The recent resurgence in more visceral action movies has been a quiet delight. Movies like The Raid: Redemption, Dredd, and John Wick all told straightforward stories that enabled their badass heroes to plow through as much action as possible about 100 minutes. That allowed their filmmakers to focus on stunt choreography and practical effects, making those movies more thrilling than a thousand Man of Steels, even with less than half the budget. Well that silent revolution just got a whole lot louder with the amazing Mad Max: Fury Road, and I hope we’ll be seeing many more films of this ilk in the years to come.
To be fair, director George Miller has been bringing the thrill of extremely dangerous stunts to theaters since the first Mad Max crashed into theaters in 1979. That first movie is OK, but it was the second one, Road Warrior, that always stood as the best in the franchise. Road Warrior had a simple arc too: Max wandered into a messed up situation, saved the day, then disappeared back into the wasteland. Mostly it was about hilarious biker/dominatrix gangs, killer boomerangs, and some of the best car stunts you’ll ever see. Believe it or not, that movie has a more complicated plot than Fury Road.
Fury Road is the story of Max (now played by Tom Hardy wielding another unusual accent) escaping a gang that captured him along with a group of women led by Furiosa (Charlize Theron), the only person we’ve met so far who is a match for Max. Almost the entire movie is Max and Furiosa driving away in their massive truck, the War Rig, as they are chased by evil gang leader Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne, returning in a new role from the first movie) and his wacky acolytes and allies.
The joy in watching Fury Road is watching all the vehicular carnage unfold – and I know that’s what I said about Furious 7 but it’s different here. Furious 7 was built around giant moments – like cars jumping between skyscrapers – but to get their it had to do that whole break-in scene. Fury Road is just the chase, it is, as they say, all killer no filler. You might see the most ridiculous car crash of all time, but you won’t know when it’s coming and the movie will keep moving before you spend too much time thinking about it. It is relentless spectacle, but it works because George Miller knows what the hell he’s doing.
I read somewhere that Miller worked with his cinematographer to make sure all the shots in action scenes had the focus in the center of the frame. That way he could cut quickly between shots without disorienting the audience – our focus would never change even though the shot did. I’m not saying that’s the reason this movie works, but it is emblematic into the forethought put into Fury Road. After all, Miller has been making movies for a long time and was working on this one for at least the last 10 years. I’m glad it paid off.
Anyway, it’s been more than a month since Fury Road came out and I’m kind of itching to go see it again in 3D. A little more than a week before this movie came out, I saw the Avengers battle an army of robots on a flying city. I’ve seen the Transformers destroy Chicago, Superman level Metropolis, and the giant evil Enterprise crash into San Francsisco, but somehow a bunch of cars driving through the desert feels like the biggest movie I’ve watched in a long time. Madness.