30 years after leaving Mad Max stranded in the mediocre wasteland of Beyond Thunderdome, director George Miller finally takes a break from dancing penguins and talking farm animals to reignite the franchise that launched him (and Mel Gibson) into the global zeitgeist. But has Mad Max: Fury Road come three decades too late, fated to be ignored by the Fast and the Furious loving crowd of 2015? My review after the jump.
Following a global cataclysm that destroyed society as we know it and claimed the lives of his family, ex-cop Max Rockatansky (Tom Hardy) roams the desert sands of post-apocalyptic Australia, haunted by hallucinations of those he failed to protect. Max soon stumbles upon Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron), a fearsome warrior in thrall to Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne): a disfigured, despotic warlord who holds court over a massive fortress known as the Citadel. Furiosa has commandeered one of Joe’s war rigs and is fleeing to her homeland with the Five Wives, young women kept by Joe for the purpose of bearing his children. Vehicular madness ensues as Joe leads a fearsome force of his War Boys in order to reclaim what he believes is his.
Along with the release of The Raid, The Raid 2, and John Wick in just a few scant years, Fury Road has convinced me that we are living in some sort of action movie golden age, the likes of which hasn’t been seen since the glory days of Die Hard, Lethal Weapon, and the early careers of John Woo and Arnold Schwarzenegger. Fury Road manages to both pay tribute to the initial trilogy of Mad Max films, while completing eclipsing them in almost every way possible. Staging impossibly jaw-dropping scenes of vehicular violence the likes of which have never been seen in any motion picture, George Miller’s insistence on using real, fully functional murder-vehicles is both admirable and slightly, well, mad. Every crash, explosion, and vehicle flip can be felt in the bones and whenever metal tears sickeningly into metal, one marvels at the fact that the soft-spoken, genial Miller is a 70-year-old ex-doctor from Queensland.
The film doesn’t skimp on character, setting, and world-building either. Furiosa is a triumph – a hardened, no-nonsense survivor with a robotic arm and a burning will to make a better life for herself and the five women she is trying to protect. As played by Charlize Theron, Furiosa will go down in history as one of the action genre’s finest examples of a female heroine, alongside Sarah Connor, Ellen Ripley, and Trinity. This is a character who is tough, self-reliant, and compassionate in that quietly confident way true heroes are. You can tell with every headbutt and punch thrown that she can absolutely take the worst that the apocalypse can throw at her. Her initial scuffle with a chained Max which involves the Five Wives is tense, brutal, and extraordinarily inventive.
Speaking of Max, Tom Hardy delivers an effective, laconic performance. Though it can be argued that this is another example of the Dark Knight effect striking again – the main hero being overshadowed by another, more dazzling performance – it must be remembered that this is in keeping with most of the original trilogy. In both The Road Warrior and Beyond Thunderdome, he was a lost, wandering soul who always ended up embroiled in the struggles of desperate bands of survivors, slowly regaining his fractured humanity in the process. This is no different in Fury Road, and though not given a whole lot to do, Hardy’s screen presence and hardened exterior do Mel Gibson proud. His valiant attempt at an Australian accent is also worthy of respect.
The world-building is also the best that the series has seen thus far. Immortan Joe’s Citadel consists of a series of nightmarish caverns that Max is chased through in one of the film’s effective opening scenes, as well as all sorts of weird and wonderful characters I won’t spoil. His is a kingdom where virtually everyone, warrior and peasant alike, is suffering from some sort of radiation poisoning, in a world that has presumably been ravaged by nuclear fallout. Everywhere, these sort of neat embellishments serve to place us deep in a world that feels lived in, and makes logical sense within the confines of the story. The world of Fury Road is one that is beautifully realised, nightmarish and utterly compelling. As for Immortan Joe himself, one of the film’s flaws is that we don’t really get to see him in action beyond his pursuit of Furiosa and the Five Wives (surely the name of a future, metal band). That said, Hugh Keays-Byrne (who makes a very welcome return to the series after playing the villainous Toecutter in Mad Max back in 1979) boasts a frightening and memorable skull-masked visage that would be right at home at the Halloween party from hell. It’s just a shame his villainy didn’t quite live up to his awesomely over-the-top appearance.
Over-the-top is indeed the right phrase to use to describe this movie. As a film that features a guitarist on top of a truck seemingly made up of amplifiers and drums who blasts both awesome power chords and jets of flame from his double-necked guitar, Mad Max: Fury Road is delightfully, unashamedly bonkers. A thrilling chase movie drawing inspiration from westerns, Fury Road is George Miller’s magnum opus: a furious, non-stop adrenaline rush that is probably the finest example of the post-apocalyptic action genre that Miller pretty much created way back in 1979.
By Johnson Hii
Director: George Miller
Writer(s): George Miller, Brendan McCarthy, Nick Lathouris
Starring: Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron, Nicholas Hoult
Runtime: 120 minutes
Release date(s): Australia & New Zealand: May 14 2015; USA: May 15 2015