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Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) Movie Review: Charlize Theron & George Miller Place Women on Top

Mad Max Fury Road Charlize TheronMad Max: Fury Road with Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa.
  • Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) movie review: Following a 30-year gap and featuring its titular character as little more than the hero’s – or rather, heroine’s – sidekick, George Miller’s latest Mad Max entry places women on top.
  • Mad Max: Fury Road received 10 Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture and Best Director. It won six Oscars: Best Film Editing, Production Design, Costume Design, Sound Mixing, Sound Editing, and Makeup.

Mad Max: Fury Road movie review: Starring Charlize Theron & Tom Hardy, latest entry in George Miller’s post-apocalyptic action franchise focuses on female warriors

Mad Max, director George Miller’s first feature film and the then 23-year-old Mel Gibson’s second, premiered in North America in February 1980. I was 17 years old, crazy about cars and revenge movies, and generally ripe for the picking.

Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior followed in 1981, deepening devotees’ affection for the character and his car. The 1985 sequel Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome was equally anticipated, though it has worn over time. It costarred the Silent Dancer herself, Tina Turner, and her current hit of the day, the name of which I can’t remember and don’t want to look for.[1]

I saw each Mad Max movie at the time of its respective North American release and relished them all. Yet I can say that the first achievement of Mad Max: Fury Road is that, much like its titular hero, it stands alone.

In fact, Mad Max: Fury Road is a good movie on its own terms, without reference to any other films, including the three I just mentioned – something notable in a motion picture universe that believes in the tent-pole-based feeder system, where the summer blockbuster is little more than an appetizer for the fall release of a “companion film,” itself a filler in preparation for the Christmas release of the third installment in a film series for which there is no foreseeable end.

Even so, one should see the original Mad Max for a complete experience, while remaining aware that George Miller has two more Mad Max movies in the works.

Far better than its two predecessors

The second achievement of Mad Max: Fury Road is that it all but erases the need for the existence of the two films that precede it – Road Warrior and Beyond Thunderdome – both of which I still love because I haven’t made the mistake of actually watching them in the last 20 years.

Wisely, Fury Road is neither sequel nor prequel to those iconic classics of the Australian Road Rage genre (see Not Quite Hollywood). Rather, this latest Mad Max is a replacement for those films, which, as it turns out, are better considered as placeholders waiting for the technology to catch up with the mad doctor’s concepts for the film he really wanted to make 30 years ago.

That includes sticking star Tom Hardy on a flexible pole attached to a car, surrounded by guys on poles attached to other cars, all speeding along at 80 miles per hour while, very carefully, blowing things up all around them.

And so Fury Road replaces Road Warrior and Beyond Thunderdome with one film that’s better than both of them put together. For all intents and purposes, the most recent Mad Max movie is also the amalgamation of its two predecessors, both visually and narratively.

Guys to blame

The Mad Max: Fury Road story, which involves scarcity of water and the sanctification of the mechanistic in a post-apocalyptic society, is certainly Max-ian, as one imagines the next films in the series will be as well.

The juxtaposition of elements in George Miller’s latest generally breaks down along these lines:

  • Western concerns, iconography, symbols, and history, in addition to the Y chromosome make up one set of forces – mostly, the forces of destruction.
  • Aboriginal cultures, beliefs, languages, and symbolism, plus the XX chromosome pairing represent the opposite of destruction.

The question posed in the film repeatedly is direct: “Who killed the world?” Or, by extension, “Who will kill the world?”

Miller’s answer is clear: Men. Specifically, men.

Salvation will be found in nature and in the replenishing power of the feminine.

Mad Max: Fury Road Tom HardyMad Max: Fury Road movie with Tom Hardy as Max Rockatansky.

Step aside, Clint Eastwood

Thus the actual hero of this film – titled Mad Max: Fury Road – is a woman.

Imperator Furiosa, played by 39-year-old Charlize Theron with all the squinty-eyed determination of a young Clint Eastwood, owns Fury Road. And with one arm even. In other words, the girl in the movie does everything the boy in the movie does – but with one arm.

