Past the Popcorn: Charlize Theron is the Real Star of Mad Max: Fury Road

by Jeff Walls

The newest reboot/follow-up/sequel to come out of Hollywood’s current everything-old-is-new-again trend is Mad Max: Fury Road.  It has been thirty years since the character made famous by Mel Gibson has graced the silver screen and although Gibson is absent from the latest version, director George Miller is back in the driver’s seat.  With Miller in place and Tom Hardy stepping in for Gibson, the Mad Max franchise is back in a big way.

Much like 1981’s The Road Warrior and 1985’s Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, Fury Road opens with Max as a loner surviving in a post-apocalyptic world who is thrust into an out-of-control situation.  In this movie, Max is captured by a crazed cult leader who is in control of the wasteland’s last remaining water supply.  This leader called Immortan Joe acts as a dictator who keeps most of the water for himself and gives his followers just enough water to keep them wanting more.  He also keeps multiple wives locked up solely so they can have his babies.  The plot kicks into gear when one of Joe’s trusted drivers named Imperator Furiosa attempts to help the wives escape by hiding them in the hidden compartments of her giant war rig, which is a heavily armored tanker truck.

fury-road-insetAfter being captured, Max is put to use as a “blood bag” for one of Joe’s diseased followers and he is strapped to the front of one of the trucks when they head out in pursuit of Furiosa.  Max, of course, escapes and is about to take what’s his and leave this craziness behind, when he once again proves that he is a sucker for a good cause.  He joins up with Furiosa and the wives in hopes of helping them reach the mythical “green place” and escape their overlord for good.

Fans of the original three films in the Mad Max series will quickly recognize a world that they have come to know and love.  The movie immediately sets up a tone and environment that perfectly fits into the Mad Max universe.  That means stunning post-apocalyptic desert landscapes, characters that look like something straight out of a drug-induced nightmare, and vehicles souped-up and decked out with deadly-looking armor and skulls.  The pursuers even have a vehicle completely dedicated to musical accompaniment, complete with a heavy metal guitarist strapped to the top.

The movie is essentially one two-hour long action chase scene.  There are brief sequences in between the action where the stripped-down story is moved along and characters are fleshed out some, but moments later we are rushed back into the vehicle stunt-laden action.  It works very well.  There is just enough story to lend some weight to the action and the pacing keeps the audience glued to the edge or their seats.

There are hundreds of stunts in the movie and although a few feel like something you would see at an amusement park stunt show, the majority of the stunts are mind-blowing and sure to generate some positive exclamations from the audience.  It has been reported that 80% of the stunts you see on screen are real and only 20% of the effects are computer-generated.  This is a mind-blowing fact to have in the back of your head when you watch this movie as there are dozens of “How did they do that?!” moments.

Tom Hardy seemed like the perfect choice to play Max Rockatansky going in and there is nothing about his performance in the movie to change that opinion.  The real star of the show, though, is Charlize Theron as Furiosa.  She is tough, determined, and the little bit of backstory we get about her makes her the character we want to root for, even more so than Max.  Theron has long been one of our best actresses and her performance in this movie ranks right up there with Sigourney Weaver in the Alien franchise when it comes to action heroines.

Mad Max: Fury Road is every bit the thrill ride it should be.  It takes the formula established in 1981’s The Road Warrior that emphasized over-the-top car chases, stunts, and ornately dressed villains and introduces it to modern audiences in a very exciting way.  Of all the updates, reboots, and long-in-the-making sequels Hollywood has given us in the past few years, this is one of the best.

Mad Max: Fury Road opens today at the AMC Southcenter 16 and AMC Kent Station 14. Won’t it be nice when Des Moines has its own theater again? Eat local before you go!

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