Why Mad Max: Fury Road is the Gearhead Movie of the Century

Mad Max: Fury Road

I wanted to give you all time to see it, but I can’t. If you haven’t quaffed Mad Max: Fury Road yet, if someone with longer nails than you dragged you to Pitch Perfect 2 this weekend instead (despite the fact that the former is the more girl-friendly movie), quit your job now and drive quickly to the nearest airport-sized cineplex. It’s summer. They have matinees on weekdays. It’s not too late. Because this is, in fact, the most important car movie of the 21st century, and we need to discuss why, and I can’t be babying you against spoilers. I’ll be here when you get back.

Tom Hardy’s Max Rockatansky opens the film with a soliloquy about how he’s a man reduced to a single instinct: survival. Max and I aren’t so different. Director George Miller only lived by one instinct as well when he made this movie: excitement. I’ve slept on this assessment, and as a long time student of the action genre, I’m confident in saying that Fury Road is the most relentless action film since Die Hard, and the most visually striking since 300. Inject those qualities into your throttle body with proper ratios and you have a masterpiece of adrenaline cinema.

Mad Max of old was exciting for its day, too. Just before going to see Fury Road on Saturday I rewatched part of the chase scene from Mad Max 2, known in our hemisphere as The Road Warrior. And it was still brilliant action. No one had done anything like it at the time. A battle at 70 mph? Fury Road took that concept and made an entire movie of it. Back then The Humungus and his band of mohawked bondage slaves chased down Max and the Good Guys to get access to an oil tanker. The old movies were all about oil. These days we’ve switched over to water, with Fury Road‘s villain, Immortan Joe, controlling his diseased people by dripping them an existence from his limitless supply of underground water. California can relate.

Mad Max: Fury Road

Was this altered in order to account for the astronomical horsepower count and forest of flamethrowers we experienced on screen? Not really. The lack of water plays into the plot later. But even though the calculators among us might ask where all the oil came from, we have to remember that the franchise has never been thrifty with oil. A newcomer might ask why The Humungus and his thugs chase down Max’s tanker in four-ton muscle cars rather than Ford Festivas if fuel is so scarce. That inconsistency is part of Mad Max’s thesis. You burn fuel to get fuel, because life is short, and if you’re going out, it will be while you’re hunting for more speed, not while you’re starving to death.

There was a moment of bliss in Fury Road when I realized that George Miller and his production team, who built and rebuilt 88 unique and insane rat rods for the film, could strike a chord that resonated not only with my action film fan self, but my gearheaded nature, as well. I could trust these people. Charlize Theron’s Furiosa hints at the specs of the War Rig, her six-wheeled semi. “You’re sitting on two thousand horsepower of nitro-boosted war rig.” It’s pure fantasy, of course. Building a 2k engine in an age when your diet mostly consists of twin-headed lizards and breastmilk? It’s awesome, but silly, like the Fast and Furious films. It wasn’t until later, when I learned that the War Rig has not one, but two V8s (a configuration Joe’s cult worships with fanatical fervor), that my inner gearhead could trust Miller again. That’s doable. That’s what it would take to make this happen, and Miller understands us. Coma the Doof Warrior gets it.

Mad Max: Fury Road

Who is the Doof Warrior? He’s that ghoulish guitarist, strung up on bungee cords in front of the ultimate Marshall stack, occasionally spewing real flames from his custom, double-neck Fender. Production Designer Colin Gibson calls him “the biggest little drummer boy in the world,” theorizing that since every army needs someone to facilitate the rhythm of battle, and since you couldn’t hear anything over all the straight pipes in Joe’s armada, they needed someone big and loud and visual. The flame thrower is just part of his character, and extension of his gratuitous nature. Gas is scarce, so flame thrower guitar.

It makes no sense, but we get it anyway, don’t we? Just this morning I saw a headline about how gas prices are starting to climb back up out of their spring slump, a return to the normalcy of the gradual extinction of huge internal combustion. There is a practical closet in each of our brains that coaxes us toward the needs of hybrid travel, of the economy of the bicycle commute and the desire for a decent passenger train system. Gas is expensive, and we all have road trips to take this summer.

But when we hear a Hellcat, do we really care about any of that? Were we any less excited to see the debut on Saturday morning of the new, 455 hp Camaro SS? (More on that later.) Did we stop comparing it to the new Mustang GT, trying to decide which we would someday buy? By the Gates of Valhalla, no! Strip away all the PR, the lawsuits, the budgets, and the pseudo-enviro lacquer and we’re all War Boys with Deuce Coupe dune buggies and ratted XB Falcons and Cadillac Gigahorses. Our spears have grenades at the tips and we draw faces on our tumors.

Mad Max: Fury Road

One hundred years from now, civilization will probably not be dead. We probably won’t be scratching across the desert, nursing our irradiated mutations. Instead we’ll all be sleeping along in our traffic jam of self-driven electric golf carts, drawing our sole worth from our Like Counts. And even in that year, when the V8 will be included in federal school curricula as the great villain of history that started wars and melted ice caps, Mad Max: Fury Road will still exist as a manifesto for the lost greasers, those of us who were willing to cut through the Snapchat interference and TMZ wax and utterly useless Facebook political debates to focus on a single instinct: survival. Not just survival of the body. We’re hydrated and fed. They keep us alive. Survival of the soul- feeling as we did at Saturday drags, at Track Night in America, and the first of many times we saw Fury Road.

On to the sales bit: If the survival of your soul includes building your own post-apocalyptic, off-road hot rod, something we can definitely recommend, here’s some parts we suggest. Gibson (no, not Mel) makes some brilliant exhaust elements that are not only loud enough to scare the tumors off of your rival warlords, they also free up some much-needed horsepower. And unlike the side pipes on Max’s XB, they’re street legal. Whatever they’re driving, the War Boys always have huge, wide wheels. That’s fine in the Dead Lands, where the MFP is long extinct and the only policeman is your stomach, but here we have rules, and your wider wheels need to be covered. Thankfully, Bushwacker makes some fender flares that not only look awesome and cover your wheels, they’re tough enough to survive the Great Oil Wars. Those tires are usually hooked up to some super tough suspension, not unlike the stuff from ARB‘s Old Man Emu brand. It’s tough to kill and Australian, just like Max. ARB also makes some killer bumpers and grille guards, great for tying your blood bag to. But let’s not forget raging horsepower. You need all you can get out in the open, and MSD‘s high-tech ignition boxes can improve timing and throttle response.

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