...and on the third weekend of Ultron, the crowds turned to what George Miller had made, and they saw that it was good. That it was very good, in fact. That it was a thing of so rare and well-formed a quality that the masses agreed that this was to be the definition of "bad ass." For indeed, it was nothing if not that...
Maybe I'm exaggerating, maybe not so much. The return of Mad Max has become an event picture in a way no one could have anticipated until fairly late into 2015. There had been talk, certainly, and rumblings from the cult fandom. Generally, though, as most were busy examining the spate of Marvel releases under a microscope, Fury Road was thundering around the bend and getting ready to blindside everyone. At a cultural moment in which the term "action movie" has become synonymous with suited-up superheroes and the destruction of cities, Fury Road boasts both a return to roots and a necessary evolution. Turns out, it's the movie we need. Yes. A long-after-the-fact sequel to a Mel Gibson series of post-apocalyptic car movies is the movie we collectively need right now.
Fury Road is a heavy metal magnum opus visceral, loud, and high octane enough to melt your face off. Like the tricked-out, armored-up "war rigs" it relies so much upon, the film is one designed to barrel forward relentlessly, leaving nothing in its wake but the skeletons of brain-dead drones. It's as to the point as a rapidly upturned middle finger, its "fuck you" is written in plain English, and it is coming for your preconceptions. George Miller has trimmed all the fat and cut all the bullshit from Fury Road; the narrative doesn't suffer from the weight of unclear moral dilemmas or overly complicated expository elements. The story is as simple as this: there is a group very clearly in the wrong, there is a group very clearly in the right. They chase each other. People die. Along the way the audience is treated to the visual equivalent of a perfect punk song - simple yet jarring rhythms, grit, grime, and anarchy, a searing, burnt-up intensity of color and rage.
Like the punk spirit, too, there's a sort of naive purity in the story's presentation. Miller gives us a raw action film, and in doing so he seems to forget some of the imposed rules Hollywood too often plays by. He forgets to equate machine guns with masculinity, he covers the faces of his beautiful actors with dirt and masks, he allows his hero to be usurped, he isn't interested in revealing weakness where he instead can build strength.
When we're reintroduced to Max (Tom Hardy) he's standing at the edge of the wasteland, crunching on a two-headed lizard next to the souped-up junk heap. His face is hidden under a rat's nest of hair and we're told, in voiceover, that his world is "fire and blood." Max is haunted by the spastic flashes of his tortured existence, images of the wife and daughter he was not able to save. This is our initial context for him as - once again - a potential hero.
Because we're a well-trained audience, we know that grief is often retooled as an origin story. A profound loss can make for a pretty major impetus to push on, protect, and lend a hand against one's better judgment. So - when a set of circumstances finds Max first holding hostage and then helping
the rogue lieutenant Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) on her mission to smuggle a group of women out of sexual slavery - we may be inclined to expect the film to build Max into a type of savior. He has found his calling, a way to redeem himself: he must save the women because the women need saving. In a lesser, falser film that would undoubtedly be the case, just as we would likely be forced to endure a cloying love story between Furiosa and Max or find him sacrificing himself for her in the final moments. Thankfully, this is not that film. This film? This film eats those movies for a light, midday snack. It tears into them idly and shits them out and flushes them away and never considers them events of any consequence whatsoever.
This is what makes Fury Road an unexpectedly "important" movie in addition to simply being a fun one. Here it is, a movie chock full of war toys: every incendiary device known to man, dozens of motorcycles, muscle cars, big rigs, squealing electric guitars, and armies of war-painted, amped-up lunatics. It's got more firepower than The Expendables, and goes harder in just about every respect. And, oh, hey, would you look at that...it's being run by a one-armed lady with a shaved head and her girl gang.