[This is a repost of our 2015 review.]
Mad Max: Fury Road has a lot of work to do. Sure, the original trilogy from director George Miller established a strong fan base, but the constant disappointments that roll along with the litany of Hollywood reboots, remakes, and all matter of “re” words, not to mention the mammoth task of being compared to a much-loved first film and – arguably – more impressive sequel, leaves this reboot on the path to an uphill climb. At least that would be the case, if Miller and co. hadn’t simply flattened that hill with the weight of talent and no-holds-barred gusto.
Miller crafted something special with Mad Max, his 1979 made-on-the-cheap sci-fi action film. Apart from a ripe, grindhouse-esque concept depicting a future where road gangs ride wild and where a good-looking young Mel Gibson finds himself on a path to retribution, it was the palpable filmmaking hunger on display that attracted many. Miller’s passion for the medium was on full display, his desire to pull off high-concept sequences and risky stunts bringing forth resourceful ingenuity, which was in turn fuelled further by a lack of deep pockets.
And here we are, around 36 years later, with Miller tackling his first live-action picture in 17 years with the zeal and determination of a probationer eager to flaunt his artistry.
Those not aware of Miller’s Mad Max trilogy needn’t worry, Fury Road keeps it simple and straightforward. This is a reboot through and through, with a new Max and an altogether new plot, and enough familiar elements on display for fans of the old-school classics to give nods of approval.
Opening with Max’s grim voice describing the haunting visits he experiences of his deceased wife and child, the intensity of what we’re about to confront is hinted at somewhat lightly, right before the film wallops you with a slam-bang rundown of his capturing by the War Boys and his subsequent attempt at an escape. What follows is what will be one of the film’s few breathers, as we learn of Immortan Joe, a monstrosity of a man played by original Mad Max villain Hugh Keays-Byrne.
Joe runs his city, The Citadel, by force and religious manipulation, withholding water and convincing his constantly drugged-up followers that it is he who must be followed if they are to enter Valhalla. When Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) decides she’s had enough, she uses her role as a delivery driver to smuggle out individuals he hold valuable. When he finds out, the chase is on. An eager-to-impress Nux (Nicholas Hoult) also heads on her tail, determined to show Immortan Joe he is worthy. Attached to the bonnet of Nux’s vehicle as he joins the insane posse on the desert chase is his literal blood bag, Max.
Let’s leave the plot details at that. The less that is known, the better the experience.
Mel was a great Max, no doubt about it, so a sigh of relief is on call when the new road warrior is equally as suited to the part. Tom Hardy nails it. Max is no smooth, quip-filled hero. This is a man almost reduced to his basic primal instincts, and survival is priority number one. It’s no secret that Hardy is a good actor – he’s shown off his skills many times before – but make sure you put Max high on his list of great turns. He more than convinces as a tortured soul, and it’s the collision of emotional instability, anger, empathy and having nothing to lose that ultimately works in creating a great protagonist to follow as the mayhem unfolds. Of course, Hardy’s natural charm doesn’t hurt either.
Theron’s acting chops are also used to great effect. The Oscar winner delivers a kick-ass action heroine that is as much brute strength as she is vulnerable. Furiosa is a fascinating part, a female role almost uncharacteristically layered for a film with big booms and loud vrooms. Her backstory, while unfolding somewhat awkwardly in certain reveals, makes her character one that you care about; maybe even slightly more than you do for our quietly tough Max.
Hoult’s Nux, albeit not on the same level, is another fascinating persona, giving the picture another redemption-driven character. While his romance subplot fails to drum up much in the way of interest and emotion, Hoult does a great job and manages to inject even more maniacal energy to the proceedings.
The vast array of supporting characters, not including Immortan Joe (with a terrifying performance by Hugh Keays-Byrne), all get varying levels of attention. It doesn’t affect the movie greatly, but cutting back on the amount of players may have added a touch more emotion to moments when certain characters bite the dust – both literally and figuratively.
The screenplay, by Miller, Brendan McCarthy and Nick Lathouris, is an intriguing creation. Partly childish, partly poetic, completely inspired. The dialogue itself works alongside the film’s other elements, including score and editing, to serve the overall focus on momentum. The post-apocalyptic themes are rammed home. This is hell on earth, a future of desperation, a byproduct of insanity and decay, and Miller is only too happy to make the most of his world in every way he can.
Of course, one of the major draw factors has to be discussed: the action, the balls-to-the-wall, jaw-dropping, exhausting, and giddily entertaining action. Oh, action, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways. Five minutes of the relentless choreography depicted here would be the absolute standout in countless other films. How spoilt for choice then, that one move contain one beautifully shot and edited set piece after another for two hours? Not only that, how is it possible for it to hold its wow factor for the entire time?
In an era where great-looking visual effects simply points to a ton of money thrown at the post-production team, Mad Max: Fury Road reminds us of just what the medium is capable of producing when a gutsy director, stunt crew, visual effects department and design team, among many others, get together to bring the house down. As with plot, the less known of the film’s countless sequences, the harder that lower jaw hits the ground upon witnessing the mastery. Yes, vehicles crash. Yes, the fact a lot of it was done for real benefits the film immensely. And yes, you’ll be left wondering how the hell no one got killed.
The aforementioned overabundance of characters and ill-developed romantic subplot, and what is a frustrating sudden detour in direction (literally) just prior to the final act, detract ever so slightly from a film that is truly one of the most refreshing spectacles you’re bound to witness at the cinema.
Mad Max: Fury Road uses every element of its arsenal, including a suitably floor-shaking score by Junkie XL, striking cinematography by John Seale, and precision film editing by Jason Ballantine and Margaret Sixel, to deliver an opus that gets the heart pumping and the adrenaline going. Ladies and gentlemen, Max has returned, and he’s refueled the action genre in the process.