In 2015, after a rather tumultuous production, Mad Max: Fury Road finally premiered in theaters to universal acclaim. The exhilarating chase across the desert was not at all what I expected when I walked into the movie theater and took a seat. I had never been much of an action movie fan and the only Mad Max film I could remember seeing was Beyond Thunderdome when I was a kid. All I can say is that as soon as the film started, I was entranced. Not only were the action sequences breathtaking and tense, but the characters felt fully fleshed out and real, even if they didn’t have a lot of lines. The narrative could have been easily lost in such a spectacle, but George Miller handled the film’s story masterfully, making Fury Road so much more than your typical action fare of explosions and death. It’s a movie that deserves all the acclaim it received and will be a movie I revisit for years to come.
What Mad Maxy: Fury Road Means to Us
Redefining the term “epic”, Fury Road is George Miller’s third sequel in his Mad Max series and boy howdy is it a doozy. Mirroring Max’s slow descent into madness in the first one, the series gets progressively more out there with each installment until it hit its autogeddon apex with this movie. As close as any film has come to non-stop action; it’s essentially a two-hour car chase but bigger and more bombastic than any before or since. In addition to the balls to the wall excitement, there’s the cast that’s as hot as the desert they’re filming in.
Tom Hardy does a magnificent job of replacing Mel Gibson and Hugh Keays-Byrne is fucking great as the villain but the real MVP is Charlize Theron. With just one movie, she made Furiosa a character as iconic as Max himself. You immediately understand her motivations and without knowing anything about her, you root for her to succeed. Unlike Max who’s character arc ended after the first movie, Furiosa has an actual goal you care about. She’s a badass warrior who’s fighting for more than just revenge or survival, she’s a savior who’ll risk her life to save others. In addition to being the best thing in the movie (which is saying a lot), she’s the best character in the franchise. Fury Road is a once-in-a-lifetime experience that can never be duplicated and I doubt any action film will ever come close to topping.
I grew up watching Mad Max. In particular I’ve seen The Road Warrior and Beyond Thunderdome dozens of times. And I could not imagine anyone playing Max Rockatansky but Mel Gibson. By the end of Fury Road I couldn’t imagine anyone but Tom Hardy. The most purely action Action movie I’ve ever seen, it also has characters that are perfectly rendered in the most economical of strokes. The series has always been full of memorable characters (with Hugh Keays-Byrne playing two of them – Toecutter in the original Mad Max and Immortan Joe in Fury Road), but nobody – sorry Tina Turner – comes close to making the impact that Charlize Theron does as Imperator Furiosa.
Filmmaker George Miller came back the property he’d created after most people thought it had been mined for all of its gold already, and showed that not only was there more story to tell, that it was possible to make the fourth film in a series the best one. It’s a film that always comes to mind when people ask about a perfect movie. Fury Road is perfect.
“Oh what a day… what a lovely day!” To watch Fury Road again…
20 Years in the Making
With three Mad Max movies under his belt, the last being in 1985, George Miller was content with putting the franchise to bed. At least until he came up with a new idea and it was a pretty simple one… Mad Max and a continuous chase. After the movie was given the greenlight and pre-production was underway, everything came to a screeching halt by the events of 9/11. It was the first of many delays, which also included a ballooning budget, the Iraq War, and several shooting locations being ruined by weather. Not to mention Miller’s involvement in the animated hit, Happy Feet, which drew his attention away from Fury Road for quite some time and the movie languished in development hell for years.
In 2012, shooting finally began in Namibia. It was a grueling nine months in the desert with less than favorable conditions, including freezing night shoots and sand storms. Frustrations eventually boiled over, causing plenty of tension on set, most famously between Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron, and director George Miller. But Miller pushed on, despite his exhaustion, and Mad Max: Fury Road premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in 2015, 28 years after Miller initially had the idea for the film. It was there that Tom Hardy apologized to Miller for his difficulty and skepticism onset.
“There is no way George could’ve explained what he could see in the sand when we were out there. I knew he was brilliant, but I didn’t quite know how brilliant.”
Replacing Mel Gibson
While initially attached to the fourth installment of the franchise, Mel Gibson was deemed too old, and too problematic, to play the role of Max in Fury Road. Miller wanted the character to remain young and after considering high-profile actors like Heath Ledger (before his untimely death in 2008), Jeremy Renner, and (ugh) Channing Tatum, the producers opted for Tom Hardy. Miller claims he knew Hardy was the one as soon as he walked into the room.
“I had the same feeling about Tom that I had when Mel Gibson first walked into the room. There was a kind of edgy charm, the charisma of animals. You don’t know what’s going on in their inner depths, and yet they’re enormously attractive.”
For many fans, it was difficult to imagine another actor in Max’s shoes, but Hardy rose to the occasion, earning rave reviews for his performance as the tortured anti-hero. Granted, Max has very few lines in the film and you’re more likely to hear him grunt than to say anything of substance. But Hardy has an incredible talent for expressing everything he means to say with his eyes and body language. His screen presence is almost hypnotic and there are very few actors who could have taken a character like Max Rockatansky from script to screen so successfully.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again… while the title is Mad Max: Fury Road, this movie belongs to Furiosa and Charlize Theron. It is her character that drives the film, setting things into motion in her attempt to escape the Citadel with Immortan Joe’s “wives”. She puts her life on the line to free these women, as well as herself, desperate to return to the “Green Place” that in her mind, symbolizes hope and a future. It’s Furiosa’s determination and strength that wins over Max’s trust and respect, allowing them to work together to overcome Immortan Joe and his War Boys.
Theron absolutely kills it as Furiosa, magnificently portraying her grit as well as her vulnerability. She comes across as a badass quite effortlessly and I think that speaks to the strength of Furiosa as a character. It would have been so easy for the female lead to fall behind the hero (or in this case, the anti-hero), to follow and learn solely from his leadership. But Furiosa is the one who draws Max in, who shows him humanity has a small sliver of a chance. It’s her character that changes him and in turn, saves him as well.
Furiosa is a modern-day action hero in her own right and is deserving to stand alongside the likes of Sarah Connor (Terminator) and Ellen Ripley (Aliens) as one of the greatest of all time.
While Fury Road was considered a “box office disappointment”, it still earned ten Academy Award nominations, including Best Director and Best Picture, and won six of its nominated categories. Nearly every “Best of” list for the year of 2015 included Mad Max: Fury Road, with many calling it the best film of the decade. There are currently two more Mad Max films in development as well as a prequel titled Furiosa, to star Anya Taylor-Joy. Not only is the film considered one of the best action films ever made, but the movie is also the subject of many scholars, including women and disability studies.
In a way, it feels like Fury Road was a product of old-school filmmaking, with the majority of the film relying on stunts and practical effects rather than CGI. I think that’s part of what makes it so impressive to watch. It’s a kinetic masterpiece that expertly combines blood-pumping action with a meaningful story about survival and humanity.