A genuinely smart action film smack bang in the middle of the summer season? Check! A real sense of craft on behalf of everyone involved in the film? Check! The best female action protagonist for longer than I can remember (maybe even Aliens)? Check! The new textbook on how to reboot a long dead franchise? Check!
This is the real thing, a genuine hundred million plus blockbuster with characterisation, wit, an intelligent and relevant plot that just happens to show everyone how to film action scenes without resorting to shaky camera work, endless CGI (although it’s not as CGI free as advertised – it’s just used far more intelligently than normal) but rather just puts everything up on the screen. It’s also a case of a Director listening to those around him (especially his wife / editor) to ensure that the film was as good as it could be – really this could be the textbook about how to approach blockbusters.
I often complain that the problems for most large scale films start with the script (or lack thereof); here we don’t have that issue. Sure, the central driving plot is basic (hell, it’s the classic western of the bad town where the land baron controls the water / work, oppresses everyone and turns the women into slaves for his benefit, but whom plan his downfall – Max even fits in as the mysterious but principled stranger who initially wants no part to play in the fight but gradually thaws) but the characterisation makes the difference, everyone – yes, everyone – has a clear a distinct motivation for what they are doing and their role in the drama. Even the motivations of the disposable mooks is given weight (and how good is it to see someone genuinely get the concept of a death cult driven by a belief in a better afterlife rather than tone it down for the masses into a bad pastiche?) rather than a just a series of unknowns being thrown into the grinder. The difference here is that the principal driving motivation of the plot is female led, but not in what has become the traditional sense. The film doesn’t have a feminist stance, but rather an anti-patriarchal one – a lot of the problems of the world as it’s presented are the result of the male led society that led to societies downfall. Contrary to some parts of the internet this message isn’t rammed down your throat, you’re expected to come to the conclusion yourself. It’s not often that a film of this size leaves you to make up your own mind on the moral – again, something that’s unusual in this day and age of dragging people by the hand to a conclusion.
If this doesn’t sound much fun then the beauty is that all of the subtext is there if you look for it without getting in the way of what we expect from the film – Max isn’t the protagonist but he is our eye to the world (whilst the successive films have softened him, he is still at heart the outsider from society). It’s rare to see carnage presented as beautifully as this, every punch, shot, crash and impact has a weight to it – physics is clearly still in normal working order post apocalypse. The script has barely an ounce of flab to it, and any that remained has been exercised in the editing room. Even the moment of calm at the two thirds point (which far from being a breather in the relentless action is an emotional gut punch ahead of the protagonists redemption) is less a chance to catch our breath and stretch our legs but rather propel the rest of the story.
Hardy makes a fine Max, less crazy but more damaged than before, someone intent on surviving rather than revenge, but who gradually comes to terms with himself as the film progresses (and his ending is perfect, setting up questions as to his legitimacy as a real figure in the same manner as Eastwood’s gunslinger in High Plains Drifter). Theron is simply brilliant, one of the strongest women in action films since Aliens (yes, it is that good a performance) and offering a different interpretation of Max’s survivor role for the audience to root for. It’s not surprising that she’s the breakout character of the film and likely to be in any future films – the film is more hers than Max’s and the character is strong enough to sustain multiple stories. Everyone is similarly excellent, even when given the barest bones of a character to get their teeth into.
And then there’s the production design. Technology has caught us with the director’s vision to produce one of the best realised post apocalypse visions that builds on and expands the earlier films. The scale is altogether grander (as is the budget) but it still retains the practicality that drove the first three films. It feels most like the second, but with violence more akin to the third (it lacks the out and out brutality of the first). Each vehicle is recognisable by its profile meaning that the action is easy to follow despite the similar colour palate throughout (and Miller argues that the film looks even better in black & white), and the clarity of the camerawork is a joy.
A throwback to earlier, bolder action films whilst also a showcase of what can be done on film these days, Fury Road is just brilliant and well worth seeing on the largest screen you can possibly find. Highly recommended.