Mad Max: Fury Road
Post-apocalyptic films are popular, prevalent, and offer insight into the potential breakdown of society, but also are often not particularly good. Desolation may look great on camera, but without strong characterisation and well-thought-out writing the gimmick of surviving after a cataclysmic event will only get a film so far. Of course, all post-apocalyptic films have a benchmark which they need to live up to, and that bar was set by Mad Max.
George Miller’s fantastic yet nihilistic near-future series of a road warrior fighting his own demons and the horrors of society-free anti-civilisation are the standard by which all other post-apocalyptic films are judged, and most are found wanting. The original trilogy spirals from something resembling the present day—albeit with ongoing crises and a breakdown of order—to a horrendous desert world of murder for status and massacres over fuel. As Max’s sanity is stretched and the self that he formerly inhabited is peeled away, so the world in which he lives becomes more barren and hostile.
Revisiting a seminal body of work like the Mad Max films is a bold move, and one which Miller did not do without due care and consideration. Time has passed and original star Mel Gibson is not the young man he was when those films were made, and so with this new instalment Miller was faced with a choice: tell a tale of an older and more grizzled Max, or recast his leading man. He chose the latter, and so in steps Tom Hardy to take on the iconic role.
Hardy presents Max as a man struggling to maintain a grip on reality, scavenging through the desert like a wild dog desperately surviving for lack of any other purpose. He is haunted by visions of the dead as he is without a task, and it is in the madness of this meandering that we meet Max. Interestingly, there is a deliberate alteration to some of the flash-fast flashbacks and whispering ghosts, suggesting this Max has a different backstory—or at least varying details—to Gibson’s original. Miller has explained this as Mad Max being a wasteland folk tale, and as such there is the possibility for endless reinvention. This particular iteration of Max is as brutal as the last, but with more ticks and energy when compared to the stoic dead-face of Gibson’s cold ex-police officer.
The other leading role here is Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa, a truck driver tasked with collecting fuel from the nearby Gas Town, who goes rogue in an attempt to save a smuggled cargo from the warlord who employs her. Theron is tough and skilled, delivering an excellent performance which is as hardened and powerful as Hardy’s Max. Interestingly, both also display vulnerabilities often lacking from these kinds of films—the Mad Max series aside—which gives both characters a sense of being fully-realised. Theron is mighty on screen and this is a brilliant reminder that she is a formidable character actor.
The story itself plays out as a single sequence of events: a chase film told on Fury Road. There is no long setup and no sentimental conclusion; instead we see the chase from beginning to end and that is all. Miller has stripped back the storytelling whilst keeping his foot firmly on the accelerator, throwing out any dead weight so the momentum picks up immediately and never lets off. It is breath-taking filmmaking.
The warlord at the heart of the plot is Immortan Joe, played with panache by Hugh Keays-Byrne, who formerly played Toecutter in the first Mad Max film. His army of hopped-up suicidal young men ready to burn through the gates of Valhalla all shiny and chrome bring further madness to this already bonkers film, and the variation of vehicles in Immortan Joe’s entourage are incredible. The most memorable feature, however, is the great truck carrying the war drums with a huge stack of amplifiers and a flame-throwing guitarist who bungees around playing chugging metal riffs. Miller has style in abundance and his visuals are beyond description.
There is much to be said about the feminist stance this film takes, putting women front and centre and presenting equality in action hero status, and it should be commended. Disability is also portrayed with strength and without judgement. This is a strong film that tackles strong issues with a steel-spiked bulldozer ram, dismissing any criticism of its abolition of stereotypes with brute force.
I love Mad Max, and the sequels, and this film too. It is arguably the best of the four, and definitely the most relentless. For a series that has spawned a thousand imitators which generated hundreds of tropes and clichés to still be original, relevant, and powerful is truly impressive. Mad Max: Fury Road is a must-watch, and should be viewed with a great childlike grin of hysteria across the lips. Ride on.