Mad Max: Fury Road is a thrilling ride set in a post-apocalyptic world where the main ruler has centralized all resources. The new world is a top-down patriarchy where water, plants and even women and men are resources controlled and owned by a ruthless authoritarian version of Methuselah called Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne), who has also propelled himself by conveying a myth of eternal existence to his followers. Indeed, the regime at the Citadel is a strange combination of religious fanaticism, top-down control, private ownership of natural resources, and a cult-like militarized core of supporters who are mostly male.
The population at the Citadel also embody extremes; Immortan Joe’s army and the main inhabitants of the Citadel are pale white mutant warriors who need blood transfusions to function and exist as devout cannon fodder for their ruler/father figure. They run the Citadel through violence and manage a host of slaves who seem to have been plucked from other territories. Among these characters, women seem relegated (surprise, surprise) either as nursing machines or as “breeders,” a group of beautiful young women, who function as Immortan Joe’s wives. Among the inhabitants of the Citadel, Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) stands out; a fighter and leader in her own right, she has a mechanical arm and is entrusted by Immortan to collect fuel for the city though she longs to return to her mythical homeland.
The main action of Mad Max: Fury Road is set in motion when Furiosa escapes and takes the five wives with her only to be soon found out by Immortan Joe. A chase ensues, involving the army from the Citadel that includes a host of vehicles souped up with skulls, spikes, chrome and real flames. The decadence of despot, Joe is acutely visible when one of the trucks in the caravan is solely dedicated to a group of drummers led by a punk/goth guitar player dressed in a skin-tight red outfit who rides at the front with a barrage of speakers at his back. The guns and violence launched at Furiosa are straight out of a nightmare world. Yet her steady resolution to find redemption and her hometown are enough to keep her going.
Furiosa also happens to have taken Joe’s wives with her, including a pregnant Splendid Angharad (Rosie Huntington-Whiteley), Capable (Riley Keough), The Dag (Abbey Lee), Toast the Knowing (Zoë Kravitz) and Cheedo the Fragile (Courtney Eaton). Max (Tom Hardy) ends up tied to the fate of the female group as he seeks to escape the Citadel where he has been turned into a highly coveted Type O negative human blood bag. He has even been named “Blood Bag” by Nux (Nicholas Hoult) a warrior from the Citadel who has strapped him to the front of his car as a human hood ornament, so he might join the pursuit in the middle of his transfusion. At first interested only in his own survival, Max, who enters the story struggling with his own existential demons as seen in violent flashbacks, comes to find that Furiosa’s journey is one he can subscribe to.
The violence around and directed towards the six women is palpable, and although early in the film, their frailty seems to convince the audience that this chase will be over soon, their refusal to take part in the system that never worked for them gives them strength. These are complex female characters — not a small feat for an action film. For example, Splendid Angharad jumps out of the moving freight car as Immortan and his army close-in on them, in a display that surprises Max but that Furiosa seems to accept, as if she knew all along it was there.
The entire ride shows different forms of violence, from the visceral, directly aimed at the women as physical harm, to psychological control. The next point might be considered a spoiler, but it bares mentioning to speak to the intelligent quality of the film’s story. The caravan ends up meeting Furiosa’s ancestors, a group of women who used to thrive before Immortan’s rule. They provide an alternative view of the world for the women and in doing so set in motion the second half of the film, just as filled with action, only this time the group of women have turned around, facing their predators head-on. Via yet another profound plot-twist (and anyone telling you this film is just an extended chase and has no plot is not paying attention), the film makes a strong point that I have only heard from feminists before, the alternative view that fraternity and equality are far superior to patriarchy. In other words, feminism does not equate to man-hating, but it’s an alternative that can only be understood as a partnership. All this in the midst of fire, action sequences, and total vehicular mayhem.
Mad Max: Fury Road is the most recent iteration of the franchise from director George Miller, who previously directed Mad Max (1979), The Road Warrior (1981) and Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome (1985). The latest iteration shows his ease with the post-apocalyptic landscape and a deep understanding of presenting the high stakes in this world juxtaposed with high-paced entertainment. Although Miller has waited a long time to retake the franchise, one could say that he has perfected some of the elements of the post-apocalyptic world. The barren desert landscapes, the kinetically edited fast-moving shots that rely more on stunt work instead of digital effects — many presented in amazing widescreen, and his depiction of courage among the “wives” who are permanently in danger, are some of the many elements that will keep you from blinking for the two hours this movie runs.
Mad Max: Fury Road runs 120 minutes and is Rated R (it’s violent, for the most part). It opens everywhere in theaters on May 15. For theaters near you, enter your zip code here. For worldwide release dates click here. Warner Bros. invited us to a preview screening Tuesday night for the purpose of this review. All images are courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures.