People are calling Mad Max: Fury Road the best action movie of the year, and that’s a little short-sighted. We probably ought to be thinking about it as the best action movie of the decade, or century so far.
This sounds like hyperbole, but it isn’t. Watch it, then think about anything that’s come out in the past 20-30 years and ask yourself if it compares to this. The answer has to be no.
The movie follows Max Rockatansky (Tom Hardy), a wanderer of the post-apocalyptic desert. In the film’s first scene, he’s captured by warboys, raiding servants of local warlord Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne) to be harvested for blood for dying raiders, specifically Nux (Nicholas Hoult). Joe’s general, Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron), leaves soon after to trade with other local settlements for gas and bullets, but she betrays Joe, stowing away five of his sex slaves and making a break for the green place she herself was taken from as a child. Nux and the rest of the raiders who were left behind ride out to take her back with Rockatansky still attached, thrusting him into the conflict.
Saying the action in this movie is like nothing ever filmed before is a bit of an understatement. The film features three 10-minute long keynote chase scenes and one high-octane three way fistfight between Rockatansky, Furiosa and Nux. It’s got all the signatures that have made the original Mad Max movies last — that fast-forwarded, scurrying feel, the plot-driven scarcity of bullets and explosions forcing characters to do things the old-fashioned way, the terrifying, endless car chases.
This movie is visual imagination and splendor on par with Star Wars or the Lord of the Rings movies. The villains are fat, decaying grotesqueries of pure avarice. Every vehicle — every completely functional, driveable vehicle — is unique and alive. Joe’s recurring skull-in-a-steering-wheel brand is everywhere, and forms the visual basis of the film. Even the uniform warboys are at least bizarre enough to hold the screen.
And all this comes with the knowledge in the back of your mind that it’s all real. Computer graphics were only used for color correction, Furiosa’s severed arm and that sky-enveloping magnetic storm. Most estimates have 80-90 percent of Fury Road’s effects as practical, happened-in-the-real-world visuals.
The movie has incredible depth of subtext. Sex slavery and rampant, horrifying disease are obviously big parts of the cultures in Fury Road, but they’re all in the background. This movie is about action. This is the anti-talkie. Action is what you come to see, and action is what you get. Vox.com published a massive breakdown earlier this week, and found that a full 32 percent of the movie’s runtime is chase scene.
That subtext is where all the casual feminism is hiding. That aspect really isn’t driven by the movie — what happened was some misogynist blogger decided that Theron had too many lines in the trailer and called for a boycott on the movie, saying it’s a trap to convince manly men, the only people who are allowed to like action movies, that women can also be in them as more than love interests — discretion advised with that link, I find this stuff hilarious but many may find it disturbing.
There really isn’t much in Fury Road that I’d call feminist. The plot is driven by a woman, Furiosa, and her idea that women should not be forced into slavery for sex, babies and milk. Not exactly cutting-edge suffrage. But that’s it. There’s no big speech and no dramatic call to action about the modern rape or sex slavery epidemics — just a female character who’s motivation is to protect other female characters. It doesn’t seem like something that people either for or against women’s rights should be excited about, but then again, that’s what equality looks like. Female people doing regular things the regular way — in this case, starring in one of the best action movies ever made — and that being a normal, OK thing that isn’t any sort of bizarre focal point. Not within the movie, at least.
Whatever your view on the women’s rights debate — you know, phrasing it like that it really highlights how ridiculous the whole thing is — Fury Road is certainly the best action movie since the early ’80s and immediately inserts itself into the conversation for best ever made. See it at the earliest opportunity.
Leopold Knopp is a formerly professional film critic, licensed massage therapist and journalism student at the University of North Texas. Smoke meth, hail Satan. I’ve had a change of heart about reader input. It is now welcomed and encouraged. Like Reel Entropy on Facebook, follow it on Twitter @reelentropy, and shoot questions to reelentropy@.