Have you ever seen a Mexican standoff fist fight – with two of the combatants chained together? Mad Max: Fury Road treats us to this scene during a lull in the action, as a way for the audience to catch our breath. This film is an absolute assault on the senses in the very best way possible, and when the credits finally rolled at the end, the reality shock was palpable. I felt as though I needed my mind to recover, to slowly remove itself from the astounding world of George Miller’s action masterpiece, which may be the best action film of the decade, if not the century.
Mad Max: Fury Road opens with Tom Hardy’s narration: “My name is Max. My world is reduced to a single instinct: Survive. As the world fell it was hard to know who was more crazy. Me… Or everyone else.” He is captured by the “War Boys”, pale foot-soldiers of the God-King despot Immortan Joe. Joe controls the Citadel, untold resources, and has enslaved many. Furiosa (Theron) is charged with driving the War Rig for supplies, but it soon becomes clear that she has absconded with Joe’s five wives, who have scrawled on the wall, “We are not things”. The film focuses on the flight of Furiosa and the wives, as Joe attempts to reclaim his “property”.
Explaining the basic plot is easy, but specific details imbue the world of Mad Max with weight and wonder. Throughout the film, the peculiarities of this world are presented to the audience and allowed to exist largely unexplained. This technique engages the imagination of the viewer, and also allows for full immersion into the world of the movie, as we are not continuously taken out of the narrative for purposes of exposition. In fact, this entire film is a treatise on the “show don’t tell” school of storytelling, especially in the action genre. Instead of having characters discuss their motivations with each other, or explain an action or concept, we simply see these things in action. It is a welcome breath of fresh air in a genre that rarely respects the intelligence of its audience.
This respect is never more evident than during the astounding action sequences. The sequences feature multiple practical effects and stunts, and despite portraying battles between multiple vehicles and characters who sometimes leap between those vehicles, it is generally easy to follow. This is in stark contrast to something like a Transformers movie, or even the very able Marvel movies. The soundtrack will often erupt in ringing if an explosion occurs near the character we are focusing on (it is usually Max), drawing the viewer further into the action. There are so many different action sequences in this film that to describe them all would be absolute folly, but each is breathtaking and distinct from the others.
This film places so much focus on the action, one could worry that the dramatic and character aspects of the story would be left by the wayside. But, this is not the case in the slightest. Just as the world is developed and made real by supplying untold detail, the story and characters follow a similar blueprint. Max himself likely has fewer than two dozen lines, and he deals with hallucinations from a past that is not explained in the slightest. Furiosa wields an artificial limb, but we never get the story behind it. Instead, these things are just allowed to live and breathe.
Ultimately, Mad Max is a story about a desolate world and the search for hope amid the unrelenting brutality that surfaces in such a setting. The film dramatizes an escape from subjugation and the struggle against those who would wish to control with force. It is rare to experience an pure action film which attempts to discuss such themes, and rarer still to see one accomplish its goals so well. Mad Max: Fury Road is an absolute masterpiece of the action genre, and simply must be seen (and recovered from) to be believed.