it does it too much is churlish and spoiled. This sort of thing doesn’t happen often. Inhale it in massive gulps while you can.

2. Fury Road has widely been described as a non-stop chase scene, but while this may be technically true—really, it’s one chase scene that, halfway through, is reversed—that’s like saying Requiem for a Dream is about overindulgence: It’s sort of true, but it doesn’t come close to capturing what we’re really talking about here. Come to think of it, both films do have a similar ability to take you on an insane, immersive journey, to grab you by the skull and drag you along at a terrifying, discombobulating pace. This one, mercifully, is more interested in inspiring happiness than despair, but it’s the same principle: These are mad, driven visions put together by lunatics completely obsessed with their singular worldviews. Requiem had a 30-minute montage of drug addicts completely disintegrating, set to the Kronos Quartet; this one has a 30-minute armored-car battle through the desert, set to a man who is playing a flamethrower guitar on a vehicle consisting only of him, a 50-foot wall of speakers, and the infernal desire to use heavy metal to inspire people to destroy shit. Which is exactly what happens. Look at this:


That’s the craziest goddamned thing I’ve ever seen. And wait until you watch it in motion.

3. This is all to say that Fury Road is not messing around. You can read all about the vehicles director George Miller and his merry band of batshit weirdos have dreamt up, but if you can resist doing that in advance, I’d try: It’s best to let this movie keep surprising you with how much cracked-out lunacy it’s able to generate. The plot is necessarily minimal: Mad Max (played with humor and maximal gruntage by Tom Hardy) unwittingly teams up with a one-armed War Rig driver (Charlize Theron) to help the wives of evil Wasteland leader King Immortan Joe escape their brutal enslavement. They run one way; then they turn around and run another. They’re all in a massive truck—it earns the name “War Rig,” that’s for sure—and Immortan Joe’s half-life army is full of War Boys who take turns setting themselves on fire trying to stop it. There is so little dialogue that this might as well be a silent movie. Except, uh, it is pretty much the exact opposite of silent.


4. What can I say about the feast in store for you here? I could tell you about an early half-hour battle sequence in which Max, captured by the War Boys and turned into a mobile blood donor, is mounted on the front of a supercharged Chevy coupe as it attempts to knock over the War Rig while some sort of electric sandstorm explodes all around them. I could describe all the details of the scene, how intricately constructed it is, how it minimizes CGI at every opportunity, how great pains are taken to ground it in the physical universe to maximize every crunch and smash and kablam. But then I’d just be describing something that you need to experience for yourself. And besides: There are two subsequent car chases that are even better.

5. There’s a subtext to this movie, and while it’s not a subtle one, it’s never foregrounded, either. As our heroes tear through the desert, they come across a group of older women displaced from their homes and living estranged from the menacing kingdom of Immortan Joe. These are tough fighters who’ve further honed their battle skills in the wilderness, but they are also wise, thoughtful, and less reflexively violent. And as the wild, testosterone-addled War Boys blow up paradise and turn it into a parking lot—to be fair, a fucking awesome parking lot—they gather and wait to bring back some balance to the world. One of the great jokes of Fury Road is that Max himself is oddly passive and unimportant to the plot: It’s the women, particularly Theron’s Furiosa, who drive the action and make all the difference. (In all seriousness: I’m ready to proclaim Theron our next great action star. She’s terrific.) There is lunacy in this movie—so, so much lunacy—but there is also quiet grace, and the understanding that these are all just idiotic men and their overcompensating toys, killing each other and everyone else, just as they’ve done since the beginning of time.

But oh, what toys they have! What a ride this is! This is a movie three decades in the making, made by a 70-year-old Australian who understands that his entire life’s work has been building up to this spectacle. It is everything you want it to be, and so much more that could have never imagined. It is glorious, glorious madness. What more can I say? You will lose your shit. Your shit will be lost.

Grade: A

Grierson & Leitch is a regular column about the movies. Follow us on Twitter, @griersonleitch.


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