The initial spotlight for this particular movie was apparently all in the visuals. Miller used the Australian wasteland as a backdrop and wanted to emphasize its vibrance as a contrast to other bleak, pigment-washed post-apocalyptic films. He completed the storyboards for the film before starting on the screenplay, and he worked extensively with cinematographer John Seale (who came out of retirement for this film) to make the movie, primarily, beautiful to watch. To do this, he honed in on dynamic colors, had Seale frame every shot so that the main action was in the center of the screen so the audience wouldn't have to work too hard to see what was going on, and slowed down the frame rate of the film whenever he felt that it was going too fast to clearly understand what was going on.
Mad Max deserves every single endeavor for us to recognize it visually: eye-popping stunts that are made only more impressive by the knowledge that they're all practical, car chases up the wazoo, and flames coming out of a guitar-wielding minion are only a few things the eyes can feast on. There are beautifully framed shots and the theatrical sets would make illustrators of 300 weep to behold. No, you don't have to have seen the previous Mad Max movies to enjoy and understand this movie. But what it does help to know is the sheer immensity of the stunts, some that required so much intricate set-up that it allowed only for a minute or two of filming per day.
The visuals are only a slice of what makes this a great movie pie, however. The titular character is as brusque as ever, but Tom Hardy is easily likable and as charismatic as a gun-toting stranger in a classic Western. Charlize Theron absolutely shines in her role and she is arguably the driving force and narrative protagonist of the movie. Miller proves time and again in this movie that an appreciation for visuals and style doesn't have to come at the cost of character development, nor does it have to force a distress on a damsel in order for a satisfying vengeance or rescue arc. Nicholas Hoult more than holds his own in acting mettle, creating both a believable antagonist as well as a sympathetic character.
All of the characters actually give an aura of a well-fleshed, breathing existence. Miller doesn't baby us with backstory or exposition. The movie itself starts without fanfare, and the first we hear of some character names isn't until the credits. What Miller understands though is that we don't need it. We get the gravity of a human life by how they act in the movie, not because we're fed a few paltry lines about their upbringing, or because they're described to us by another character. Miller is the master of showing vs. telling.
Mad Max holds its own and exceeds any other movie of its genre, or indeed of the past decade because it combines simplicity with a keen eye for detail. The story and underlying ideas are simple, but Miller brought in unconventional ideas and talent to take it beyond a simple action movie with his storyboarding and even his decision to use wife Margaret Sixel as a film editor, who initially balked as she had never edited an action movie before Miller explained that that was exactly why he wanted her. His dedication to the viewing experience isn't merely limited to cinematography or editing, but in the incredible detail of vehicles, costumes, makeup -- most of which were done by actors. Even characters such as the aforementioned flame-thrower guitarist (who reported that his guitar weighed in at a whopping 132 pounds) were given extensive backstories.
But despite all the possible complications and all the strenuous work given into the detailed reality of it, Mad Max is foremost a joyous romp. It's enjoyable from start to finish, and I relish the opportunity to revisit it and lavish in the details of the world-building and its visuals again. The more I read or hear about it, the more I respect the endeavor and eagerly await my next viewing experience.