Written by George Miller, Brendan McCarthy and Nick Lathouris / Directed by George Miller / Starring Charlize Theron, Tom Hardy and Nicolas Hoult
Nux: Oh what a day, what a lovely day!
What. The. Fuck. My apologies for the lack of eloquence but that is more or less the most I could muster after immediately finishing George Miller’s latest Mad Max entry, MAD MAX: FURY ROAD. It was as if I had just woken up from the most thrilling nightmare I had ever had and, unlike most of my other nightmares, I didn’t want to wake up from this one.
Crucify me if you must but I have not seen any of the three Mad Max films Miller made in the 1980’s. They just never appealed to me and, to be honest, this latest film isn’t really my cup of tea either, as is evidenced from my reference to it as a cup of tea. All the same, I found this film to be exhilarating. Bewildering as well, sometimes misguided but mostly just damn exciting. In many ways, not having seen the predecessors has no bearing on enjoying this film anyway. It isn’t a remake and isn’t exactly a a reboot either. Rather it is a film in the vein of the Mad Max canon that stands entirely on its own, separate from all that came before it.
Although you wouldn’t necessarily know it from all the explosions happening, there is an actual story to FURY ROAD, which is really the only place the film truly falters. The world as we know it has crumbled after wars over energy, food and water. One man stands as the ruler of the land and he hoards all of the remaining resources to himself, unbeknownst to the people that beg for mercy at his feet. This is not a world any of us would recognize though. This world is sheer dust, which makes for a remarkably colourful palette, populated by many waif like, pale skinned minions who cater to the leader, Immortal Joe’s (Hugh Keays-Byrne) every whim, while he and his family live like hogs. It is extremely creative but extremism at this level can occasionally veer into weird for the sole sake of being weird. Any trace of a humanity I would recognize is nowhere to be found, which makes it difficult to empathize.
That hardly matters though when there is so much riveting action taking place. The majority of the special effects in FURY ROAD are natural, Miller having chosen to rely very little on the CGI that other action films cannot exist without. The action gets started when Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) goes off course on a routine mission to get gasoline from a neighbouring super power. Once Joe catches wind of this, everyone who can get their hands on a vehicle does so in hot pursuit of the fugitive. This is where the film literally switches gears and never lets go. Choosing to go “au naturel” with the special effects forces Miller and his team to get creative with their visuals and stunts and the restrictions they places on themselves truly propelled their imagination to inspiring heights. There are acrobats flying through the air and people tied to the fronts of trucks and other people playing electric guitar to set the mood. And there are explosions, oh so many explosions. It is electric and needs to seen to be believed.
But why is Furiosa defying her leader and where on earth is Mad Max (Tom Hardy) himself in all of this? As it turns out, Furiosa’s act of defiance is because she can simply no longer support the systemically supported rape Joe inflicts upon a handful of young ladies he keeps imprisoned for the sole purpose of growing his family. The feminist spin on the action archetype is noble but I’m not sure it was well thought through. It feels a bit forced, as if to tap into the zeitgeist more so than to make a meaningful point on women as possessions. It is especially hard to take it seriously when they are all still scantily clad for the audience’s enjoyment. Sure, this is obviously how Joe dressed them but it is hard to get fully on board the feminist road show when their nipples are showing the whole time. The bigger feminist win is that Furiosa is firmly in the driver’s seat of this film, while Max just seems more along for the ride. Still, if it weren’t for Max inadvertently getting mixed up in her adventure, it is unclear as to whether she would have been successful on her own. While the man isn’t there to fully save the day, his presence is key to her success.
MAD MAX: FURY ROAD is like one big monster truck run amok on acid. It is relentless in the best possible fashion. And while I did feel that some decisions were just plain odd – like why do these people burn through so much bloody fuel when there is so little to go around; it just feels wasteful to me – there is barely any time to focus on the minor flaws when there is so much fun to be had by just sitting back and letting Miller take you on his crazy insane but incredibly innovative ride through hell and back. You are even likely to get right back in line to take it again.