Director: George Miller (2015)
This barkingly brilliant reboot of the 1979 action classic brings the Road Warrior thundering back into cinemas in a cacophonous cloud of craziness.
Writer/director George Miller returns and though the central character is a former cop called Max (Britain’s Tom Hardy in the role Mel Gibson made famous) there are few connections to the original trilogy.
The Mad Max franchise began with the low budget Mad Max (1979) followed up with the western influenced Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior (1981) before concluding with the weak Beyond Thunderdome (1985) which co-starred Tina Turner.
This is altogether a bigger, badder and more bonkers movie. Clearly there was a meeting where all ideas were left on the table and ended up on the screen.
A reckless pursuit of spectacular entertainment which could have easily ended up as a six lane motorway pile-up. It’s credit to Miller and his team we’re not watching another Dune (1984) or Jupiter Ascending (2015).
They’ve created a frantic metal circus on wheels and populated it with clowns, midgets, acrobats, showgirls and bare-chested warriors. Then they’ve sent it blasting across the desert to the power chords of it’s own onboard guitarist.
An exhilarating chase, it is far closer in epic sweep, energy and colour to Mel Gibson’s Apocalypto (2006) with which it would make a dazzling demented double-bill. Gibson has no connection to this production.
It’s another left turn for Miller who directed Babe (1995) the charming family fantasy about a talking pig. He then went on to win the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature for Happy Feet (2006).
The script is co-written by artist Brendan McCarthy who first achieved success as an artist on 2000AD‘s Judge Dredd comic strip. Dredd himself was visually influenced in part by the poster for Death Race 2000 (1975) which itself was an influence on the first Mad Max movie.
The dialogue is as sparse and hard as the desert location with location work in Namibia, South Africa and Miller’s native Australia – where the first films were made.
Miller is aided in his pursuit of a no-holds barred cinema experience by cinematographer John Seale, editor Margaret Sixel and production designer Colin Gibson.
Seale’s colour palate is dominated by blues and oranges with controlled explosions of white and green, a moving canvas created with the absolute control of Mondrian. His saturated colour levels add to the intensity of the action.
Sixel’s manic and itchy editing puts us inside the addled mind of Max. Although it generates a ferocious pace it allows time for us to draw breath before the next assault on our senses.
Colin Gibson’s designs are nasty, brutal and far from beautiful – but they are brilliant. 150 wildly different vehicles are fused from different eras and give a new meaning to the expression ‘hybrid motor’.
The greatest of them is Furiosa’s War RIg, a character in itself and one resembling a giant rusting Ninky Nonk. There are also design nods to The Cars That Ate Paris (1974) and The Dark Crystal (1982).
Dutch multi-instrumentalist, producer Junkie XL provide an incredible, raucous, unforgiving soundtrack.
There’s conspicuous CGI to facilitate the 3D experience but the CGI used for the background vistas is convincingly realised.
In the original film, Max is driven to righteous anger by the murder of his family – this time he is insane from the start; a feral, lizard-eating animal. He gradually acquires a new identity and Max’s emerging sanity is reflected through his shifting appearance.
Interested only in his personal survival, Max is haunted by the loss of his daughter in the oil wars that have turned the world into a barren wasteland. It’s a post-apocalyptic future and all resources are in short supply, especially gasoline and water.
Captured by the tribe of War Boys, Max is made a slave of the Citadel and chained to a warrior called Nux (Nicholas Hoult) who is farming Max for his blood.
The Citadel is a water-producing fiefdom owned by Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne – he played the psycopathic villain Toecutter in the first film). People are property; cattle for producing milk, blood and babies.
Max escapes and reluctantly teams up with the renegade Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) who’s stolen a War Rig and a tanker full of precious fuel.
Also on board are are Immortan Joe’s five wives. He’s not best pleased at losing his valuable property and unleashes three heavily armed war parties to bring them back.
The wives are angelic beauties who possess economical clothing and extravagant names – such as The Splendid Angharad (Rosie Huntington-Whiteley).
Whereas the rest of the toothless population are blistered and ravaged by disease, these girls resemble chastity belt-wearing Victoria Secrets models.
Though suspicious of each other Max and Furiosa team up to and what follows is a ridiculously rollicking race from A to B across the desert to the Green Zone of Furiosa’s youth.
There is no romance but through deeds not words the two lost souls begin a healing process in each other. Character is action and there is nothing here but character and action.
Both are the product of a tight script and propelled by demented performances. The actors are uniformly excellently, especially the three leads; Hardy, Theron and Hoult.
Hoult puts his youthful zeal to good use and commits to the madness in a strikingly physical performance and also contributes much to the tender heart of the film.
Theron eschews glamour for cast-iron attitude and she’s as damaged and driven as Max; a feminine hard-nut to rival Ellen Ripley of Aliens (1986).
Although women are treated badly they are portrayed as tough, courageous, resourceful, compassionate and in all ways the equal of men.
In Locke (2013) Hardy did nothing but talk – here he barely talks at all, mostly grunting and occasionally barking out demands.
The mythology is as patched together as the vehicles and just as entertaining. The name Fury Road is an allusion to the Greek furies; goddesses of vengeance – Furiosa is their battle-hardened representative on Earth.
Her cargo of wives represent the classical virtues, identified by Furiosa as hope, life and redemption. The War Boys seek a glorious death to enter their viking Valhalla.
Though madness screams from every character, scene and stunt, it’s optimistic about humanity’s return from the brink of destruction and offers green shoots of hope.
In conception and execution this is a thrill-ride of chaos, an extraordinarily epic and apocalyptic nitrous charge of pure cinema.
You’d be mad to miss it.