I'll be up front, I have been excited for this film for a very, very long time.
I wrangled a ticket to a public advanced screening last night, May 6th, so I have no qualms about sharing my opinion. Real-D 3-D screening, which is not something I would probably have paid for (the film is post-converted), but, hey, it was free.
Oh, man, I am so glad I got in.
This is going to be the film to beat, as far as I'm concerned, this Summer. It is the very definition of a "thrill ride," and some of the strongest action filmmaking I've seen in years. George Miller, almost 70 years old, and away from live-action filmmaking for almost 20, re-asserts himself as a master of the form without a snag. This is a director's film, without a doubt, and Miller falls seamlessly into the style and tricks that have defined this franchise since he created it (I laughed out out loud at every shot undercranked to up the speed of everything, or the quick dissolves to black at the end of scenes), and yet embraces every bit of the new tech available to him. The film is pure cinema, energy, motion, and visual splendor.
Yes, there is CGI in this film. More than I hoped, but Miller has used it in the service of augmenting live stunt work. We see real cars smashing into each other, but CG men caught and ground under the wreckage. There are a few shots that fall into the "this was put together on green screen" feel that was so pervasive in Avengers: Age of Ultron, such as about anything involving the traveling music/soundtrack that Immortan Joe brings along on his hunt. The use is, to me, tasteful and understandable. In the main, you are seeing real stuntmen doing really crazy shit with insane-looking vehicles in the middle of the desert. If we're not; the effects are even better than I'm giving them credit for.
Plot-wise, Miller has not been exaggerating much, at all, when he says the film is a "two hour chase scene." I was shocked at exactly how fast this film moves. There is no exposition, really, at all. There is a brief voice-over from Max (Tom Hardy), vaguely sketching out the world, and then...literally moments into the film, before the title appears, you are into a full-on chase. The nature of the world, and Immortan Joe's (Hugh Keays-Byrne) enclave, just sort of piles up higher and higher. The film is content to have the audience put their own pieces together.
The film is clearly a reboot, with Max's iconic V-8 Interceptor, destroyed in 1981's Mad Max 2/The Road Warrior, back in action at the start of the film. There are also flashbacks that Max experiences that seem to be about his family, but do not jibe, at all, with what was portrayed in 1979's Mad Max. Yet, even as I watched it, and knowing that the script started with the intent of returning Mel Gibson to the role he originated, I could see threads that suggested this film would fall after 1985's Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome.
What I mean by that is this franchise has presented a post-apocalyptic world that has devolved and evolved in a very interesting and linear way. Mad Max presented a world on the verge of collapse, with forces of order fighting, in vain, to keep society functional. The Road Warrior was after those efforts had failed, and humanity had re-entered a tribal phase. Thunderdome allowed us to see a very medieval city-state, based around commerce and fudal thinking.
Fury Road goes one step further, as adeptly as the best Star Wars films, just piles on throwaway detail after throwaway detail, without stopping to explain, until the world simply feels undeniably clear and undeniably real. Humanity has clearly become more and more adept at replacing what's been lost (ammunition, fuel), and within this world, Immortan Joe's enclave is a dictatorship based on religion. A religion that's never overly explained (but nothing really is), but clearly trades on Norse mythology (Valhalla is invoked over and over), and ritual suicide in battle (presented as a sure path to Valhalla, and marked by spray painting one's mouth silver). Joe maintains control of the peasantry by parceling his supply of fresh water.
He also hordes a lot of other resources. The how and why of all these things, is parceled out through the narrative. There really is never any "oh, that's why!" explanation. He's after a lot of stuff, blood (we discover Max is O-Negative, a perfect donor), mother's milk, and women. Women who might bear him a "perfect" - i.e. unmarked by the ravages of a post-apocalyptic world - son.
And it's this that really drives the story, because Max, despite the title, is not the real protagonist of this film. That would fall on Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron), it's this character, and her journey, that defines the conflict, and the film itself. Max's role falls into the "Han Solo"-type second lead. He's a survivor, out for himself, who is changed by meeting the Imperator and her cargo.
(I am being intentionally vague here - plot details are easy enough to find if you wish to, but I prefer to allow you to discover them yourself while watching the film.)
The plot is dead simple. So simple that I'm sure that there will be audiences who think it has none. Plot is not important here, theme is. There is no complicated set-up, we know what everybody wants, we know who wants it, and why. What's left is action, and I don't mean that in the sense of things slamming into each other, although that is central - it is a Mad Max movie. What I mean is that the themes of this film, which are deep, compelling, and progressive, are defined wholly and completely by what the characters DO, not by talking about it. Theron, who is masterful in the film, shares everything the audience needs to understand about how she feels about Immortan Joe's society in the way she drives her war rig, and the hardness of her stare.
The film is, in a very, very real way, the ultimate expression of a thesis I have long held to, in that these pulpy, simple stories are the most powerful way to make specific, powerful points about our society now than many, many other formats. They do not have to be stupid, George Miller has crafted an epic action film the like of which we have possibly never seen, and at every turn he is saying something about us and our world right now. In a world where Michael Bay can have robots slam into each other nonsensically, and where the final battle of an Avengers film can be reduced to a series of shots that seem like random and disconnected moments of flash, and it's deemed "good enough," Miller has taken the concept of the car case and made it sing. The characters are compelling, the action motivated and clear, the geography understandable, and the deeper meaning of it all right there, if you want to consider it.
This is the film of the summer, creatively. I left this film as thrilled and entranced as when I watch Raiders of the Lost Ark, which, for those that know me, is just about the highest praise I can muster. I honestly can't tell you if a wide audience will embrace it. It's exceptionally thrilling, and I had definite moments where I could feel the audience, en mass, catching their breath. However, it's also filled with Hard-R brutality (not gore, thank goodness), and the story moves so quickly that I wonder if our society, sadly disinclined to think, or figure things out on their own, will embrace it.
I so hope they do. This film deserves the widest audience possible.