2015 | US | Directed by George Miller
Logline: After escaping the clutches of a fascist leader, a desert survivalist teams up with a rogue and her cargo, and together they attempt to outrun their brutal pursuers.
After the red dust has settled, the pounding drums and shredding guitar have quieted, the turbine engines have wound down, and the machine gun magazines have been exhausted, we can finally marvel, ponder and chew on George Miller’s post-apocalyptic opera. It’s been a long time coming, a long trek across the desert, and now it’s time to wrestle with Miller’s magnus opus.
We’d been praying that he was out there, somewhere, in the Wasteland, the Road Warrior, “Mad” Max Rockatansky, the ex-highway patrolman, whose life was torn to shreds when a ruthless gang ran down his wife and baby daughter as they tried despretely to escape. Those were in the early days of the collapse. But it’s been many years now. Max’s patrol car bears little resemblance to the Interceptor that he once used as a lawman. Now, in the stark, unforgiving desert beyond the ruined cities, Max’s souped-up vehicle is his only anchor, his battered refuge, his metal shell.
A two-headed lizard for breakfast, scouting the horizon, and boom, the War Boys are upon him, chasing him down a storm, trussing and gagging him as blood fodder for grotesque Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Bearne, Toecutter in the original Mad Max) and his fascist kingdom. But Max squirms free, and in the ensuing chaos winds up in an unlikely tryst with Furiosa (Charlize Theron), a hard-as-nails woman with a chip on her shoulder, and the scars to prove it.
Furiosa has the King’s wives as willing captives, all of them young and flawless creatures, swathed in muslin, savouring the emancipation, all with very silly names; The Splendid Angharad (Rosie Huntington-Whiteley), Toast the Knowing, (Zoë Kravitz [Lenny and Lisa Bonet's daughter]), Capable (Riley Keogh [Elvis Presley's grandchild), The Dag (Abbey Lee), and Cheedo the Fragile (Courtney Eaton). Later another model-turned-actor, Megan Gale, makes an appearance, as Valkryie, in even less threads.
Mad Max: Fury Road is a chase movie, plain and simple; for two hours Immortan Joe and his circus pirates pursue Max and Furiosa, mayhem and destruction spilling out over the sand and rock in outrageous fashion. It’s an utterly exhilarating experience, for this is a unique piece of cinema, a $100m action extravaganza painted in bold and vivid strokes that looks plucked straight from the lurid pages of that glorious science-fantasy magazine Metal Hurlant (Heavy Metal). It appears the work of French comic book artist Moebius and the concepts of maverick Chilean visionary Alejandro Jodorowsky has certainly influenced the production designers. Miller actually worked closely with a UK comic book artist, Brendan McCarthy, on the movie’s storyboards, before the screenplay was even complete, such was the visual importance of the movie in terms of its raw cinematic power.
Indeed Fury Road works best on the most immediate audio-visual level. The sound design and Junkie XL’s percussive, bullhorn score punctuates the mise-en-scene with stylised aggression, while Miller's fellow veteran, and another legend, John Seale’s cinematography is absolutely stunning (If Seale doesn't win the Oscar next year, there'll be blood).
So is Fury Road a sequel or a re-boot? It's apparently set in 2060. Perhaps it takes place between The Road Warrior and Beyond Thunderdome? Ultimately it's not that important. Miller places Max's tragic family origin as a haunting, reoccurring flashback, and for the trainspotters there's one iconic occular image lifted from the original movie and placed in a nightmare blink-and-you-miss-it moment. Fury Road exists as new blood on old sand.
The sub-plot involving Furiosa’s agenda to return to her childhood Green Place isn’t that compelling, and the movie gets weighed down in a mud of bonding issues and identity crises about 2/3rds of the way across the barren landscape. Most importantly it's the narrative minimalism of the first Mad Max movie, and the spectrum of choreographed violence saturating The Road Warrior sequel that Fury Road demands most (and mostly delivers on). But if Miller had pulled the reigns in on the running time Fury Road would’ve packed an even greater punch.
The rich atmosphere and extraordinary stunt work aside, Charlize Theron owns the picture. Just an oil-streaked sidelong glance from the cab of the War Rig into the rear-view mirror is enough of an iconic moment to last a decade. Bring on Mad Max: Furiosa! Hardy’s Max is very much a middle man, and it feels like Hardy is in a kind limbo, as he looks unintentionally bewildered most of the time. Admittedly it’s a real shame Mel Gibson wasn’t able to reprise his most famous role, and despite Hardy’s solid thespian laurels his delivery has none of the subtle angst or menace of Gibson’s, but at least Hardy concedes that Fury Road isn’t his movie.
There’s no doubt Fury Road will roar into the future as an instant cult classic, but I’m not about to slap the “masterpiece” decal on its bonnet. Definitely a thundering, cracking piece of cinema, and it's a very pretty piece to boot, I just wish now that Miller had been even more game, and shot the movie with no dialogue whatsoever (silencing some of those lesser performers). Hell, now THAT would be an expressionist, purist cinema-as-art statement like no other.
NB: The movie wasn’t shot in 3D, but post-converted, however I’m looking forward to a second viewing at IMAX in 3D so I can soak in the movie as pure cinema rollercoaster and not be concerned with following the story.