Let me begin this review with a disclaimer: I have never watched a Mad Max movie before, and it’s not really in my wheelhouse. Action movies in general tend to leave me cold. But there’s been a lot of buzz about this installment in the 36-year-old Australian franchise, and my two older teens wanted to see it in celebration of the end of exams—so I found myself sitting in the theater, wondering what I was in for.
I got quite a bit of what I expected. Lots of chase scenes—or one two-hour chase scene, depending on how you see it. A generous bit of violence, excitement, and thrills, all at maximum volume.
However, that all added up to something better than I might have expected.
Max (Tom Hardy), a roaming survivor of what appears to be ecological and nuclear disaster, is captured in the first scenes by warriors from a settlement ruled by a ruthless leader, Immortan Joe, whom they worship. There are a few key resources in this place—water, blood, mother’s milk, gasoline, and artillery—resources that are reserved almost exclusively for the leaders and the military. Max becomes the property of the warriors; he’s used as a blood bag infusing the radiation-damaged warriors with the nutrients they need to survive. The religious frenzy of the warriors, as well as the subservience of the women, suggests a radical cult.
Meanwhile, a female warrior named Furiosa (played by Charlize Theron, who is the true star of the movie) has hatched a plan to escape the settlement with the five captive brides of Immortan Joe. These real-life supermodels manage to be flawless, even as they effectively portray vulnerable and increasingly empowered victims of slavery. They do not want to be Joe’s property anymore, and Furiosa hides them in a war rig to drive them to a safe place. The rest of the movie is comprised of various escapes from Joe’s warriors.
It’s a frightening, depressing view of the future of humanity, though whenever we hear stories of child soldiers in Africa, the destruction caused by Middle Eastern warfare, and modern-day slaves here in North America, it’s not so hard to understand where it all comes from.
Yet there’s some heart to this film. Not all is lost: some people have retained a sense of humanity and are searching for hope. They even find a little of it. And the compassion for people treated as property goes beyond my usual experience of action movies, which generally objectify women almost as much as the villainous society in Mad Max.
The cinematography of this film is fantastic, at times truly a work of art. On the other hand, over-the-top touches such as a war vehicle that features a man strapped to the front, playing an electric guitar that spews fire, give it a campy feel. The dialog is minimal, which is a good thing because it is often leaden. And you can’t help but wonder why, if gasoline is so hard to get, the warriors spend the entire movie chasing down one truck with every possible gas-guzzling vehicle they possess.
I left the theater exhausted, but weirdly entertained. I asked my kids how they liked it. My son enjoyed it. My daughter did too, but she couldn’t decide if she would call it a “good movie” or not. I asked her how she would compare the violence of this particular movie with the violence of Saving Private Ryan, which she had viewed as an optional part of her history project for school. She said the violence in Saving Private Ryan was more disturbing, partly because it was more graphic, but also because it was much more “real”—both as a movie experience and because she knew it was based in reality.
I definitely wouldn’t recommend the movie to all viewers, particularly those sensitive to violence. But for fans of action flicks, this one offers a bit of depth to go with the adrenaline rush. (Warner)