The world has been blown up; no government exists to bring order to chaos. Nuclear war has left radioactive waste to contaminate everything that lives. Here and there, pockets of humanity survive in the post-apocalyptic desert.
Who rules? The strongest, who can control the resources: water, food, transportation. Who survives? The ones who attach themselves to the strong ruler, either by being of service, or by obeying. Who must die? Anyone who dissents, anyone who wants to go their own way.
Yes, that would include Max, who wants no alliances, no followers, no help -- scarred by the deaths of the wife and daughter he tried to protect, his chosen path is that of isolation, his accepted punishment the wrath of and pursuit by any warlord who spots him.
The other dissenter is Imperator Furiosa, who agrees to help the warlord's "breeders" -- perfect young women who might possibly produce children who are also perfect -- escape across the desert to the green and fertile homeland Furiosa remembers from her childhood.
George Miller, the director, has a vision of "broken" humanity scrabbling for life and meaning. What religion -- way of life -- survives is a mishmash of totems and vaguely-remembered eschatologies, ritual scarification, caste systems, and an obsession with objects and symbols of the time lost to nuclear holocaust. The warlord first in pursuit of Furiosa, Immortan Joe, sprays the lips of one of his minions doomed to a glorious death with chrome paint, assuring him that he will arrive in welcoming Valhalla "all shiny." A young man who is presumably dying, Nux, is described by another character as being a "kid at the end of his half-life."
Two other things that Miller wanted for this film was for it to be beautiful -- and indeed, though throughout a celebration of the grotesque, Fury Road is a stunning eye-catcher -- and a non-stop chase scene across the desert. That it is, have no doubt, with spectacular wrecks and explosions all the way.
If you go to see Mad Max: Fury Road with an eye to seeing Tom Hardy's Max fall in love with Charlize Theron's Furiosa, you're barking up the wrong tree. Neither Max nor Furiosa have any room in their lives for a romance. However, if you remember Mel Gibson's Mad Max movies, and you want to see George Miller do it again, this is the monster-truck, batshit crazy, dirt and dust and mud and blood, howling vengeful freakshow for you.
Also, the soundtrack is great.
I went for the madness of Mad Max, myself, and I loved it. I've heard that Hardy has committed himself to more Mad Max films ... I could buy my tickets right now.
I have in the past compared my reviews to those of the "professional critics," those defined as the ones counted as the rottentomatoes.com's "Tomatometer Approved." To be Tomatometer Approved, you have to actually be read by a bunch of people. For example, if you are from an online publication, your site must have at least 500,000 hits a month, and if your review is a video review, your host site must have at least 20,000 subscribers. And these are just some of the qualifications that gets you to the level of applying for approval by the Rotten Tomatoes staff.
I am obligated by FTC Disclosure rules to point out that I am not an employee of Rottentomatoes and that as far as can be statistically determined, nobody cares what I think about movies.
However, I have in the past shown that most of the time, my reviews are in line with the majority of the big boy critics. But now and again, they and I see different versions of the same movie. Mad Max: Fury Road, which opened this past week, received an alarming 98% approval rating from the big boys, and I swear to you, I not only saw a different version of this movie, I saw it in an alternate reality. Reading down through the list of over 400 reviews, there are so many superlatives used that you would think all these critics were looking to get a part in director George Miller's next movie. I think they all need to disclose what they were smoking before they went to see this one. I haven't been as shocked and confused about what Americans think since the re-election of George W.
And yet there was one of the big boys who said: "Plot, dialogue, intelligence, subtlety, suspense, wit, chemistry and logic get tossed out the window in George Miller's fourth milking of this franchise." That was what Dr. Donald Levit of Reeltalkmovies.com said, and I happen to agree.
So, basically, here's what happens: Max (Tom Hardy), who was a good guy before the world blew itself up, has had a really tough life and understandably gone just a bit off. It is not helped at all that he is captured by the minions of a really, really bad guy, Immortan Joe (Hughes Keays-Byrne), who has enslaved a bunch of people for the sole purpose of keeping him happy. Joe, who is really old, deformed and ugly, happens to have five beautiful wives, two of whom are preggers. They however do not want to raise their children with the baby-daddy, so they get Imperatator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) to spirit them away to the "Green Place," a place Furiosa remembers from her youth.
Then Max gets beat up and chased, and Furiosa steals a big rig war machine and drives of into the desert with Immortan Joe and all his allies after her. Max gets more beat up, and Furiosa drives further with Joe getting closer. Then Max gets beat up and Furiosa gets beat up and the Five Wives get beat up, and then things get really ugly -- Max gets really beat up, Furiosa gets beat up and stabbed and shot too I think, the Five Wives get beat up, lots and lots of Joe's guys get beat up and blown to bits, then Furiosa and Max who have now joined forces, drive further off into the desert. Then everybody gets beat up, more cars get blown up, and finally they get to where they're going, but ...
I could spoil it for you and tell you how they manage to squeeze another twenty or thirty minutes of beating and bombing out of this rock, but you may want to join the crowd and go watch this for yourself.
I'll be honest with you. I am normally one who enjoys a blow 'em up movie as much as the next guy, but there was a shallowness and an ugliness to this film that I found particularly off-putting. It was the ugliness and violence that had originally shaped Max into what he was (this would have been back when he was still Mel Gibson), and perhaps this over-the-top display of mankind's depravity might have been acceptable if it had produced some kind of profound effect on Max, but the Max we meet at the beginning is the Max we are left with in the end, and so the numbing brutality of the film's art and action sequences become gratuitous.
See this movie at your own risk. Or better yet, go back and re-watch election night coverage from 2004.