Mad Max has waited thirty years to get the treatment it deserved. The most recent "reboot" of the franchise, Mad Max: Fury Road, is a phenomenal movie. It is certainly disturbing, violent, and graphic at points, but not in any way prejudicial to what the movie attempts to accomplish - to disorient the viewer and immerse them in a completely foreign, insane, post-apocalyptic, and frenetic world. It is intended to blow you away, to overwhelm, and keep you from getting your bearings. The story is not, however, about that world - impressive backdrop as it is - but instead about this world. At the center of the drama is a broken man: the man with no name who, despite his past failures destroying his psyche, is attempting to seek redemption. This "man with no name" is, of course, "Mad" Max, played by Tom Hardy. He is torn with regrets, almost literally, and is coming apart, mentally, at the seams. The movie mimics this with fast-paced action sequences and disjointed framing at points. Max's mental state is clearly portrayed throughout the movie by the way in which the movie itself tells its gripping story.
The world of Mad Max is eating itself alive. It is a world torn by a lack of natural resources and now destroyed by nuclear war. Earth is divided into desert wasteland roamed by thieves and gangs, feral human beings who prey upon the weak. Much of that is relatively unimportant to the story as it unfolds; what is important is, as the characters understand, the need to survive. Or, better yet, the story begins in a tale of physical survival and shows that, instead, the most important quest is not that. Rather, the challenge - the most difficult for every character and the center of the drama - is the struggle to come out on the other side of all the harrowing and grueling physical and moral challenges of that mad world and remain a human being.
The deeper subtext of the story is, for all its gruesome bits, the attempt to show that human beings cannot be reduced to their physical/physiological needs. It is an alternatively graphic and beautiful attempt to disprove a "thesis" advanced early in the movie. Max himself is abducted by a warlord, who calls himself Immortan Joe, tortured, and used to supply blood to members of his gang, the War Boys. These "Nordic" warriors use the blood of their prisoners to alleviate their anemia, contracted from radiation sickness, giving testimony to the general theme that people are expendable items of property. The drama begins when Immortan Joe's harem elopes and Max is brought along to help track them down. The rallying cry of those poor women, the cry that leads to Max helping them and which in turn summarizes the message of the movie, is simple: "People are not things." It is a revolution to bring down the whole system of oppression. Joe has built his society on the premise that they and his prisoners are nothing more than cattle and "breeders," but it is to their credit that they spend the subsequent movie disproving that theory.
There is quite enough to draw one to the movie amid the action and other elements that contribute to Mad Max's stunning visual and audio palette. What is also impressive is the very attempt to tell the story amid almost constant action sequences. But, as was said earlier, the pace illustrates Max's own moral and psychological state. His other partners in crime, Imperator Furiosa and War Boy Nux, both are fascinating characters who participate in the arc of moral development illustrated in the despairing context of the savage wasteland. Nor is even Immortan Joe exempt from a sympathetic treatment - he, like the other accompanying villains, is not a one-sidedly evil character, but a symbol for the kinds of desires and hopes of ordinary people which, when becoming self-obsessed, become the worst kind of things.
What remains beautiful, in the end, is that the moral development of the characters mentioned finds a positive terminus. Mad Max is not a tragedy, but a testimony to the power of hope, rightly understood. Max eschews a false sense of hope, near the end of the movie, and almost succumbs to despair. What he does not see immediately, but comes to recognize, is that the goodness possible to human beings themselves is often the greatest source of hope, even when the exterior circumstances are foreboding.
My Rating: 9 out of 10.