Mad Max: Fury Road is insane. Not like “whoa bro that kickflip was insane” insane. Like full on Frank Miller Batman insane.
The Mad Max franchise has always boasted an eccentric mental state, but Fury Road trades in the post-apocalyptic anarchy and straightforward brutality of its progenitors for a more nuanced take on the philosophy of might is right.
The primary difference between the psychos in Road Warrior and the psychos in Fury Road? Ideology.
Max makes his worldview clear in the film’s opening monologue. He lives to survive, and nothing in the movie hints at him surviving for anything more than the sake of survival. He’s high-functioning feral, a mindset Tom Hardy’s spastic performance and the film’s frequently sputtering low frame rate perfectly portray. His aspirations and motivations are as cut and dry as the bleak desert landscape he wanders.
When Max, barebones survivalist, crosses paths with Immortan Joe, a wicked tyrant with a death grip over a small desert oasis, and his gang of war boys, insanity ensues.
Immortan Joe’s motivations are pretty straightforward. Power, and the pursuit of maintaining it, push him. But his henchmen are a different story. The War Boys push harder than the cronies in Mad Max or Road Warrior. They follow Immortan Joe’s orders rabidly, their hearts skip a beat at a glance from their warlord. They lay down their lives in a blaze of glory all in the name of Immortan Joe, because what Joe lacks in being a robust, glistening gimp he more than makes up for by wielding a mythology that speaks to the desperate multitudes scavenging the nuclear wastes not only for food and water but for some semblance of meaning to their bleak lot in life.
The inhabitants of the Mad Max franchise have been motivated by revenge and gasoline and Tina Turner, but in Fury Road their given a higher calling: an afterlife. Immortan Joe promises his War Boys a seat at his side in Valhalla and in return they drive into tornadoes and enact spectacular kamikaze attacks with Jerry-rigged bang sticks in his name.
The insanity on display in Fury Road is frenetic, relentless, potent. It’s the insanity of ideology. The maniacal confidence only those who have found their answers can boast. It’s a study in the contract between idol and believer: power for the few, who concoct purpose for the many in return.
Fury Road puts that contract on display under the harsh desert sunlight with nothing around for miles and miles to distract from the psychosis of it all.
It’s one hell of a backbone to give a two hour car chase, and that’s to say nothing of the film’s refreshingly thoughtful handling of women in an action movie, or the extensive background work writer/director George Miller did to portray sexual servitude.
Every explosion and car flip is all the more exciting because of the film’s underlying current of insanity. It’s the film’s heartbeat, throbbing just beneath the surface during even its few subdued scenes, and it gives Fury Road a jolt of intellectual stimulation amidst the utter chaos of a bunch of cars kicking the shit out of each other for two hours.
Fury Road, which was originally set to go into production in 2001, didn’t just crawl its way out of development hell, it blasted its way out, V8 roaring in utter triumph.