Mad Max; Fury Road is the work of riveting untainted vision. George Miller appears to fully realise his vision of the post-apocalyptic world he created decades ago as he serves up a portrait of hazy grit, corroded intensity and most importantly, humanity, as we look for something, as an audience, to latch on to.
I think of George Lucas and how he tried to realise this vision of the universe he created but ultimately botched the Star Wars franchise with what he thought was the gift of technology. He completely ripped the soul out of his much-loved films (Han shot first!). Miller, now 70, is also working with his love child, which was originally basically an Australian exploitation film, but he retains that heart and cheapness in a gimmicky way by delivering a film that is essentially a two-hour chase scene at heart, albeit one that is outrageously over the top and totally justifying of the mammoth 150 million budget.
In the titular role originally played by Mel Gibson, we have Tom Hardy as Max Rockatansky, well worn and beaten by the world we are introduced to. Max is a survivor of the global catastrophe that has ravaged earth and made oil, water and bullets rare commodities with violence the only thing in ready supply. Right from the get, we see him captured by minions of the primary villain and dystopian Darth Vader, Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne). It appears the only purpose he is to serve is an organ donor and emergency receptacle for Immortan Joe’s war boys as he is taken to the Citadel where Joe rules over a despairing and oppressed populace with his stranglehold over the supply of water.
The Max we meet seems to be the one already formed by Miller’s previous three films seeing as this is almost a sequel and a revisit of the original films are in order to understand the character better. Max, in his words, “runs from the living and the dead” and hyper flashbacks of his deceased family ensure he has a haunted soul to go with the purgatory around him.
He really is a mad Max here with his blank persona and jittery inner workings buttressed by Millers tweaked frame rate below 24 p/s for frenzied effect that pushes home how unstable Max is. By the end, the one image of Max that absolutely sticks is that of our hero strapped to the grill of a car, like the Jaguar insignia, with an iron muzzle as he has these Spider-like murmurings going on amidst some insanely intense action. He is also serving as a mobile blood bank for the barely recognisable Nicholas Hoult as Nux – bonkers.
Despite the title, the film really doesn’t look to delve into the iconic character of Mad Max Rockatansky as it has the utmost confidence in its predecessors to do all that. Instead, the film’s heart is with someone else. Some describe post-apocalyptic or dystopian films as innate reflections of their time and you can look to some the works of Terry Gilliam and how they reflected the rigid bureaucracy and state prying of whence or Paul Veerhoven’s darkly comic cynicism towards the corporate machine with Robocop.
We happen to be in the era of empowerment and breaking the shackles (feel free to use the f word) and Miller introduces to us a character in the mould of Ellen Ripley and Sara Connor decades before her; the terrifically named, bionic-armed Imperator Furiosa. Furiosa is played with magnificent grit and understated intensity by Charlize Theron who does tremendously well to bring Miller’s depiction of maternal strength and conviction to life.
When the film’s plot shifts into first gear, we come to learn that Furiosa has escaped with a group of women described as breeders for Immortan Joe and they are en route to a utopia Furiosa calls the “Green place”. It is almost surreal to have this central character in such a cynical world with an endearing humanist drive which is probably more scarce than oil, water or bullets and it really doesn’t take much doing to fully invest us in her travail at redemption as she sparks the most insane chase sequence in cinematic history.
Make no mistake about it, this film is literally a two-hour chase sequence and it fully earns the adjective Fury Road. Miller’s set piece is filled with deliberately ridiculously eccentric components with the convoy of rusty chunks of iron racing through the desert after Furiosa, armed with grenade lances among other ordinances At the heart of this convoy is the conspicuously outrageous presence of a truck with percussive modifications and scores of amplifiers with a rabid strap-on guitarist just rocking away with all the craziness going on around him – bonkers!
This chase almost turns into a cracked church service with Immortan Joe overseeing the communion of rabid road rage, exhilarating stunts and visceral action set pieces. George Miller proves to us action fans deserve more than the lowest common denominator CGI fare even if big money is being spent. He employs the use of CGI not make the film flashy and childish but more tenacious and primaeval with the effects never appearing to interfere with character as everything is conducted with such deranged grace as this opera races on to an unknown finish line.
Fury Road showcases the power of vision as this epic eruption of crazy manages to captivate whilst providing heart to this narrative that gives meaning to the unbelievable spectacle on screen amidst some dark bouts of humour mostly woven into the incredible action scenes. Using the term “action scenes” almost feels like a tautology because this film in itself is one long action sequence with brief moments of respite to help us reflect on the levels poignancy provided us.
Some people have been crying out for action on the scale of the Marvel or Transformer type movies whilst also never pandering to the masses instead daring all to not be blown away the invention, emotion and kinetic action. We get just that in Mad Max; Fury Road.