by John S
IT’S LIKE THIS: A little known cinematic rule called the Bechdel Test requires a film to have: (1) at least two female characters, who (2) actually talk to each other, and (3) they have to chat about something other than the men in the film. I don’t have to tell you that most summer movies, with their testosterone tsunamis and penis-measuring extravaganzas (figuratively-speaking), utterly fail this test. One of the few exceptions is today’s review.
It is the remake / reimagining / rewhatever of the 1979 Australian post-apocalyptic cult classic Mad Max, which starred Mel Gibson in the titular role. And it is set in the desert. And it’s full of grimy desert people with white face paint, making them look like some cannibal native tribe in the jungles of New Guinea. Except we’ve already established that they’re smack-dab in the middle of the Sahara or some other barren wasteland. Could also be New Mexico after a Nuclear War. Hard to tell.
Anyhow, our story opens with our hero Max Rockatansky (Tom Hardy) narrating how the world went to kaka after some nuclear war and now pretty much most of the earth is barren desertscape. Filled with lots of things that will kill you in a heartbeat, both two-legged and four-legged. Max is attacked by one of the latter (a mutated gecko or something) but manages to stomp the little bugger into oblivion—and then eat it. Apparently, there are no Taco Bells in the future, and so a little lizard meat goes a long way.
Soon, however, Max is also attacked by the two-legged variety of predator: specifically, those white-face-painted a-holes whom we mentioned earlier. They chase him through what seems like 100 miles of icky desert before finally catching him. Not 100% sure why they are interested in Max, but given that Max looks like Tom Hardy, I am not at all surprised. If some dude looked like Tom Hardy, I’d chase his ass through 100 miles of icky desert, too. Then I’d eat him. Interpret that however you want.
Where were we? Ah, yes…our hottie Max gets caught by the white people face-painted like they’re natives of New Guinea. Max gets taken prisoner and meets the icky and loathsome leader of this pack of degenerate a-holes. He is Immortal Joe (Hugh Kearys-Bryne), and he rules over the settlement. A few things about Joe: (1) he is rotund; (2) he is ugly; and (3) he has a harem of young, nubile wives that includes Splendid (Rosie Huntington-Whiteley), Toast (Zoe Kravitz), Fragile (Courtney Eaton), Capable (Riley Keogh) and The Dag (Abby Lee Kershaw). I guess power buys you a lot of female friends. But then again, what else is new?
Apparently, in this “kingdom” that Joe rules over, these chicks are his baby-breeding machines and are the only fertile women who can bear, um, fruit. Which is kind of disturbing because the one son he already has, the woefully-named Rictus Erectus (Nathan Jones), is kind of a colossal waste of space. Who needs or wants more of that? Well, apparently, Joe does—so he can spread his empire. Whatever, dude.
Imagine then his dismay then when one of his top lieutenants, the statuesquely gorgeous (even with grease on her face and one arm missing) Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron), basically abducts his entire fleet of bed-buddies because she wants them to start anew in some legendary green land where the forests and waters are still in abundance—and there are zero men. Let’s just say that Joe blows his fat, ugly stack and sends his entire army of ugly face-painted choads after our lovely ladies.
You’re probably rightly wondering where our hottie Tom Hardy, er, Max is in all of this. Well, while all this intrigue has been going on in the Kingdom, our boy Max has basically been acting like the worst kind of Bond Girl. You know: “The Useless Twit That Doesn’t Do Anything And Always Needs Saving.” I’m looking at you, Rosie Carver and Mary Goodnight. And for the first 25 minutes or so, that is our boy Max: he’s a passive sideliner in his own movie. Basically, he gets strapped to the front of one of the trucks pursuing Furiosa, Splendid, Toast, Capable, Fragile, and The Dag. Essentially, Furiosa is James Bond for the first act of this film.
Thank goodness she finally rescues Max from that truck’s grill. Not that he’s grateful or anything because all he does is grunt and glare at her. Maybe it’s post-traumatic stress or something. Anyhow, Max finally agrees to help Furiosa get these gaggle of chicks to that “Green Promised Land” where they can finally start anew. And time is of the essence because Splendid is very preggers and could download another Rictus Erectus at any given moment. Ick.
Unfortunately, if finding and reaching the Green Promised Land were as easy as that, there wouldn’t be a movie. Sure enough, Joe sends even more trucks and white-face-painted a-holes to track down Max, Furiosa, Splendid, and the rest of the ladies. Also tailing the group is Nux (Nicholas Hoult), a junior white-face-painted- degenerate-a-hole-in-training who tries to inflitrate the group but only winds up their boy-toy prisoner. Nice job, dork. Soon, however, he finds himself falling for Capable. Nice to know they can still find the time for a little drama and sumthin-sumthin while running for their lives.
