When the credits began to roll for Mad Max: Fury Road I finally noticed how thin my breathing had gotten, and how tightly I was clutching onto my chair for support.
I wouldn’t consider myself a weak person, but Fury Road is a film that exhausts you. It’s an assault of blistering, chaotic destruction that refuses to slow down, leading you down roads you think you recognize only to wildly change course midway and leave you questioning what you expect from an action film.
It exemplifies both the intoxicating thrill and intensity of the violent summer blockbuster, and also the restraint and vision of someone who understands it takes more than flashy CGI and familiar faces to impress. Fury Road doesn’t ask for your attention, it takes hold of it by the throat and pulls you along at a pace that feels impossible to keep up with yet never incomprehensible.
Every scene feels carefully framed and considered, with each detail existing for a purpose more so than simple visual excess. There is never a question of what is happening or where you should be looking, and this invisible guiding hand causes the relentless bombardment of explosions and screaming engines to have a much larger impact. This isn’t just noise, it’s noise you can interpret and which at times becomes so loud and unhinged that it almost caused me to have to look away just so I’d have the energy to keep breathing.
This is owed in large part to the physicality of everything happening on screen. Nearly everything in Fury Road was created using practical effects and stunts, with CGI only stepping in to erase the safety harnesses (though it’s hard to imagine there being anything safe about filming these scenes) and to help create a scene that in any other film would be the visual showpiece but feels almost tame here with what happens later on.
In the midst of the crashes, punches, and continually stunning defiance of death, it seems easy to forget there is any plot here at all. Yet for as minimal as Fury Road’s narrative may be, its characters are so grounded by the violence around them that few words are required to sell them as survivors in this wasteland just trying to, well, survive. Furthermore, Fury Road is unwilling to indulge audiences with the story they expect, instead largely taking the spotlight off of Max and giving it to Imperator Furiosa. Max may still be along for the ride, but this is Furiosa’s journey, a changing of rolls which continues through a film that’s remarkable in its ability to subtly and not so subtly subvert action movies trends, most notably in unshackling the sexist bonds of its heroines.
It feels so refreshing and unexpected to see a film featuring this much high octane carnage not only respecting the female members of its cast, but giving them the sort of agency and ability almost always kept agonizingly out of reach. Fury Road is in large part centered around women liberating themselves from enslavement in a horrifically patriarchal society, and I can only hope it’s a freedom that will extend beyond this single film and reach its action movie peers.
Mad Max: Fury Road is the sort of film that no amount of words can properly prepare you for going in. It’s a layered, ferocious machine that perfectly balances between delightful mayhem and raw brutality; a fully formed vision that almost defies belief when you look at the length of its development, and its contemporaries who have tried and failed to revive a classic franchise.
As I walked out of the theater it was like I had gone momentarily numb, still lost in what I’d just seen and my body was rapidly attempting to process. When I finally came to my only thought was “when can I see it again?”