Director: George Miller
Starring: Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron, Hugh Keays-Byrne, Nicholas Hoult, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Zoë Kravitz
“My name is Max. My world is fire and blood. Once, I was a cop. A road warrior searching for a righteous cause. As the world fell, each of us in our own way was broken. It was hard to tell who was more crazy – me, or everyone else.”
Mad Max: Fury Road throws you right into its crazy world from the very beginning. This line, growled by the ever-impressive Tom Hardy, who’s taken up the mantle of being “Mad” Max Rockatansky (previously played by Mel Gibson), introduces us to the post-apocalyptic wasteland, which is bright, almost blinding at times, dry, desolate, and utterly mad. You can smell the oil, feel the heat, understand the insanity of George Miller’s modern masterpiece of a blockbuster immediately, and it never stops moving at a million miles per hour.
Fury Road is set in a future where gasoline and water are more valuable than gold; if you have seen the previous three films in the franchise this will all be very familiar. Here, Max finds himself captured by a cult called the War Boys, led by Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne). He eventually joins forces with Charlize Theron’s Imperator Furiosa and together they attempt to flee Joe and his army in an armoured rig.
The film itself takes place sometime after the third installment, Beyond Thunderdome, but it doesn’t get tied down with what happened before. George Miller, who created the franchise and directed the previous entries, has explained that he sees Max much like a Bond character: he can be played by any actor and doesn’t have to be tied down by prior story arcs. This helps the film a great deal: firstly, we forget Thunderdome entirely, which was certainly the weakest of the original trilogy, and it also helps the uninitiated understand what the hell is going on. Fury Road is a complete reintroduction into the Mad Max universe; it just drops you in and just lets you run with it, fast.
You know, hope is a mistake. If you can’t fix what’s broken, you’ll go insane.
Fury Road is a game-changer in the blockbuster world. Miller understands that these films need to have something more than huge explosions and great big monsters or robots hitting one another – you need some kind of investment in the story, something to latch onto emotionally. He manages this by making his two lead characters feel like real people and not just caricatures. Both Hardy’s Max and Theron’s Furiosa are dealing with problems that we can recognise and to some extent relate to. Living in a sexist society, having to deal with the everyday struggle of simply surviving in the world in which we live. It’s a tough world out there, not as tough as the Mad Max universe, but not far off.
The fact that Max isn’t actually the main character in this film is an interesting and bold choice; it’s Theron’s tough and dogged Furiosa who steals the show. She brings to mind Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley in the Alien franchise, a strong leader who can kick some serious ass, despite only having one arm. The film is really about her, and her struggle to help Joe’s ‘wives’ escape to the ‘green place’ in hope for a better future, one where they don’t have to worry about being a man’s possession.
In an industry that has been male-dominated since time immemorial, it’s wonderful to see a Hollywood action film that puts its female characters first. The wait has been a long one but we finally made it, and the result is spectacular. That isn’t to say that Hardy isn’t great as Max, because he is. He’s able to convey a remarkable amount of emotion through a single grunt, and his screen presence is such that it makes it impossible to take your eyes off him. It’s just unfortunate that he spends a good chunk of the film behind another mask and strapped to the bonnet of a moving car. He seems to like masks a lot.
Oh, what a day… what a lovely day!
It’s also fantastic to see the return of Hugh Keays-Byrne to the Mad Max franchise; he previously played the Toecutter in the original film. In Fury Road he plays an even more twisted and power-hungry tyrant in Immortan Joe, an almost Darth Vader-like character. Immortan Joe is almost just as iconic looking with his white hair and impressive mask. He’s another character who commands the screen through presence and charisma, and you can’t help but want more of him.
On a visual level Fury Road is stunning. The bright cinematography offers a nice break from the dark and dingy films we have come to expect from Hollywood over the past few years, and the desert setting offers the perfect backdrop for some of the most impressive car chase scenes ever to appear on screen. It makes Fast and Furious 7 look pedestrian. Miller’s use of practical effects and live action stunts, as opposed to bucket-loads of CGI, makes for a completely visceral experience. Many filmmakers will likely see this as the next step; often in order to progress you need to take a look at what came before, and practical effects are the best way forward.
It’s impressive that despite a nearly 30-year break from the action genre, Miller still has far more to say and far more to offer than most other directors working in Hollywood today. He has matured as a filmmaker and created a masterpiece. His Mad Max universe has expanded into something truly amibitious, and we all hope that he’s given the opportunity to expand it further in the sequel, which as already been announced. If you haven’t watched it yet, what’s stopping you? Go now, straight to your nearest cinema, and watch it on the biggest screen possible.