It all begins when, while on a mission to find gas and ammunition, Furiosa decides to set herself and a handful of “slave maidens” free from the grip of Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne, Toecutter in The Road Warrior). In the company of these beautiful, scantily clad young girls, she intends to make a run to the “green place” down the Fury Road, where nothing but treachery awaits.

Anchored by Zoë Kravitz, who is becoming a welcome fixture in a number of films, the maidens include several young actresses who are not just lovely willows. The costumes they wear – little more than linen rags – are deliberate; they are meant to reflect the lascivious nature of the male. Yet the women are ever the road warriors themselves.

Indeed, there is nothing pacifist or docile in Miller’s conception of the nature of the feminine, no matter what they look like or how they dress. The feminine will kick your ass in his dystopian world, but only for a fair and righteous cause: Freedom.

Handy Max

Max Rockatansky, on the other hand, is a Man – without a cause except survival. He must choose to do the right thing while clinging to a remnant of himself from a time before men not unlike him destroyed everything.

Now, make no mistake. In Fury Road Mad Max is Furiosa’s sidekick: Handy and resilient.

Note: I’ve experienced Mad Max: Fury Road in both the 2D and 3D formats. I suggest you see it in 2D.

Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) cast & crew

Director: George Miller.

Screenplay: George Miller, Brendan McCarthy, and Nick Lathouris (as Nico Lathouris).

Cast: Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron, Nicholas Hoult, Josh Helman, Hugh Keays-Byrne, Nathan Jones, Zoë Kravitz, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Riley Keough, Abbey Lee, Courtney Eaton, John Howard, Chris Patton, Richard Norton.

Cinematography: John Seale.

Film Editing: Margaret Sixel.

Music: Junkie XL.

Production Design: Colin Gibson.

Producers: George Miller, Doug Mitchell, and P.J. Voeten.

Production Company: Kennedy Miller Mitchell.

Distributor: Warner Bros., in association with Village Roadshow Pictures.

Running Time: 120 min.

Country: Australia.


Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) Movie Review: Charlize Theron” notes

Beyond Thunderdome song

[1] Note from the Editor: Tina Turner’s song is called “We Don’t Need Another Hero (Thunderdome).”


Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) Movie Review” endnotes

Awards

An awards season favorite, Mad Max: Fury Road was the National Board of Review‘s Best Film; it won 10 Online Film Critics awards, including Best Film; and earned George Miller the Los Angeles Film Critics’ and the San Francisco Film Critics‘ Best Director award.

Among its other wins and nominations, Mad Max: Fury Road topped the Best Stunt Ensemble category at the Screen Actors Guild Awards; it was shortlisted for Golden Globes in the Best Motion Picture – Drama and Best Director categories; and was the winner of nine Critics’ Choice Awards, including Best Director.


Mad Max: Fury Road movie credits via the British Film Institute (BFI) website.

Charlize Theron and Tom Hardy Mad Max: Fury Road images: Village Roadshow Pictures | Warner Bros.

Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) Movie Review: Charlize Theron & George Miller Place Women on Top” last updated in September 2022.

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2 comments

True -

I agree with your take on the gender-political symbolism and messages that Miller is conveying in this current Mad Max incarnation. It was lacking in the the first three, in which the masculine ideal still prevailed. I liked what Furiosa represents, as a gender counterforce to hyper masculinity and mechanism as represented by Joe.

And Fury Road certainly appeals, both visually and sonically. I saw it on a small screen, and I may take another look at it on the big screen, if it’s still around.

However, Fury Road lacks the soulful arc of human loss, growth, and redemption that enriched The Road Warrior, and which made the latter a much better story than the former. I wish that Miller had imbued Furiosa more with this growthful progression. I’m fine with Max being a side-kick, a representative of what masculinity could be in Furiosa’s vision of a gender-balanced world. I just didn’t see Furiosa allow herself to expand her vision through Max’s example in the same way, for example, that Max was challenged to do so by the Gyro-Captain in The Road Warrior.

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Tinkdnuos -

You seem to be the only person in the universe unaware that The Road Warrior is by FAR the best of the original trilogy. The first Mad Max is basically an impatient and barely-necessary prelude to its perfection.

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