Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)
What a lovely day.
Back in 1979, director George Miller introduced the world to ‘mad’ Max Rockatansky in the film Mad Max, an independent Aussie flick that catapulted Mel Gibson to stardom as the righteous titular, leather-jacketed drifter. Although the third film in the ‘then’ franchise, Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome (1985), was generally met with positive reviews, it didn’t match the universal acclaim that was bestowed upon Miller’s second outing, Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior (1981). While some had hoped Max would one day return to the heights of his Road Warrior days, he was last seen dashing off into the horizon in Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, and for years it seemed as though we had seen the last of Max and his journey through the foreboding Australian wasteland.
Some years later, it was announced that series creator George Miller had a script ready for another Mad Max installment. But alas, the project was fraught with many problems. After going through several different iterations, including a scrapped 2003 film starring Mel Gibson and Robert Downey Jr., and an animated Akira-inspired picture of sorts, audiences are finally treated to a fourth Mad Max exploit, the spectacular Mad Max: Fury Road. It’s questionable whether this new feature exists as a partial re-make or a sequel, either way, Mad Max: Fury Road feels like the perfect continuation to the Mad Max series as we, once again, find ourselves following the angst ridden protagonist through his ravage post apocalyptic nightmare. With Tom Hardy, Lawless (2012), replacing Mel Gibson in the now ageless role of Max Rockatansky — a character who has almost become eternal — and a director who is clearly thrilled to be returning to the franchise he created some 30 years earlier, Mad Max: Fury Road is a ferocious triumph of exhilarating action, grotesque imagination and crackpot playfulness.
Haunted by his turbulent past, Road Warrior Max Rockatansky (Tom Hardy) believes that the best way to survive in the war-torn land is to wander alone. Nonetheless, when we first meet Max, he is captured by a cancer-ridden cult of white-painted, crusty-skinned ‘War Boys’ and taken to their home, the Citadel — the most fortified stronghold in the Wasteland — a kingdom where hordes of disheveled worshipers are ruled by a god-like dictator, Immortan Joe — Hugh Keays-Byrne who played the gleefully psychotic Toecutter in the original Mad Max film — a skull-mouthpiece wearing freak who chains Max up and uses him as a human blood bank to revitalize his injured soldiers. Max is locked up and rendered as livestock and his vehicle is restored in the city workshop. As it turns out, all the women in the Citadel are sexually enslaved and bred solely to provide breast milk and nutrition for a chosen few, while the tyrannical Immortan Joe keeps the best looking ladies locked away in his quarters for reproduction purposes.
When Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) — a War Rig operator who’s determined to wreak revenge for her past suffering — smuggles Joe’s prized ‘Five Wives’ — The Splendid Angharad (Rosie Huntington-Whiteley), The Dag (Abbey Lee), Toast the Knowing (Zoë Kravitz) Cheedo the Fragile (Courtney Eaton) and Capable (Riley Keough) — out of the Citadel, the enraged Warlord marshals all his gangs in a ruthless pursuit of the rebels in order to reclaim his precious ‘stolen’ cargo. Max is dragged into the madness when a young War Boy, Nux (Nicholas Hoult), uses him as a blood donor, tying Max to the hood of his car in an awfully ironic ‘Bane’ looking mask while draining Max’s blood into himself via an intravenous tube. As luck would have it, Max escapes and eventually crosses paths with Furiosa. At first, Max just wants to be left alone, but the pair reluctantly team up in search of a ‘green’ haven while they fight for survival in the high-octane Road War that follows.
With an amazing bunch of trailers and mastermind George Miller revisiting familiar territory, expectations for Mad Max: Fury Road were admittedly sky high. In an era of green-screened blockbusters and by-the-numbers studio productions, this daring continuation of Miller’s Road Warrior films is simply astounding. Not only does Miller bring us back to his ravage, decimated world, but he also does it with style. Apart from footage of a nuclear blast at the start of the film, little is known about the global catastrophe and the history of the wasteland in Fury Road, as we are instantly thrown into a harsh environment where food and water are in limited supply. Similarly, when we first meet Max, he is periodically being haunted by visions of dead people who might be victims that he’s failed to save in the past or his family, either way, it’s never made clear.
Regardless of the ambiguous back-story, Fury Road introduces viewers to a crazy, highly detailed, rich post-apocalyptic world; nearly 150 Frankenstein-esque cars, trucks and bikes were handcrafted for the film, with every driver having their own personalized steering wheel; a symbol of worship for the War Boys. Then there’s the mobile stage, where the now popular guitar player, the disfigured Doof Warrior (Australian musician iOTA) — who looks like a Cenobite from the Hellraiser films — spurts flames from his instrument whilst riding a gargantuan vehicle surrounded by speakers. Furiosa’s War Rig is just as intimidating and resilient as its driver while Max’s Interceptor has been revamped and weaponized to wreak even more havoc in the brutal Australian battlefield. The freakish War Boys — who sport bald heads, tattoos, scarification, and full body-paint — are constantly seen shouting, ‘I live, I die! I live again!’ before spraying chrome-colored paint on their mouths then wreaking vehicular carnage, killing themselves during combat in the hope of an idyllic afterlife in Valhalla, similar to the ancient Vikings. Miller’s unwillingness to play by the present-day Hollywood conventions is a testament to the picture’s success as he continually goes against the grain throwing toothy chastity belts, disturbing mutant half-breeds, functional yet freaky contraptions and other such oddities at the screen, even if some of the film’s best moments only last mere few seconds. While this might not sit well with the conservative multiplex folk, Miller’s bold uncompromising vision stands as the picture’s greatest asset.
