Mad Max: Fury Road
Australia/US (2015) Dir. George Miller
I admit I’m a little late to the party with this film. Australian writer-director George Miller returns to the franchise with which he made his name, whilst also breaking its star Mel Gibson, who made three films in the title role, after thirty years. This fourth entry in the Mad Max franchise however does not feature Gibson but continues with the themes of survival in a post-apocalyptical world.
Part reboot, part continuation of the original saga the story is set in the wake of a nuclear holocaust leaving the world as a desert wasteland. Controlled by the despotic Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne), the army known as the War Boys capture nomadic survivor Max Rockatansky (Tom Hardy) and use him as a blood source for sickly soldier Nux (Nicholas Hoult).
Immortan Joe sends his top lieutenant Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) and her squad to collect some gazzoline (petrol) but she veers off course with Joe’s wives hidden in her truck. The War Boys are despatched to bring them back with Max strapped to the front of Nux’s car as his blood supply. After an explosive battle, Max is forced to team up with Furiosa and the Breeders to make it safely to the haven of the Green Place.
Truth be told I genuinely don’t recall if I have seen the first two of the original Mad Max films (I did try and watch 1985’s Beyond Thunderdome but gave up as it was dull and confusing) so I have no point of reference pertaining to whether the paucity of an actual storyline is par for the course. Not that the majority of the audience would be watching this for the plot anyway.
For almost two hours the emphasis is on the action and the mayhem created as the ragtag escapees do battle with the War Boys across the expansive Namibia desert. At one point the action is non-stop and we have what seems like a continuous car crash as the 140 vehicles used for the film are gradually whittled down one by one in an epic demolition derby with bonus fireballs!
During the rare moments of inertia the runaways share some exposition to contribute to the sparse dialogue present and a gradual camaraderie is formed although the trust factor takes a while to develop but it is not long before another round of explosive conflict rears its head. Beyond themes of freedom and redemption this is not a message kind of film so sit back and enjoy the ride.
Interestingly the title character is almost a bit player with the plight of the wives and Furiosa being the major focus with Max as the added muscle; not hired muscle mind, as Furiosa is bad ass in her own right (her left arm is missing often replaced by a metal strap on substitute), handy with a firearm or her fists as well as skilled driver.
The moxie and defiant spirit of the five wives (Zoë Kravitz, Rosie Huntington-Whitely, Abbey Lee, Riley Keough (Elvis’s granddaughter!) and Courtney Eaton) suggests a feminist undercurrent to the film. Despite being previously cooped up to be breeders for Immortan Joe they are not weak willed maidens and will fight their freedom; the fact they are dressed in skimpy clothing and shown hosing each other down in soft focus slow motion undermines this a little.
But again this is about the visual spectacle and it is remarkable to note that this film follows in the tradition of its predecessors and relies more on practical stunts over CGI, with computers only responsible for visual enhancements and the odd green screen moment. Cars flip over and roll, actors fly about on high poles and fly off vehicles moving at a high speed.
The setting might be futuristic but the overall aesthetic and technology is very much 20th century with a steampunk veneer. The vehicles look like monsters with spikes, wings, poles and rockets adorning them – one houses a small stage with giant amps where a guitarist churns out rock riffs on a flamethrower guitar (which KISS did back in the 70’s)!
Costumes are largely minimal for most of the War Boys with white painted skin, black eye make-up and a punk rock vibe while the more bizarre misfits are like a psychotic Cirque Du Soleil as directed by Takashi Miike. Inside Joe’s citadel, a monumental Babylon-esque structure, large woman have their breasts connected to long tubes and milked like cows in scenes Terry Gilliam might have animated during his Monty Python days.
After many years in “production hell” (dating back to as early as 1995) the delay was in many ways quite fortuitous as modern technology enabled director George Miller to truly let his imagination and realise these amazing ideas. Advanced cameras such as the Edge Arm gives us some incredible sweeping shots of the deserts along with breathtaking roving shots of the moving vehicles, taking us deep into the heart of the action.
Whilst I can’t compare Tom Hardy to Mel Gibson, I assume Gibson had more lines in his films as Hardy rarely speaks, but his Max is a man of action and in that respect, Hardy’s quiet intensity serves him well. Hugh Keays-Byrne is hidden behind a mask as Immortan Joe who some might recall played the villain Toecutter in the first Mad Max film.
I’ve never been fussed about Charlize Theron but she deserves credit for her commitment to the physicality of the role of Furiosa. Nicholas Hoult is also very good as the manic zealot Nux.
As far as visual spectacles and explosive blockbusters go, Mad Max: Fury Road is one hell of a kinetic ride, a veritable cornucopia of bombastic mayhem and vehicular-based madness. At the time of writing this film received a Best Picture Oscar nomination and while I don’t rate its chances George Miller can be pleased with the fact this onslaught on the senses has raised the bar for epic action adventure films.