So this is what a two-hour action scene looks like.
Mad Max: Fury Road is 120 minutes of noise, action, and more noise. It's an unrelenting assault on the eyes and ears that almost feels invasive, as if director George Miller wants us to experience every bone-crushing moment rather than simply watch it. Boy is this a helluva ride.
There is no story. We're talking absolute zero in terms of plot. We have people on the run and people trying to catch them. That's it. The entire movie is one long chase, with small breaks to map out strategy before the next fight starts. It's episodic, and almost feels like a video game: After one level/fight is completed you move on to the next, more challenging fight. Coincidentally, video game play and Mad Max have the same core objective: survival.
Consider that word for a moment, "survival." It is the most primal of human instincts, and is very fitting here. The barbaric savages who inhabit the post-apocalyptic hellhole in which the movie is set will stop at nothing to kill one another and claim the few precious valuables (like water and ammunition) left on the planet. Our morality aligns more with former cop Max (Tom Hardy) and renegade Furiosa (Charlize Theron) because they're escorting a group of innocent girls away from villain Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne), who looks like the Predator if Predator had to make his own outfit. Joe has convinced his followers, called "War Boys," that he's returned from the dead, so they're willing to die for him because they believe they will live again too.
Miller, who made the original Mad Max trilogy (1979-85) and is also credited as a co-writer (with Brendan McCarthy and Nick Lathouris) here, storyboarded the entire film before he had a screenplay, so he knew all along the emphasis would be on visuals rather than narrative. As a result the action scenes are elaborate and spectacular, particularly one in a sand storm and the numerous ventures through a canyon. Best of all, the choreography and execution of the sequences is clear and suspenseful — they are not over-edited to the point of incongruity.
The setting is a barren future, so it's almost surreal how the desert is oversaturated to the point that it's nearly orange, and at night it doesn't get dark but rather steely blue, which reflects the cold and unforgiving world in which they live. The costumes (by Jenny Beavan) and makeup (by Nadine Prigge) are outlandish and gaudy, extreme for the sake of shock value rather than practicality. In fact, nothing about Mad Max needs to be as over-the-top as it is, yet because it is we appreciate its energy and effort that much more.
As for the lack of story, let it go. It feels like there's plenty of backstory for all the main characters that Miller either forgot or neglected to tell us, perhaps because he wanted to focus exclusively on the action. Given that Hardy is signed for three Mad Max films after this, more will presumably be revealed in future installments.
Meanwhile, the darn musical score by Junkie XL, so repetitive throughout, will keep playing in your ear like an incessant earworm that you can't turn off. Some will consider that a good thing. Others will find it annoying, even haunting. Regardless, having a thrill ride like Mad Max: Fury Road stay with you, well after the credits roll, is a sign that Miller did something right.
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