Additionally, the film’s environment plays an important part in illustrating the feature’s devastated landscape. Even though the picture was initially set to be filmed in Broken Hill, NSW — the original location for Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior — heavy rainfall transformed the landscape and production was moved to the deserts of Namibia; a wise decision. With its vast open planes and rocky terrains, Miller — along with supervising colorist Eric Whipp, Happy Feet Two (2011) — has crafted a vibrant, high contrast hyper-real world reminiscent to the early giallo works of Dario Argento. Given that a large chunk of Fury Road takes place during a central supercharged car chase, the film’s kinetic action and rampant anarchy never lets up. This is made even more impressive given that the majority of the feature’s remarkable stunts and adrenaline fueled crashes were achieved via practical means. Distracting CGI is at a minimum here with Fury Road marking a return to real car smashes, excellent stunt work and the thrill of believing what’s up on screen and wondering how they managed to successfully pull it all off. Moreover, Mad Max: Fury Road never feels like it was assembled on a computer, nor does it come across as a video game cut scene, as this scorching spectacle is palpably real, totally organic and fully alive.
Although Fury Road features very little dialogue, much of the film’s exposition happens between the heart-pumping mayhem; this serves as a quiet break where viewers can recoup and catch their breath. With that said, the entire cast of Fury Road truly deliver with everyone immersing themselves into this heavy metal, toxic fever dream. Tom Hardy is fantastic as the detached, angst-ridden loner Max, adding humor and charisma to the role; much like Mel Gibson did in the previous three pictures. In spite of this, Hardy’s Mad Max takes a backseat as Theron’s Furiosa — a one-armed butt-kicking machine — takes center stage for the majority of the picture; she is arguably the main character in the film. Here, Charlize Theron, Monster (2003), commands the screen with her compelling performance as the fearless rebel Furiosa, breathing vigorous life into the most exciting sci-fi protagonist since Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley from Alien (1979). Hugh Keays-Byrne is terrifically terrifying as the revolting demigod Immortan Joe while a fantastic Nicholas Hoult, Warm Bodies (2013), adds a child-like charm and a surprising amount of depth to the conflicted Nux, a character looking to find purpose and meaning in his life. It’s through Nux that viewers see the rambunctiousness of youth.
Second tier players are also uniformly great; model-turned-actress Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Transformers: Dark of the Moon (2011), is refreshing as the ad-hoc leader of the Five Wives, elsewhere John Howard, Young Einstein (1988), is wryly amusing as the gruesome People Eater whereas Nathan Jones — who I had the privilege of meeting at the premiere of his last picture, Charlie’s Farm (2014) — is fierce and ferocious as the seven-foot-tall man-child, Rictus Erectus, Immortan’s oldest son. Quentin Kenihan is well cast as Corpus Colossus, a mature intellect encased in a child’s body, but it’s Melbourne-born model Abbey Lee — ditching her family name of Kershaw after starring alongside fellow Aussie Megan Gale in Fury Road — who really stands out as the bright white haired, wide-eyed, observant wife, The Dag. In addition, look out for Angus Sampson, Insidious (2010), as the Organic Mechanic, who is involved in one of the flick’s most shocking and callous scenes.
Mad Max: Fury Road isn’t just a bombastically riotous road trip however, as the picture aims to tackle some weighty issues without ever sidelining its action, in turn breaking the mold of the Hollywood norm. In his film, the 70-year-old Miller comments on the effects of planetary disaster along with religious fanaticism, tyranny, ‘choosing compassion over cruelty’ and the futility of war. Furthermore, what looks to be a testosterone-driven blockbuster is actually a badass feminist romp, with most of the male characters taking a back seat, allowing the women to propel the narrative forward. In this world, the men are brainwashed breast-fed zombies, ruled by a malefic God, while the beautiful and brutal women who inhabit the land are the picture’s moral center, entrusted with the job of fixing their broken world; Miller states, ‘the men do the damage but the women restore humanity.’ The notion of human objectification, particularly towards women, is also prevalent throughout the film; the messages written on the walls in the large bank vault where Joe keeps his wives — including the statement ‘We Are Not Things’ — make a very blunt statement about seeing and/or treating an individual as an object rather than person. In this unforgiving world, literally everyone has been reduced to an ‘item’ who is only valued for their utility. Despite the fact that few words are spoken in Fury Road, the film is deep visual storytelling at its best.
The thunderous, orchestral and somewhat operatic score by composer Junkie XL, Divergent (2014), amplifies this thrilling gasoline laced actioner, practically turning the flick into an almost divine experience whilst the stunning imagery by Oscar-winning director of photography John Seale, The English Patient (1996), adds visceral complexity to the savaged backdrop. Perhaps my only minor gripes with the film are its overused fade-outs whereas my inner gore-hound wishes that Miller had delivered a little more in terms of blood soaked splatter, but that’s just me being overly nit-picky.
A weird and wild thrill-ride, Max Max: Fury Road is a tremendous technical cinematic achievement, one that works as a relentless throwback to the deranged pictures of yesteryear. Simply put, Fury Road is an absolute blast; it’s pure unadulterated insanity. With an incredible cast, full-throttle edge-of-your-seat action and a talented director who never undervalues his audience, Mad Max: Fury Road is, hands down, the best film of 2015 thus far. Let the madness consume you, this flick’s a game changer!
5 / 5 – Don’t Miss!
Reviewed by Mr. Movie
Mad Max: Fury Road is released through Roadshow Entertainment Australia