The success of an action movie really depends on the execution of the action itself. This is generally why it’s a bad idea to make a no-budget action movie unless you know how to produce good action without any money. A lot of money makes a lot of moviemaking easier, but, in particular, it helps with action scenes.
Mad Max Fury Road was an expensive movie, and it shows gloriously. The story is super simple, and reminds me of Dredd. There’s no complex plot to tangle with, just the personalities and the journey, a there and back again structure that lends itself really well to the type of action on display. Women try to escape a prison, drive across the desert, find their destination, and then head back. There’s plenty of room for absolutely bonkers action sequences and a surprising amount of character work.
Our central and titular character Max grunts his way through the movie. He’s far less verbose than he had been in previous movies (lending some textual credence that he’s actually the feral kid from The Road Warrior rather than Max himself), but even though he doesn’t talk he still has a well-defined arc. It’s pretty much the same arc he has in both The Road Warrior and Beyond Thunderdome where he’s just out to help himself but finds himself helping a group of the weaker against a strong enemy. In The Road Warrior, it was the people mining the oil pump. In Beyond Thunderdome, it was the kids. In Fury Road, it’s the breeders and their leader Furiosa.
Furiosa is great. She’s headstrong but more impulsive than she thinks she is. She’s prepared her escape well, but she didn’t realize the scope of the troubles that would fall on her for her action. Without the happy coincidence of Max, she’d have either lost everything on the way out, or reached her destination and just driven out into the desert with 160 days worth of gasoline, hoping to find something.
Immortan Joe, the antagonist of the film, is such a fantastic looking character. With shades of Darth Vader in his breathing apparatus, a massive frame, and a terrifying voice, Joe has an incredible presence. It’s easy to see how he would incite both great fear in his enemies and awe in his supporters. How he could use both his presence and position over a necessary resource (water) to create a slave state.
On top of all of this is some of the most incredibly impressive action I’ve ever seen. The key to elongated action sequences is finding ways to change the action around while keeping the pace going. You’d think that with a car chase, there’d only be so many combinations one could come up with, but this is where the weirdness of the Max universe really turns into an asset. It’s not two cars in pursuit. It’s a war rig followed by a variety of different vehicles with different weapons, speeds, and abilities. My favorite of them all is the pole cats, which the movie saves for the ending and uses to great effect. Those metronomic motions create great opportunities for visuals, including what might be my favorite single shot from a modern action movie:
It’s amazing how George Miller, the grandpa of a director, maintains the pace and energy through all two hours. It’s a magnificent thrill ride.
Netflix Rating: 5/5
Quality Rating: 4/4