Director: George Miller
Starring: Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron, Nicholas Hoult, Hugh Keays-Byrne, Zoe Kravitz, Rosie Huntington-Whitely, Riley Keough, Abbey Lee, Courtney Eaton
In the thirty years since Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome other franchises – chiefly the Fast and Furious – have laid claim to the car chase, but with Mad Max: Fury Road, George Miller returns not only to show us that Max is still king of the road, but that a singular creative vision can elevate the action film to the level of high art.
Mad Max 2 (released in the US as The Road Warrior) is generally accepted as the high point of the original trilogy, and that is the film Fury Road uses as its departure point. Fury Road effectively takes the final third of Mad Max 2 (one of action cinema’s great sequences) and makes a whole movie out of it. And it is incredible. Having been captured by the Warboys, the fundamentalist followers of Imortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne, who actually played the antagonist, Toecutter, in the original Mad Max) Max finds himself caught up in a brazen escape plan as Imortan Joe’s most celebrated and trusted driver, Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron), uses one of his war rigs to liberate his harem of wives, leaving the Citadel and making a break for ‘the green place.’
A simple narrative means minimal exposition, which makes Fury Road a refreshing contrast to many contemporary blockbusters which require a great deal of explaining and backstory. Fury Road is effectively one big, two-hour chase, but Miller has managed to incorporate beats and breaks within it so you don’t tire, you get a moment to take your breath, and so we still learn about characters. He has described making the film as being like directing a silent movie with sound and music, with much of the narrative information and character development being delivered through action rather than dialogue.
Fury Road has been in the pipeline for over a decade. Mel Gibson was to return to his iconic role, but the project was delayed, he became swept up with Passion of the Christ, and then other things made him no longer a safe name to hang a major blockbuster on. And so we have a new Max in Tom Hardy. While it must be said that he doesn’t nail the Australian accent, he fills the leathers admirably. Hardy has a Brando-like quality to him, combining a brutish masculinity with an emotional rawness and sensitivity. So while Max doesn’t say much in this film, we get a real sense of his emotional progression, as he goes from being motivated by nothing more than his own survival, to finding a moral purpose in the quest to save these young women.
Max Rockatansky has always been a drifter, a post-apocalyptic Western hero who wanders in from the wilderness and ultimately returns to it. Rather than being the central figure, he is a character who constantly finds himself caught up in someone else’s story. Here he plays second fiddle to the imposing Imperator Furiosa, and Fury Road becomes very much Charlize Theron’s film. Furiosa is tough and determined, and kicks some serious butt, but Theron succeeds in giving her an incredible emotional core. Undeniably feminine, but not restricted or defined by her gender, Furiosa will surely find her place in the pantheon of action heroines.
Unlike George Lucas when he returned to Star Wars after an extended layoff, George Miller has managed to perfectly tap back into that part of his imagination where Max resides and rediscover the unique magic of this series. With a budget said to be in the vicinity of US$150m, Fury Road is on an entirely different level to any of the previous films in the series (the original Mad Max had a humble budget of AU$400,000). Yet despite this grander scale, the beating heart of an exploitation movie remains. Shooting in the Namibian desert rather than the Australian outback makes the film look even more post-apocalyptic; its saturated colour-scape of oranges, yellows and browns bringing a vibrancy that is atypical of cinematic dystopian representations. The amazing detail and imagination evident in the iconic punk production design and costumes is something to behold. Miller has also worked out how to use the advances in digital technology to enhance the film without compromising the vision. With a strong emphasis on practical effects the film doesn’t try and defy the laws of physics, and the result is a constant flow of jaw dropping, how-did-they-do-that moments.
Coursing with adrenaline, the kinetic Mad Max: Fury Road is a singular vision. While there are obviously important collaborators working here (none more so than production designer Colin Gibson and costume designer Jenny Beaven), this film is undoubtedly the product of one man’s imagination. After seventeen years away from live action film, George Miller’s return is a bona fide action masterpiece.
Review by Duncan McLean
Have you seen Mad Max: Fury Road? Leave a comment and let us know what you thought.