Mad Max Fury Road

Academy Rewards “Mad Max: Fury Road”

A film that includes a post-apocalyptic wasteland, breakneck action, and was actually a huge summer blockbuster that thrilled mainstream audiences is not usually considered an “Oscar film.” But on Jan. 14, when this year’s 88th Academy Award nominations were announced, Mad Max: Fury Road wound up with 10 nominations, just second behind The Revenant and its 12 nominations. These nominations weren’t in minor categories, either; the film racked up nods for Best Picture, several visual and sound categories including Best Cinematography, and Best Director for George Miller.

So Fury Road is not your typical Oscar bait, unlike competitors The Big Short (with a large A-list, award-friendly cast) or The Revenant (made by a director still riding high off success from last year’s Oscars and starring a little-known actor named Leonardo DiCaprio, gunning hard for an Academy Award). So why such overwhelming success for a hard R-rated action film that was released all the way back in the month of May? The simplest answer: Fury Road is a ridiculously fun, wildly ambitious ride that neither mainstream audiences nor critics could resist. 

Fury Road is set up as a sort-of sequel, or as director Miller called it, a “revisit,” to the Mad Max franchise that once starred Mel Gibson in the titular role. Picking up in the middle of a desert wasteland, the audience is led by Max Rockatansky himself, played now by Tom Hardy, as he unsuccessfully tries to flee the War Boys, the insane army of men under leader Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne). Connected to and used as a blood bag for War Boy Nux (Nicholas Hoult), Max is dragged on the Fury Road with Nux and the War Boy army when Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron), a lieutenant under Joe, goes rogue on a routine trip with his five imprisoned “brides.” With the help of Max and the brides along the way, Furiousa aims to find safety for herself and the brides at the “Green Place.”

When one thinks of elements that make Fury Road so successful, its hard not to first think of its action. Miller, who directed the first two Mad Max installments as well as both Happy Feet films and Babe: Pig in the City, ushers in each big action piece and never lets the audience go before they are thoroughly exhausted. Most of the action takes place on the Fury Road, the long expanse of desert that almost never seems to end, in one long car chase with Furiousa’s big rig. Everything is beautifully shot, never making the camerawork nauseating and even making car crashes and explosions look alluring.

Miller also successfully establishes the universe in Fury Road. Even for those who have never experienced the Mad Max series, it is easy to understand the situation and story while still being swept away in this strange world. We learn that nothing is too outlandish in this landscape, with a guitarist and accompanying drummers on a truck providing background music for the army, the War Boys spraying silver spray paint on their mouths in bouts of excitement, and much more.

One area that Mad Max: Fury Road was not rewarded for at the Oscars was its acting. Hardy’s Max is solid, and he is a reliable actor that can easily play the brooding, silent-type of action leads, if unremarkable due to the character being less interesting compared to his counterparts. It’s a disappointment that Theron lost out on being nominated for her role as Furiousa, where she commands the screen in every shot and is arguably the main protagonist who drives the story forward. Theron shows Furiousa to be undeniably strong and capable, but not one-dimensional. The character is not afraid to break down and allow herself to be vulnerable, and Theron manages both sides to Furiousa skillfully. Hoult as Nux is also fantastic, yet underappreciated. For an actor whose known for his work as a child and in quiet, supporting roles, its remarkable to see him as a soldier who transforms from trying to prove himself to Joe to realizing he may be in the wrong. Hoult is incredibly impressive at making Nux more than just a wild War Boy, proving that the actor could be more than just a supporting actor in the future.

Despite it being a strange choice to be the top contender at the Academy Awards, one could not possibly be disappointed. The fact that a fun, mainstream blockbuster has gained critical recognition helps push the Oscars closer to relevancy, especially in regard to what many audiences are watching and are interested in. Mad Max: Fury Road is fantastic in any regard, and hopefully the Oscars on Feb. 28 recognize that.