Before we get to the hype about what a masterpiece this movie is-we need to take a rare moment of silence to give the proper respect to Dr. Miller. Yes, Australian auteur George Miller is also an MD and you can see this side of himself in his surprisingly good Disease of the week styled film, LORENZO'S OIL. But we all know Miller best of all for basically inventing a genre out of thin air. Whatever you think of MAD MAX and its follow up films, it's clear that Miller's conception of an anarchic post apocalypse based on fuel shortages and roving tribal gangs has had a huge influence on contemporary action cinema. Like George Romero with the zombie film before him, Miller is the direct foundation of an entire subgenre. For many born years after the release of MAD MAX in 1979, this concept probably feels like something that has always existed, burned into their collective cultural memories along with the idea that a shark in the ocean comes with its own two note musical theme.
Part of what makes Miller's trilogy (Now a quadrology?) unique is that each film in the series basically stands on its own. The first movie is an exploitation film. A bastard stepchild of the biker flick and the western-It's a simple revenge movie packed with as much action and destruction as possible. The second is a mythic western that presents Max as a MAN WITH NO NAME type of reluctant hero-almost supernatural in his ability to give and take violence. If MAD MAX presented its hero as a rogue cop in a relatively realistic manner then THE ROAD WARRIOR is MAX printed as legend. It even frames the story as being told by the Feral Kid (Emil Minty) years later as an older man. The third film has Tina Turner in it and quite possibly the basis for the UFC. It feels less like George Miller than Ken Russell. Now this one has Bane playing Max so it's not really Max anymore. Max was barely a one line description in a screenplay. Which is why he was never really the kind of character who stood separate from the incredibly charismatic actor who played him, MAD MEL. Gibson could make the most of his six or seven lines of dialogue by widening those eyes, or throwing someone a scowl. He looked pretty insane at times but was underplaying incredibly when compared to the circus swirling around him.
Obviously casting Mel Gibson in this movie wasn't going to happen. Beyond the age problem (which could've worked to the film's advantage actually) there is the little problem that people have judged and sentenced Gibson to exile from movie stardom due to some unfortunate personal issues. So now we have Tom Hardy-a fine actor but in this particular case a kind of black hole for charisma. He spends the first third of the film with some metal mask on (which makes you wonder what it is about Hardy that makes filmmakers want to place metal devices over his head) and then just kind of sleepwalks through the role with line readings at the level of a whisper. It doesn't really matter anyway since Max is really the supporting character here. Charlize Theron's Furiosa is the lead character without a doubt and she is excellent in the role. The problem is with the role itself which is really beyond underwritten, it's abstract. Basically everything in this film is abstract from a narrative cinema 2015 point of view. It would fit perfectly into a new release of 1924 perhaps. Right from the opening scene you quickly realize that Miller isn't going to stop to explain anything. It's up to you to work out the various good guys and bad guys and to ponder if you wish the thematic idea of a lost matriarchy rising up against a dying patriarchy. It does and does not really matter because what we really have is a visual spectacle on the level of classic Fritz Lang. You are plunged into an EXTREME world. Full of sound and fury. Entering FURY ROAD is like walking into the eye of a hurricane while trying to juggle babies and chainsaws. None of us mere mortals would survive in this world past the opening credits.
Miller hasn't lost any of his skills to storyboard and execute dazzling action sequences--the tanker assault in THE ROAD WARRIOR being one of the most breathtaking pieces of cinema ever made-but somehow this time it feels less. The addition of CGI continues to be a buzzkill for action films. Who cares how awesome a stunt appears to be or a how huge an explosion is when it's just some guy in an air conditioned office creating it on a computer? One of the benefits of limitations is that it inspires creativity. Filmmakers today have to find the restraint in themselves not to use all of the power of the computer. These images are probably what Miller always had in mind but couldn't quite achieve in the previous films. They are certainly dazzling. But dazzling to the mind rather than the gut. The gut can separate the cool stunt from the CG fireball added to make it supercool. That said, you are not going to find a better action film this summer coming from anywhere. This is the action film as auteur film. It's mad and delirious and high on its own supply and Miller knows just how to frame and cut these scenes so you can just follow it. I just wished I got to know Furiosa a little better. Or any of the characters or if the film had three big action set pieces instead of three hundred. I know it's an odd request to ask for LESS in this time of MORE. I am sure most people will love the overkill. But honestly it just wore me down. By the end I wanted it to be over and I didn't care who lived or died to make that happen.