It’s been 36 years since Max Rockatansky exploded onto cinema screens, 34 since he drove a big rig on a desperate flight from “The Humungus” (Kjell Nilsson) and his horde, and 30 since Aunty Entity (Tina Turner) abandoned her “raggedy man”, wounded and alone once more in the wasteland. In the meantime, despite having helmed such varied fare as The Witches of Eastwick, Lorenzo’s Oil, the Babe films and Happy Feet writer/director George Miller doesn’t seem to have changed his automotive interests much judging by Fury Road. He’s still as fascinated with insane cars speeding across desert landscapes in deadly combat as he ever was.
Stripping away any fat of previous entries, this 4th film (with another 4 possible sequels to come) is a mad dash across a landscape decimated by, first, the oil wars and then the water wars.
Dash from where?
Immortan Joe’s(Hugh Keays-Byrne) Citadel oasis.
The fabled green land.
How’s Max get involved?
Reluctantly, as usual. It’s not even his chase to begin with.
Having lost so much over the years Max starts the film focused purely on survival, drifting the outback until captured by Joe’s “War-boys”. Thanks to his universal donor blood type, Max is drafted as a portable blood bank. He’s hooked up to Nux (Nicholas Hoult), a tumoured, irradiated war boy in need of a bit of a “top up”, strapped to the bonnet of Nux’s pursuit vehicle and dragged on a fanatical chase.
It’s on this chase Max meets “Imperator Furiosa”, former lieutenant to Joe, the target of the chase and all round bad-ass, as played by Charlize Theron. The rest of the film is a tour of the various locales of the apocalypse, populated by various gangs and psychopaths, as Furiosa, her cargo and eventually Max endeavour to stay one step ahead of Joe and his minions and get to a better place.
The action is frenetic and constant, putting the previous Mad Max films to shame. The “war-rig” that Furiosa’s stolen stops rarely and even then only for a few fleeting moments. Miller keeps things from lost in the desert by wisely changing up the settings occasionally, throwing in the much discussed sandstorm scene from the trailer well as trips through dusty canyon paths and swampy sands at night.
At times, it can be a little too frenetic, as the on screen action apparently speeds up, as if to emphasize the particular madness of a specific sequence. Miller also comes up with more and more inventive ways to attack a big rig, deploying car mounted buzzsaws, blind gunmen, boarders on swinging poles, chainsaw wielding lunatics and dirt bikes bearing bombs against Max and Furiosa. The action is close and visceral with bodies tumbling to their death from these amazing machines. The insanity rolls on for mile after mile as pursuers get ground up between the wheels of the awesome array of vehicles Miller and his team have assembled.
Big Foot. The Gigahorse. A towering mess of speakers and drums with a guitarist suspended at its front. These are remarkable vehicles and Miller’s camera lovingly caresses them in action scenes, sharing the automotive fetishism of Immortan’s Joe’s followers.
The world around the chase is broadly sketched but that doesn’t matter. All that matters is the chase and there is more than enough background hinted at to keep things interesting, from the War-Boys fanatical automotive religion and their radiation induced “half-lives”, the implied economy and alliances between Joe’s water fortress , the “Bullet Farm” and “Gas Town”, to the remaining ecology of the world gone mad.
Many early reviews have been exceptionally positive, however, such praise might be slightly misleading. Fury Road is great, but it is essentially one long, albeit glorious, chase scene. The cast only rarely step outside their vehicles for short periods of time and there’s very little interaction with the surrounding world as there was in the previous two films. Immortan Joe is an irradiated grotesque water despot with a gaggle of deformed children, visually reminiscent of Baron Harkonnen from Dune, but his only motivation is striving for normal children and he doesn’t get much opportunity to stand out as a classic villain. His only real purpose is to provide an impetus for Max & Furiosa to meet.
The central pair are fantastic though. Thrown together by fate, bound by necessity, in Furiosa, Max finds someone who has lost just as much, if not more, than he has (like most of her arm!), and yet she has managed to retain her sanity and her humanity. Perhaps with her he might somehow find a way back to his?
Within this arc, Hardy is not asked for much, apart from looking appropriately scared/horrified/confused/determined as the situation demands, initially croaking and muttering to himself, his words and speech only returning slowly over the course of the film.
In his stead, Theron is as fine an action star as could be wished for: confident, capable, strong while empathetic, hers is the V8 heart that powers this beast of a celluloid machine, capable of emotion where Max is not. Through his interactions with her, his character is slowly reintroduced to the cinema going audiences and himself, hopefully, in preparation for Hardy to add more “Gibsonian” swagger in the rumoured sequels.
Miller hasn’t lost his touch one bit, Mad Max is as fresh as it ever was.
Immortan Joe may nominally be the villain of the piece, but the real enemy here is losing what humanity you have left.