I wanted to see this movie when it came out last year, but for one reason or another I missed it. I was delighted to find it on HBO the other night, and settled in to watch.
I have to admit, I wasn’t sure how I felt when I learned there was a Mad Max redo with another actor playing Max Rockatansky. After all, the only poster I ever put on my wall as a teenager was Mel Gibson in character as the post-apocalyptic wanderer and anti-hero. No matter what you may think of Gibson these days, who can replace Mel as Max?
Well, Tom Hardy can. He ably and impressively fills Gibson’s shoes here, nailing Max’s haunted, wounded soul, his heart forever divided between remaining aloof and doing the right thing. In Fury Road, he finds himself helping a group of women escape a maniacal warlord named Immortan Joe. The young, alluring women are Joe’s wives and property, and when they decide they’ve had enough of him, they enlist the help of an older woman named Imperator Furiosa to help them. They escape in a souped-up tanker called the War Rig, and the desert car chase that ensues is classic Mad Max: insanity on wheels, including bald, white-faced War Boys, a blind mutant playing a flame-throwing electric guitar as a sort of war music, and bad guys with names like Rictus Erectus, Corpus Colossus, and The People Eater. What’s not to love?
In truth, it wasn’t the action, or even Max that drew me to the movie; it was Charlize Theron’s Furiosa. I couldn’t resist this tough-as-nails woman warrior willing to risk her life to bring these women to her long-lost home, the “Green Place”. I’d never seen Theron’s movie Monster, but I knew she could transform herself in an amazing way, and she does so here, to impressive effect. If I were fleeing a hideous, insane despot trying to impregnate me, I’d want this woman at my back.
The movie ends rather predictably, with Max overcoming his initial resistance to help and, along with Furiosa, bringing the women to a place of safety. There’s evidence that he could even-dare I say it?- love Furiosa, if not for his ingrained sense of isolation and the need to nurture his past hurts. As in every movie, he moves along at the end, ever the loner. He’s like a Geico commercial: “If you’re Max Rockatansky, you bail before making any meaningful human connection. It’s what you do.” It makes me sad, every time.
Before I saw the movie, I was surprised at its critical acclaim and award nominations; but now I see how a bristling action movie with very little dialogue can deliver surprising heft. Its feminist themes of female empowerment in a predominately testosterone-fueled genre is what makes this action film stand out from the rest.