The noise of a franchise exploding back into life after years spent in slumber is a tough sound to pin down but in Mad Max’s case it’s a safe bet that it’s the roar of supercharged engines and the wail of a blind mutant shredding a chrome electric guitar. After 1984’s slightly tepid Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome, it seemed that Australia’s favorite apocalyptic cult hero had hung up his shotgun and put the last of the V8 Interceptors into storage for good, but in 2015 series director George Miller finally mounted a gruelling shoot of a project that followed years of pushbacks, cancellations and plenty of time languishing in development hell.
But then we all should have known that monosyllabic anti-hero Max Rockatansky works best when surrounded by chaos that’s not of his making; and sure enough, to stunned audiences worldwide, the Mad Max franchise awoke to somehow become one of the greatest modern action movies in recent years.
It’s a regular day for the Road Warrior known as Max; you know how it goes – one minute you’re chowing down raw on a two-headed lizard and surveying the post-apocalyptic wasteland and then you’re being chased by turbo charged psychos so deranged freaks can use your blood. So Max finds himself enslaved in the kingdom of Immortan Joe, a crazed, irradiated warlord with 80’s rock hair and a mightily be-toothed breathing mask which sports choppers reminiscent of a horse sucking on a lemon, with his veins hooked up to Nux, a “Warboy” soldier in Joe’s service. Meanwhile, one of Joe’s most trusted generals, the Imperator Furiosa has gone rogue and smuggled Joe’s 5 “wives” (in actuality sex slaves enlisted to birth him heirs) out in her massive battle truck, the War Rig under the pretense of exchanging resources with the other, equally hellish cities. Taking time out from ruling with an iron fist, Immortan unleashes the full force of his motorised army in pursuit, including the eager-to-please Nux who lashes Max to the front of his vehicle in order to continue draining his blood, but a massive sandstorm interrupts, stalls the chase and allows Max to free himself. Establishing an uneasy truce with Furiosa (i.e. at gun point), Max slowly bonds with this uncompromising warrior woman – who is so bad-ass no one even mentions the fact she has an awesome prosthetic arm – who is desperately trying to make amends for her past and it trying to get Joe’s wives safely to the verdant, green place where she grew up. However, things won’t be as single as a chilled drive through the desert as Joe isn’t the kind of man to easily give up what he views as his property and merges his army with that of the other cities of Gas Town and The Bullet Farm to crush his former general flat. Once again, Max finds himself thrust to the forefront of someone else’s adventure, finding himself fighting a battle he never started, but this time he has formidable company in Furiosa and woman more than capable of fighting these insurmountable odds on her own if she has to…
Rightly hailed as one of the most impressive slices of action cinema (or of ANY cinema to be honest) ever made, Mad Max: Fury Road is a masterstroke of minimalist storytelling with maximum impact. The plot, in all honesty, simply involves the good guys being chased in one direction, having a revelation and then driving in the opposite direction – essentially remaking the magnificent climax of Mad Max 2 and stretching it out to cover two hours. If the concept of a 2 hour car chase seems dangerously thin, returning director George Miller puts that last few years of Babe and Happy Feet firmly behind him with flawless world building and an impressive knack for inserting plot and character beats on the fly as the players hurtle past in clouds of dust.
Frankly EVERYTHING about this movie is gloriously insane, from the general tone to the legitimately breathtaking set, vehicle and character design which hurls such fascinating side characters at you with names like Rictus Erectus and The Doof Warrior who have appearances that more than match their gonzo monikers. Take the latter, a blind electric guitar player who thrashes his ornate instrument while attached to bungee chords atop a massive pile of turbo charged speakers in order to rile up the War Boys in battle – also his guitar is a flame thrower because a) of course it is and b) George Miller is a fucking genius. Also, a phenomenal amount of Fury Road’s intricately designed world and action set pieces are mostly practical; for example the “Polecats”, a division of Joe’s army that seesaw from massive poles on counter weights from the back of speeding cars are – you guessed it – totally fucking real and play like Cirque du Soleil meets The Hills Have Eyes on meth… which is, of course, what it kind of is.
And yet if Mad Max: Fury Road was solely roaring engines and screaming lunatics, all we would have is a twistedly beautiful but very hollow film but for a muscular, flexing, gearhead of a flick, Fury Road’s greatest assest is quite possibly the hugely powerful feminist pulse that surges throught proceedings. This really Furiosa’s movie and Max is literally along for the ride. The point is made quite definantly that the world was shitcanned by men like Immortan Joe, warlords that still exert brute force to maintain their stranglehold on power instead of sharing their wealth and making the world better. The War Boys are indicative of toxic masculinity being spread to the younger generations in the form of Joe’s ludicrous rhetoric which poisons their minds into believing the depot is some form of wheezy deity, spraying their faces “shiny and chrome” before sacrificing their dying bodies for their master’s whims. It’s Nux’s relationship with Capable (one of Joe’s wives) that outlines Fury Road’s heart as she slowly makes the young Warboy realise that everything he’s been brought up to believe is a lie.
Tom Hardy gives great road warrior (along with one of his trademark odd voices with an accent that wanders as much as his character) replacing original Max actor Mel Gibon who was too old (not to mention the wrong kind of mad) to reprise his role and Charlize Theron OWNS Furiosa, giving her a noble, stoic gravity in a world where milking lactating women like cows is an everyday occurrence. Solid support comes from a cast including Nicholas Holt, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Zoe Kravitz, Nathan Jones and, in a neat touch, Hugh Keays-Byrne who not only plays Immortan Joe but also portrayed the villainous Toecutter from the original movie.
A legitimate modern masterpiece, this turbo revving, pedal to the metal mental-health manages to breath new life, not only into a dormant franchise, but movies in general and rightfully takes it’s place as one of the best of the decade. Or should that be shiny and chrome?
Witness it, bloodbags.