Mad Max: Fury Road

Posted: May 24, 2015 in Film reviews

Directed by George Miller. Starring Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron and Nicholas Hoult.

mad-max-fury-road

The world has been devastated by nuclear war. In the post-apocalyptic wasteland that remains a lone drifter, Max (Hardy) is captured by scavengers and taken to a bizarre settlement called the Citadel run by the tyrannical Immortan Joe and his army of fanatical War Boys. Designated a universal blood donor Max is earmarked to provide a transfusion for sick a war boy named Nux (Hoult).

Meanwhile one of Joe’s most trusted warriors— Imperator Furiosa (Theron)— is driving a heavily armoured war rig to the nearby Gas Town to collect fuel. Instead she veers into the desert and Immortan Joe realises why when he discovers that his wives, five beautiful women, are missing.

Joe sends his entire army after Furiosa, including Nux who straps his human blood bag Max to the front of his car. In the initial confrontation Furiosa eludes Joe’s forces, but not before Max manages to escape and join her.

Locked into an uneasy alliance, can the one armed Furiosa and the monosyllabic Max fight off the continued attacks of the War Boys, and the other savage denizens of the wasteland, and will they be able to find sanctuary in the mythical “Green Place”?

Though really very different animals, Mad Max: Fury Road and Fast and Furious 7 do have something in common (beyond fast cars and wanton destruction) in that both franchises began life as low budget exploitation films, yet both have morphed into big budget action blockbusters.

Of course the Fast and Furious franchise has had a pretty consistent run with a new film coming along no later than about three years after the last one. With Mad Max however we’ve had something of a gap given that Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome was thirty years ago (now I feel old) and this long interlude, coupled with Tom Hardy replacing Mel Gibson as Max, makes this film hard to quantify in relation to the original trilogy, is this a sequel, is it a reboot, or is it a “reimagining” (I’m never quite sure what the difference is between reboot and reimagining other than the latter being seen as a softer description of the same thing, less likely to enrage fans of the original). Although Max has flashbacks to his daughter, I’m inclined to go with reboot, if only for the recasting.

I wouldn’t say I was a huge fan of the first three films, but I am a fan. For a long time my view would have gone something like this. I wasn’t keen on the first one, I really liked the second film, and had fond memories of the third, even going as far as to own Tina Turner’s single! A few years ago I got the DVD box set cheap and watched all three again. The second one remains my favourite, and in hindsight the first is actually rather good, however time hadn’t been as kind to Thunderdome, so it was probably my least favourite film before I saw Fury Road…

…and I think I can safely say it remains my least favourite because Fury Road is good, maybe not quite great, and certainly not ‘teh greatest action movie evah!!’ that some are touting it to be but it’s good.

It’s also, in the hands of George Miller, most assuredly a Mad Max film. It’s utterly mad, utterly bonkers. Miller has always worked on the premise that if civilisation fell the only ones able to survive would be the people who, to some extent, go insane, and the denizens of Immortan Joe’s kingdom, and Joe himself, certainly fall into that category. From humans used as blood banks to women kept inside vaults, from the Viking inspired loony-ness of the War Boys to the utter preposterousness of the vehicles on display, each of them an insane modification of one or more existing vehicles in a way that would void any manufacturer’s warranty.

The cars are a wonder to behold (and it’s so nice to know they’re real rather than computer generated) and it’s just as well because we do see a lot of them. I wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s a two hour chase movie…but the action is quite unrelenting at times and though quieter moments exist they are mere interludes between bouts of carnage.

It took me a while to get into the film, the first action scene is undoubtedly good, but by this point we have no real sense of any characters given Max and Furiosa don’t say much. Only Nux seems fully formed, and then only as a crazy fanatic, and my view has always been that action works best when we have a sense of the characters involved, when we can empathise, or at least understand them. That’s what makes something like Die Hard such a great action film, because we’re able to get a handle on who John McClane is before the shooting starts.

Once the first clash is out of the way though, things get better. Theron is able to flesh Furiosa out and once Max removes his muzzle and pulls his leather jacket back on Hardy looks and feels more like Mad Max.

Much has been made of the fact that Theron has more lines than Hardy, but it isn’t like Gibson’s version of Max was exactly garrulous. Max has always been taciturn, and while you could make an argument for Theron being the true star of the film, I think it would be fairer to call it a two hander, and both are good. Theron manages to make Furiosa tough yet also vulnerable, a woman who’s been forced by circumstance to do terrible things yet who hasn’t quite lost every bit of her soul (and on a side note I have to say I loved the effects work on her arm, it’s easy to just cgi half an arm and leave the rest of the arm working perfectly, but even her stump is limp and useless, it’s a really nice touch).

Hardy doesn’t quite have the same presence of Gibson, but then Gibson wasn’t following anyone else in the role. His accent is a little strange as well, and at times when he’s got a muzzle on Max manages to be even less coherent than Bane! But where Hardy and Theron excel is in the nonverbal communication, every glance between them seems heavy with meaning, from initial wariness through grudging respect and into something approaching trust and they make for a very effective pairing, even when they’re not talking (and often they’re at their best when they’re not trying to engage in deep and meaningful conversations.)

This leaves Hoult as the touching, yet manic Nux. He perhaps goes through a little too much of a journey in terms of how fanatical he seems at the start, but Hoult’s a good enough actor that he pulls it off—still amazing to think he’s the boy from About a Boy (I imagine he’s tired of the comparisons by now as well.)

The plot is pretty basic, and there’s nothing here that’s really that new for the franchise. Immortan Joe and his army are just a riff on Lord Humongous and his followers from Mad Max 2, and the Citadel is just a more extreme version on Bartertown from Beyond Thunderdome. In fact the start of Fury Road seems very similar to BT, although I imagine a lot of the similarities were intentional homages, it’s nice to see Max’s police interceptor, the non-functional double barrelled shotgun is a nice touch too, and I wonder if Furiosa’s kill switch deactivation code is the same one Max had on his interceptor? Miller’s presence makes this sort of unique as reboots go, and it works both for and against the film. On the one hand this isn’t a 30 years later retooling that urinates on the original, but it also doesn’t do anything that’s new, unless you count the scale, because this is far grander than even Beyond Thunderdome was.
It’s too long for what it is, the plot’s simple A-B stuff, and Immortan Joe’s supermodel wives stretch credulity a trifle, but it looks spectacular, with Namibia standing in for the outback (which was ironically too lush at the time of filming) and the sweeping desert vistas, giant sandstorms and murky marshland at times look like another planet. It may be derivative of the other Maxes but it still looks very different to a lot of modern blockbusters, and Theron, Hardy and Hoult are on good form.

It’s probably not great, but it’s definitely good, and it’s most assuredly MAD!

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Comments
  1. Mim says:

    We keep meaning to watch this but haven’t got round to it – it’ll probably be out of the cinemas before we do. Everyone’s recommending it, though.

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