Last week I threw a bit of a curve-ball, going with a movie that I would wager most people haven’t seen. And, this week I’ve ended up changing things up by picking one of the most beloved and popular films of the year, the absolutely unhinged masterpiece, Mad Max: Fury Road. We’re also hit a weird little milestone of this project, because this is the first year that this website launched, in the middle of 2015, but that means a few of the movies I could have picked would have been written about here on the site when they came out. I didn’t do a favorites of the year list, for some reason, but it’s crazy how many great movies came out in 2015. We could have talked about perhaps the only film that was bigger in 2015, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, which I maintain is a really solid and fun movie. Or, we could have cried over cartoons with Inside Out, one of Pixar’s absolute finest films ever made, and a guaranteed tear-jerker. There was also the Martian, a monumentally successful adaptation that really serves a great slice of optimism at a time right before the whole world seemed to explode. There’s also the Hateful 8, perhaps my most conflicted Tarantino film, and one that has aged very strangely, but it’s still an interesting little film. We could have talked about a movie that I almost went with, Sicario, an incredibly morally gray film that really leaves an indelible mark on you when you see it. Or, hey, we could have cheered triumphantly with Creed, a film that always elicits an intense emotional reaction from me, despite me having next to no familiarity with the Rocky franchise, which is an absolute miracle of film-making. 2015 was a great year for film, containing some fun blockbusters, quiet dramas, and everything in between, but when I looked back on the year it was hard to deny the explosive insane power of Mad Max: Fury Road, a movie that feels so totally like a work of passion, that it’s a miracle it ever was made.
And the making of the film was quite an ordeal for director George Miller. He’d come to prominence with the original three Mad Max movies, but plans for a fourth film in the series ended up getting trapped in a decade’s long development hell. In the late 1990’s Miller began in earnest to bring the adventures of Max Rockatansky back to the big screen, and for a while it seemed like everything was good to begin production. Until something rather unexpected derailed everything. September 11th occurred, and the American dollar collapsed, causing the budget for the film to become untenable, and the project fell apart. Miller then moved on to working on his string of animated films, waiting for another chance. And then, after another script was written, the role was recast both due to age issues and the whole problem of hiring Mel Gibson, the film was once again put on hold after rainfall ruined certain sets, and the Iraq War began affecting restricting travel. This then seemed to cause Miller to decide to abandon live action all together, and transfer Mad Max to an animated film franchise, complete with a tie-in video game series, but that too fell apart. But, eventually this changed once more, and Miller ended up casting Tom Hardy and Charlize Theron in the lead roles, getting ready to film in the desert, only for a strange amount of rainfall to cause the desert to bloom with wild-flowers, ruining the aesthetic of the film. But, after all of that chaos, the film actually began filming, within Namibia and Australia. Thus began an absolutely insane shoot, pulling off some of the most impressive and mind-boggling stunts, almost all of which were completely practical. Hell, they even involved Olympic athletes and Cirque du Soleil performers to pull it all off. And, after decades of work, the film was finally released. And, unlike so many movies I’ve talked about on this site, it was a commercial success. Not exactly a massive film, but still one that wasn’t a complete failure. And, on top of that, it was absolutely beloved by audiences and critics alike, being haled as one of the best movies of the year, to the point that it was nominated for a staggering amount of Academy Awards, including Best Picture. And, it really deserved it all. Because this is a truly special little film.
The film, like all of the Mad Max movies, takes place in a post-apocalyptic version of Australia where gasoline is the most important resource, and humanity has devolved into barbarism. Max is a lone survivor, driving around the Wasteland, looking for meaning in his life. And, as the film begins, he’s hunted down and captured by a bunch of warriors, or War Boys, who serve as the army of a civilization known as the Citadel. Max is captured, and is turned into a human “blood bag,” for a sick War Boy named Nux, who needs Max’s universal donor blood. And, while Max is busy being draining of his life, things are afoot in the Citadel. Because the strong-man leader of the civilization, Immortan Joe, is sending his finest general, Imperator Furiosa, to drive a massive semi-trick to the nearby settlements to gain gasoline and ammunition for their never-ending expansion. But, Furiosa has a different plan in mind. She has secretly smuggled several of Immortan Joe’s captive “wives” from the Citadel, and is planning on escaping with them to a fabled Green Place where she and the wives can be free of Joe and his misogynistic regime. Unfortunately, Furiosa’s plan is pretty quickly figured out, and Immortan Joe sends out his War Boys to capture Furiosa, including Nux who ends up strapping Max to his car so he can still get his blood. The War Boys do battle with Furiosa and her massive rig, until they’re all hit by a massive sandstorm which lets Furiosa escape everyone, except Nux.
