I know I’m late to the Mad Max: Fury Road party. I’m actually not as late as this review’s date implies – I did see it last year, albeit at home and not on the big screen; luckily, my local independent theater screened it last weekend and gave me the chance I missed.
Familiarity with the earlier Mad Max entries does prepare you somewhat for Fury Road, although the latest pushes the previous films’ aesthetic much further. If you’re not on board with deformed mutants and post-apocalyptic vehicles, you’re probably not going to like this movie – my wife wasn’t and she didn’t. But if you can look past the insanity that is writer/director George Miller’s vision, you’ll see the best action movie in recent years.
It’s been widely reported that Miller set out to make Fury Road a silent film, and he often quotes Hitchcock’s dictum that a Japanese audience should be able to follow your film without subtitles. It’s fitting that two of his inspirations are so old-fashioned, because Fury Road is a surprisingly old-fashioned film. While there are a ton of edits (2700, according to an excellent article by Vashi Nedomansky at Vashi Visuals) and the film is almost non-stop action, everything remains coherent largely due to well-framed shots, consistent screen direction, and the clear geography that Miller, storyboarder Mark Sexton, DP John Seale, and editor Margaret Sixel (Miller’s wife) sustain. So many other touches work to blend classic film grammar with a hyperactive ASL: long takes, practical effects, fade outs, music that actually complements the action on screen, even undercranking during some action sequences (making Miller’s silent movie inspiration clear).
Clearly, seeing Fury Road on the big screen is an experience. But as great as it was, I actually found myself appreciating the story as much as the action. Maybe I was too overwhelmed by what I was seeing the first time (those are actual stuntmen jumping actual motorcycles over an actual truck), or maybe I was let down yet again by my terrible sound system. Whatever the cause, small moments like Nux’s final “Witness me,” which were lost the first time around, were much clearer this time.
In other words, the first time I saw Mad Max: Fury Road, I thought it was cool. The second time I saw it, I realized it was great. I think I may have found 2015’s best picture.