Mad Max: Fury Road
In a cinematic landscape where every movie series of notable mainstream or cult popularity is being resurrected instead of left for dead, one figure has emerged as a shining light amid the darkness of Ridley Scott reboots and kingdoms of crystal skulls. His name is George Miller, his character is Mad Max, and his world is fire and blood.
Against all odds, Miller’s return to the post-apocalyptic universe that made his directorial name (he helmed and co-wrote all three of the prior Mel Gibson films) arrives as an invigorating jolt of demented originality despite its predecessors’ influential legacy. It makes the other Mad Max films seem, in retrospect, like demo reels for the kinetic rush of this chase epic.
Tom Hardy is the new Max, a lone wolf ex-cop in a hopeless desert dystopia, whose sole instinct is simply to survive. He finds himself captured by an army of pale, diseased male soldiers, who serve a tyrannical megalomaniac (Hugh Keays-Byrne) with delusions of deity grandeur, one who rules a mountain stronghold through harvesting his people like fuel. The madman’s one-armed lieutenant, Imperator Furiosa (a magnificent Charlize Theron), has had enough, and drives off into hostile territory with the ruler’s prized concubines in tow. A suicidal army of twisted metal monstrosities driven by Valhalla-seeking nutjobs is quickly in hot pursuit, and Max naturally gets caught up in the carnage and helps to aid the women’s dash for freedom.
With its go-for-broke approach to the blockbuster model, Mad Max: Fury Road feels like both a young man’s film (throwing in everything a mega-budget can provide, lest the helmer never see its like again) and that of an old hand (Miller just turned 70) who knows how to make the controlled chaos still coherent, and knows when to calm things down to let one linger in the nightmarish beauty of his sustained freak show, which, to the unfamiliar, could be described as what Terry Gilliam might make with a Marvel movie’s budget. Miller’s film is a welcome anomaly as one of those weird, expensive juggernauts that usually only endure in storyboard form as mementos of what could have been (e.g. Jodorowsky’s Dune), except this one somehow got made.
Fury Road operates as a stand alone entity that requires no prior experience with Max’s previous exploits, though there are a couple of hints for series fans to indicate that the story comes before that of the second film. Indeed, part of its strength is how, with complete clarity of vision despite the riotous nature of its set-pieces, Miller’s visual storytelling gets across everything you need to know about this world and its players with dialogue kept to a minimum, and little of it expository; though some of the interesting feminist subtext of the piece may admittedly be lost with dialogue extracted, Fury Road can plausibly be watched on mute and still retain most of its power. It’s lean, economic action cinema at its finest, like Stagecoach by the way of sci-fi.
Not that you’d want the film on mute, since just as much greatness comes from the film’s sound as it does from the visceral, incredible action scenes on display, pretty much all of which are done for real with minimal CG intrusions except for occasional scenery flourishes (e.g. a fiery sandstorm). Junkie XL’s roaring score of drumfire gets the blood racing alongside John Seale’s hyper-saturated cinematography (please do not see this in colour-dimming 3D). Just about the only real complaint is Tom Hardy’s fluctuating accent, which veers from Australian to his Bane voice to, briefly, his Bronx accent from The Drop. It’s not like he talks much, though, and you could write it off as being because ole Max is a mad bastard – a mad bastard served up by a mad master filmmaker.