Over the past few weeks, I’ve anxiously awaited the release of the first new Mad Max movie in thirty years. And, after seeing it, I can do no less than wholeheartedly recommend it to everybody with two hours and ten dollars to spare. The fact that it’s awesome is pretty much a foregone conclusion by this point, begging the question of how well it stacks up against the other movies of its franchise? Is Fury Road as good as the perennial favorite The Road Warrior, or does is settle somewhere around Beyond Thunderdome. Simply put, just how good is the latest installment of this dystopian Australian action series?
4) Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome – While I appreciate what Beyond Thunderdome was trying to do, it simply didn’t work in the way that it was trying to. It admittedly did a great job of fleshing out the series’ initially ad hoc post-apocalyptic premise into something of collective wasteland, but the praise simply has to stop there.
Great ideas like Barter Town, Thunderdome and a plane-worshipping cult were wasted in an unfocused script that tried to divide its attention equally between all three ideas. Beyond Thunderdome didn’t know if it wanted to be a dystopian Western in the vein of The Road Warrior, a glorified chase movie like the first Mad Max or something altogether more ambitious. It relied far too much on characters that the movie never bothered to properly develop, under-utilized its titular lead and in a third act twist begged us to care about children for no more reason than the fact that they were in fact children.
Beyond Thunderdome is an interesting footnote for franchise completionists, but leaves very little for the casual fan to enjoy. There’s simply not enough action to hold this action movie together and not enough characters that you actually care about. Although interesting, it’s a pretty easy movie to skip, especially if you’re only now getting into the series.
3) Mad Max – Although this is the movie that started it all, fans of what the franchise later became with The Road Warrior will find few similarities between the two movies. The dystopian dressings were simply tagged onto the script in order to make its then-outrageous levels of violence more believable to the casual movie-goer. There are chases, explosions and an uncannily young-looking Mel Gibson, but not much else besides that.
When it really comes down to it, however, that’s all that this movie really needed. Sure, it’s plot is a pretty thin revenge story that doesn’t kick in until act three, but it’s a frenetic, action-packed ride until then. While Max Rockatansky is far from fleshed out, he’s never quite so dull as to lose the audience’s interest. In short, the movie is just good enough and just exciting enough to keep you engaged until the credits start rolling.
As far as chase movies go, Mad Max is pretty standard. Nothing about it, other than the franchise that it would spawn, is especially good nor interesting. It has a few inventive chases, yes, but basically just functions as an extended back story for its title character that other movies were able to sum up in a sixty second voice over. You’re not really missing out on too much by skipping this one, but you could do a lot worse for yourself than checking it out.
2) The Road Warrior – For decades, this was the dystopian movie to beat. You can keep your Maze Runners and Divergents. You could even keep your Hunger Games if I had to choose between them. The Road Warrior is – or at least was – the gold standard of dystopian cinema since 1981.
When it really comes down to it, The Road Warrior worked not because it was a revolutionary window into futures yet to come, but because it was a great story steeped in the traditions of the past. When all is said and done, The Road Warrior transformed a glorified chase scene of a franchise into an especially dark take on the Western genre: where a man with no name takes sides against warring locals and ultimately disappears into the wilds from whence he came.
It’s a great action movie with a fantastic array of physical effects and practical chase scenes, steeped in an archetypical plot of greed and savagery. It singlehandedly solidified the tenuous grasp that Mad Max claimed to its post-apocalyptic premise proved that there was more to Gibson’s character than a wife and child to avenge. If not for Fury Road, The Road Warrior could safely rest on its laurels as the dystopic future to beat.
1) Mad Max: Fury Road – While I had high hopes for the latest Mad Max movie, I never once thought that it would beat out The Road Warrior to become the best that the franchise had to offer. But looking at it in the context of the franchise, there can really be no other option. Fury Road is the apotheosis of post-apocalyptic action movies: the standard against everything else will doubtlessly be judged for decades to come.
Fury Road is as single-minded in its purpose as the first Mad Max movie but, unlike its antecedent, it is absolutely outstanding in its execution. So many action movies nowadays splice in comedy or romance into its narrative. And while I’m certainly not against this practice – just look at my obsessive love of Age of Ultron for proof of this – it does dilute those movies’ aims.
Fury Road isn’t just an action movie: it is the action movie. Its singular purpose in life is to bring high octane thrills to the big screen. It’s loud and gritty an something explodes every five minutes, and yet it will doubtless to prove itself as one of the best movies of the summer for it, maybe even of the year. It’s a stalwart testament to old school action movies that is nothing short of revelatory in this day and age.