Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) Directed by George Miller. With Tom Hardy and Charlize Theron.
As far as unexpected comebacks go, George Miller’s wildly successful return to his Mad Max series is an especially pleasing one. For fans, thirty long years have passed since 1985’s Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome. In that time, the film had existed in its own wasteland of stop/start development hell. It’s almost as if the frustration of those long wilderness years is harnessed into positive creative energy, as Miller spews out a barrage of sustained action sequences that hit you like a burning freight truck.
It’s a fiery, loud, clanging mangle of steampunk chaos, headed up Tom Hardy’s titular Max, a haunted survivor in post-apocalyptic Australia – a cruel desert ruled by military factions who suppress the masses by limiting water and supplies. Hardy recalls the hero of a bygone era; Clint Eastwood’s ‘man with no name’ (except he has a name) – a monosyllabic grafter with flickering remnants of a conscience, which rears up via subliminal images of the innocent lost.
Fleeing the gruesomely theatrical leader, Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne), Hardy is joined by the shaven-headed rebellion of Charlize Theron as Furiosa. It isn’t long before Theron emerges as the beating heart of the piece. Indeed, in a brutal world, women form the through-line of the narrative. Along with water, the fairer sex are symbols of hope – the only life-giving gifts that remain on a land so dead, that they’re easily worth dying for.
Contributing to the madness is Nicholas Hoult’s ‘Nux’, who represents a glimpse into the world of the brainwashed – a drone so indoctrinated through extreme suffering and poverty, that the promise of glory or a better afterlife makes him, and his like, eager to make the ultimate sacrifice. All skin and bones, Hoult is very good – battling himself and everyone on the way to being the most rounded character of the piece.
With the frenetic, unrelenting pace of the action, the film is carefully edited to drive home the impact. There’s nothing shiny and new here – everything is rotting with rust and decay, as the expressive physical designs on show offer an attention to detail that gives way to a sense of genuine depth. The cobbled together vehicles, charging through the unforgiving terrain, make for a lived-in quality that invites the imagination to fill in the gaps of what has become of this starved land.
At times, it feels a little bombastic, but it’s joyously theatrical too – like opera with huge trucks, one of which features a huge wall of amplifiers fronted by a guitar-hero-death-metal-punk, who orchestrates a full-throttle charge like Wagner and the helicopters in Apocalypse Now. Its pauses for breath are short, and it’s never seconds away from jolting us back into the frenzy. Yes, it’s completely mad, but would you want or expect anything else!? 4/5