He and Max get off of their car, and Max attempts to flee, even going so far as trying to steal Furiosa’s rig from her. But, it becomes clear that he’s not going to get away without their help, and ends up holding Furiosa and the wives hostage. However, they quickly realize that they need to work together to escape Immortan Joe, who has personally begun chasing after them. And, a spurned Nux ends up telling Joe exactly what’s going on, getting a place of honor in his army as they chase after Furiosa and the wives. Our heroes manage to get through a canyon controlled by a gang that works against Immortan Joe, but it leads to quite a bit of chaos, and valuable time where Immortan Joe and his army are able to catch up. Nux attempts to sneak aboard Furiosa’s truck once more, and quickly fails at his mission, to the shame of Joe. But, during the chase Immortan Joe’s favorite wife, who is currently pregnant, ends up falling from the rig, and gets killed by Joe’s own car. He forces the army to stop while he confirms that his wife and son are dead, giving Furiosa, Max, and the other wives enough time to get ahead. They end up quickly getting trapped in a marshy morass though, only to get saved by Nux, who has been stowing away the whole time, and who has finally realized that there’s more to his life than worshiping Immortan Joe.
And, after getting through the marsh, the war-rig eventually finds a woman, seemingly alone in the desert. They attempt to talk to her, and are caught up by a whole gang of aging women, who Furiosa recognizes as the women she grew up with in the Green Place. But, they regret to tell her that the Green Place is long gone, and that there is no utopia to find. So, Max and Furiosa decide to return to the Citadel, overthrow Joe, and start a new and better society. They then turn around, with the reinforcement from the gang of women, and meet Immortan Joe’s army head on. A massive battle begins, that leads to much death and destruction. Including the death of Immortan Joe, as Furiosa is able to use his own car to rip his skull apart. The kill off a majority of Joe’s men, helped by Nux who sacrifices himself to trap the rest of the army on the other side of a canyon. And, with the leaders dead, Furiosa and the wives return to the Citadel, and take over control. They throw out Joe’s men, free up the water and food to the people, and get to work creating a better society, as Max heads out, ready to continue finding his own path in life and leaving the new society in the capable hands of Furiosa.
Mad Max: Fury Road is a miracle of a movie. It feels like one of the most authentic films I’ve ever seen, a movie that seemingly has no compromises in it. It’s a work of mad genius, and I have to assume that it’s as close to what George Miller sought to bring to life as humanly possible. I have no real connection with the Mad Max series, I believe I’ve only ever seen the original film from start to finish, but there’s just something so instantly captivating about the movie. It’s an incredibly simple premise, go from one location to another, only to return to the starting point, but it becomes one of the most engrossing movies of the decade. Jaw-dropping practical stunts, a fully lived-in sense of world-building that would put most sci-fi or fantasy writers to shame, and a series of wonderfully unhinged performances bring this insane movie to beautiful life, creating a living and breathing world that you get to dip into for two hours. It really seems like the universe was working against George Miller to get this movie made, but he did it, and it’s beautiful. I don’t know if Miller will ever get another crack at this universe, but I’m also not sure how he could possibly top this film. Few people could pull of an intricate car-ballet of destruction featuring an incredibly prophetic and bizarre world, serving as a warning about the destruction of society that seems increasingly likely.
I’m not sure what exactly George Miller and his screenwriting partners were basing this Wasteland world off of, but it’s kind of stunning how well they predicted the nightmarish world we’re currently living in. It doesn’t take a genius to assume that a viable future for the planet Earth is one of barbarism and a notable lack of water, scrounging around in a sun-baked climate disaster. But, for them to come up with a feeble strongman leader with strange hair who is made to look more powerful by his sycophantic followers, including his idiotic children, and who has created a culture of fear and godlike worship by his society of pale and violent young men, is pretty damn spot on. We have a literal religion based on violence, all under the assumption that they will get to go to a perfect afterlife after they’ve given themselves up for their pampered leader. We have women who are treated for nothing more than baby factories and milk-makers, with no rights. And, what’s more, we see a society that has become fixated with gasoline and ammunition, two things that are causing the death of themselves and the planet, gleefully urging on their own destruction, all in the name of ignorance and masculinity. The whole film ends up being a statement on the destructive nature of masculinity, showing us that it leads to destruction and chaos. But, when we work together, work empathetically, we can actually turn things around. We just need to wait for the old guard to die off. Or get their skull ripped off by their monster trucks. They both work fine.
Mad Max: Fury Road was written by George Miller, Brendan McCarthy, and Nico Lathouris, directed by George Miller, and released by Warner Bros. Pictures, 2019.
Categories: Cinematic Century