Mad Max: Fury Road picks you up from the very first scene and never once lets you go; tossing you from side to side, gripping like a rabid dog, until it’s good and done with you, which only happens by the very last scene.
If you know the original Mad Max films then you’ll be familiar with the post-apocalyptic landscape here. If not, then you’re thrown straight in and never given more explanation than ‘things went wrong on Earth and now things are wrong on Earth’. People chase other people, catch them and either rob them, kill them or imprison them. There’s an evil dictator, replete with an army of suicidally devoted followers, who exploits what resources remain and enslaves the masses; enter also various other desert dwelling factions with equally Machiavellian aspirations. All of which is old hat to anyone who’s seen Beyond Thunderdome. And, even if you haven’t then there’s never really enough time to stop to think or question what’s going on anyway before another vehicle blows up or someone’s face gets ripped off.
The action is innovative and incredibly entertaining, despite the violence and high body count, managing to make a spectacle movie energetic and even genuinely kinetic; a far cry from some of the more sedentary formulaic blockbuster franchises abounding our silver screens since the renaissance of superhero movies engulfed the box office at the turn of the millennium.
Here Tom Hardy‘s eponymous hero is a narrow blend of homage to Mel Gibson‘s original ’80s portrayal and, well, some Tom Hardy-isms. He’s a beguiling presence, in that he is so powerful on screen but strangely silent, beyond even his limited participation in the script and ‘silent brooding type’ characterisation. There isn’t all that much script for him to participate in anyway, with the majority of the film’s 120 minute duration being rammed full with vehicular warfare and exquisitely choreographed mayhem. This only lends itself to Charlize Theron staking her own considerable one-armed claim to being the lead and stand out performance in this picture.
The relationship between her aptly named Furiosa and Max is one of the few familiar narrative threads to grab onto amidst, what can only be said to be, the most explosive and thrilling car chase sequences in movie history. That relationship runs something like this: girl meets boy, girl nearly kills boy, boy escapes, boy nearly kills girl, then, not too slowly, boy earns girl’s trust and boy and girl become friends and allies. Maybe more than friends. But it’s in this ‘maybe more than’ area that their relationship fails. They are compelling as a duo fighting against evil but never once does any believable chemistry ignite between them. Probably for the best, what with all the gas and nitrous flying around. And make no mistake, this is one seriously petrol-headed movie with all shapes and sizes of oil-guzzling monstrosities careering across the dusty expanse that forms the bleak backdrop to this world.
Nicholas Hoult does nothing but solidify his stature as an ever improving Hollywood A-lister. His Nux is the embodiment of the story’s moral message: to change bad to good through self sacrifice. His journey from devout brain-washed believer to enlightened emancipator means he has a lot to play with here, in perhaps his biggest outing to date, but he handles it all well, getting the tone of grotesque pantomime and serious action blockbuster commendably correct. You would be forgiven for feeling that his character, along with all the others, and the plot as a whole, seems rushed and incomplete but let’s just get back to what this film actually is: an action movie. And a very stylised and cinematic one at that.
The combination of computer generated imagery and real life stunt work is nothing short of stunning and almost perfectly balanced; the CGI enhancing what’s actually happening instead of distracting or detracting from it by being overly ambitious or complex. The special effects are so special because when you really have twenty trucks screaming across the desert trying to destroy one another, then it just looks awesome. Well, it does in the hands of director George Miller anyway.
Miller wrote and directed all of the original Mad Max films and has done something not many filmmakers get to do: re-imagined his own crazy vision from the last millennium, with all the aids and improvements technology can offer him in this one. He never gives a quiet moment to catch your breath and soak in the story. But that is surely the point. A point beautifully and fantastically realised cinematically by Miller, who is still a pioneering visionary albeit very much within his own genre.
The portrayal of women is somewhat questionable, with Rosie Huntington-Whiteley leading a harem of beautiful and scantily clad young girls, adorned in white and revered for their beauty and purity. But then you have the amputee-shaved-head Theron, who goes a long way to resetting that imbalance of gender stereotyped roles. It’s good to see a strong badass female lead; good in fact to see so many women on screen, there’s even a wonderfully deadly biker gang of grandmas!
Mad Max: Fury Road is compact, relentless and uncompromising. Its flaws are ultimately its strengths: it knows exactly what it is and just does a really good job of being exactly that. Visually stunning and whole-heartedly entertaining, Max may well be mad but he’s a hell of a lot of fun with it.