Mad Max: Fury Road Movie Review
Awesome. That's the word many critics are using to describe Mad Max: Fury Road, the sequel to the 30-year-old Mel Gibson franchise that no longer stars Mel Gibson. But awesome is not the word I'm going to use.
Awesome is, however, a good word to describe many aspects of the movie. The world that returning director George Miller has created—a bleak but vibrantly colored world of death and dust—is awesome. The off-the-wall characters—from the white-skinned boys who look to their psychotic, domineering father with God-like reverence to... well, all the other psychotic figures scattered through Miller's wasteland—are awesome. And the action is awesome.
Mad Max: Fury Road doesn't have much of a plot, though there was never any expectation there would be. Fearless warrior Max (now played by Tom Hardy) partners with a fierce woman named Furiosa (Charlize Theron) to help a group of hot, shockingly clean women—used for breeding—escape from the clutches of Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne, who played a different villain in the original Mad Max). There isn't much more to it than that, but what it lacks in storytelling complexities it makes up for with some of the most impressive car chases and action scenes put to screen in years.
Limiting the CGI to only where necessary, Miller slams, crashes and destroys cars like you rarely see anymore, flinging stuntman across the desert and giving audiences one of the most visceral experiences of the year. The action is intense, fun to watch, and nearly constant.
It's when the movie isn't chugging along at 80 miles per hour where the use of the word 'awesome' comes into question. There isn't a whole lot of talking in the movie, but when there is, things definitely aren't awesome. A scene where Furiosa mentions to Max that they'll "never gonna have a better chance," he asks "At what?" and she responds, "Redemption," while gazing into the distance, epitomizes the limitations of the script. The dialogue is somewhat cheesy, which is fine in the scheme of things, but Miller haphazardly rushes through story elements that should have been fleshed out. Furiosa's reunion with the old women needed work, and her decision to [mild spoiler] go back to the place she had just fled from was so sudden it's clear that Miller just wanted to get back to the action as quickly as possible. The ending also is clunky, the payoff slightly unsatisfying given the rollercoaster the audience has been through for the last two hours.
But the only thing that really bothered me was the characterization of Max himself. Tom Hardy is a great actor and he is solid here, but his version of Max didn't seem much like the Max from the other movies. Hardy is allowed to put his own imprint on the character, and I'm sure on repeat viewings it won't bother me as much, but I never was able to fully acclimate. More distracting is that he is treated as a secondary character to Furiousa. Theron is great and a terrific complement to Max, but she overshadows him in practically every scene.
These grievances may seem minor, and on their own, they are. Drawn together, however, they are hard to ignore. Mad Max: Fury Road is a wild, crazy and intense ride, but in the end, it falls just short of awesome.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.