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Well, I Saw It: A Review [MAD MAX SPOILERS]

Mad Max: Fury Road, I mean.

And my nerves are still jangled and I’m thrilled and impressed that George Miller has returned to form thirty years later. The first Mad Max was a gonzo movie made on a shoestring budget that plucked some kind of nerve and found a wide audience. With that success behind him, and with a lot more money, Miller made The Road Warrior, a diamond-pure action fable of survival in a cannibalistic world.

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If you’ve never seen it, it’s pretty much all on the Tubes of You:

After that came Beyond Thunderdome, which seemed to take the approach that more weirdness, more characters, more, more, more of everything was the answer. It was a bit of a topheavy mess, to my eye, and I tended to put it into the NEVER REALLY MADE box with Godfather III and any of the Alien movies after Aliens. Although Tina Turner was pretty awesome, okay, I’ll give you that.

And then we waited thirty years. George Miller is the Kate Bush of moviemaking.

There is occasionally a slight veering in that direction in this newest incarnation. There are a few too many oddball characters who have a few offbeat, curious lines while wearing crazy outfits before they get fed into the meat-grinder. But that, I sense, is Miller’s enthusiasm. He probably has long bios of each of these characters and knows them in and out and hated having to cut any backstory that would make them make more sense in a two hour and ten minute movie.

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Tom Hardy steps into Mel Gibson’s shoes entirely effortlessly. Max was always a bit of a cipher, a victim, reactive, and he captures that same haunted, scarred persona so much that I quickly just forgot this was a role that Gibson made iconic. That’s not easy, so props to both him and Miller for the switch. I found it really interesting that they seemed to be emphasizing the mental trauma Max has undergone, the hallucinations, the PTSD. When Americans hear “mad” they tend to think “angry,” unlike, I think, our Commonwealth friends. This time it was not in doubt that Max was not mad angry, he was mad seriously mentally disturbed.

There are some wry moments for longtime fans of the series as Max seems intent on being outraged by the theft of his iconic trappings. “THAT’S MY JACKET!” he shouts as he wrestles back his trademark leathers from the War Boy who has stolen them, and “THAT’S MINE!” as the last of the V-8 Interceptors appears alongside the war rig in the hands of the War Boys. We feel for Max; these are the things that defined him. But we also sense Miller giving us a bit of a wink.

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Charlize Theron doesn’t need to steal the show, as it’s handed to her on a platter. But she takes that offer and runs with it with alternating ferociousness and calm that are both utterly compelling. She’s got the star turn here, and, in the final shots, when we see Max ducking back away into the crowd as she ascends to... what? redemption, perhaps? we know that.

The sly, gently suggested undercurrent of eco-feminism that has our MRA friends wetting their pants in fear was just icing on the cake. “Who killed the world?” is the message the renegade “breeders” scrawled on their wall when they fled. And the answer is clear: men, with their warlords and their dick-measuring contests. And it’s left to women to try and save seeds in a satchel, in hope for future generations.

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Great fun, great characters, go see it if you like action movies at all. And I could see it appealing to even those who have no interest in standard action fare. Because this isn’t anything close to standard. I see they’re in production for Mad Max: The Wasteland. Before tonight I wouldn’t really have been enthused about that. After tonight, I very much want to see what Mr. Miller’s fantastical mind can come up with.

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