So…will Max, Furiosa, Splendid, Capable, Nux, and their posse reach the Green Promised Land full of trees and water and zero men to start over again? Does it even exist? Or is it just one wild-goose chase? Will Joe and his army catch up to them? Will any of these people get out of the desert alive? How much sand is already in their butt-cracks? Will they make a pit-stop in Vegas to slam back some Tequila shots at the MGM Grand?
Save me a seat, Max and Furiosa…
BUT SERIOUSLY: I haven’t seen the original Mad Max from 1979, but I remember seeing trailers of it and some snippets. Despite being a dystopian tale, I don’t think it was quite as post-apocalyptic as Mad Max: Fury Road. The scenes from Mad Max showed a society that still had some semblance of order and civilization, albeit starting to fall apart. In Mad Max: Fury Road, chaos reigns supreme with a new world order that is barbaric. In that regard, I have to wonder if this movie is more of a delayed sequel to Mad Max than a remake or reimagining.
The bottom line is I can’t compare the two films. What I can say that is Mad Max: Fury Road is a relentless thrill ride that hardly ever pauses for a breath. Director George Miller also helmed the original and he brings a certain old-school grittiness to the proceedings that is very welcome. The slick, polished veneer that characterizes most modern summer action blockbusters is thankfully missing here. The result is a raw, authentic atmosphere that ups the excitement.
Not having seen Mad Max or any of its sequels, I can’t really compare Tom Hardy’s performance in the lead to Mel Gibson’s. I do know Gibson’s performance in those films is what got him noticed by Hollywood and led to his ascension to the firmament of cinematic stars, so I can imagine he must’ve been fairly effective and charismatic. I also can’t say if how Fury Road treats the character of Max Rockatansky measures up to the original film. Here, Max is virtually silent on the sidelines for much of the first act. When he does enter the action, he barely has any dialogue, so it’s hard to gauge him as a character. Fortunately, Hardy is one of those actors like Russell Crowe who can own a scene and screen with just his physical presence and X-factor, and that allows the audience to remain engaged in Max despite knowing very little about him.
The ace up Mad Max: Fury Road’s sleeve, though, is Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa, the brave lieutenant who betrays Immortal Joe to save the future of the human race. Whatever empathetic connection missing with Max is more than made up for by Theron’s fiery but soulful performance. So prominent is Furiosa in the film that I joked to a buddy that the movie should really have been called Mad Furiosa. We also think the “Fury Road” part of the title is a direct reference to Furiosa and how important she is to the plot. Many quarters have lauded Theron’s performance and the character, calling her a positive feminist role model—and they are right.
It’s also remarkable that the main cast is peppered with female characters, which is rare for summer action films where men usually comprise most of the gallery. Here, we have no less than six women among the principles, in addition to the female lead that Furiosa fills—final tally: seven women in one action movie that was supposed to be about one man. Needless to say, a pleasant surprise. Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Zoe Kravitz, Riley Keogh, Courtney Eaton, Megan Gale, and Abby Lee Kershaw all lend vivid nuances to each of Immortal Joe’s “brides.”
The other most interesting character besides Furiosa, though, is Nux as played by Nicholas Hoult. Nux has a strong arc, and starts out as a baddie but then gradually becomes aligned with Max, Furiosa, and their companions. He also forms a tentative romance with Riley Keogh’s Capable amidst the endless chase. There is a touching scene towards the end of the film that has Nux as the centerpiece, and it is as affecting as it is because of how well Hoult plays this complex character and his transformation. As for the true baddie himself, Immortal Joe, Hugh Keays-Byrne makes for a relentless villain who, like Max, says very little but is an intimidating presence.
Ultimately, MAD MAX: FURY ROAD is a solid action film that manages to continuously shoot forward like a bullet without forgetting to occasionally highlight its characters and their quirks. With a bit more complexity to the plot, and maybe a little more exploration of who Mad Max is, the movie could have rated even higher. As it is, it is a solidly good film that is worth your time—and is even more notable for having more than its fair share of female characters who drive the plot. In that regard, it definitely passes the Bechdel test.
(Rating: 7 out of 10 – Solid Flick, Worth Your Time)
John S. is a Scarecrow volunteer who loves James Bond, Jason Bourne, Italian Gialli, Dario Argento, Hitchcock, Ridley Scott, Peanut M&Ms with popcorn, Julia Roberts in PRETTY WOMAN, Theo James in anything, HALLOWEEN (movie and holiday), Scarecrow Video, Russell Crowe as a villain, strawberry soda, and Karaoke – not necessarily in that order.