MAD MAX: FURY ROAD
IMMORTAN JOE’S FACT-FILE:
Director: George Miller
Stars: Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron, Nicholas Hoult
Running Time: 2 hours
Rated: R / 15
45 years from now: It’s a post nuclear, apocalyptic landscape. Survival is dependent on your ability to fight and drive to the death. Max (Hardy) is an everyman drifter and former cop. A competent ‘road warrior’, Max is nonetheless mobbed, outnumbered, captured and imprisoned. He finds himself at the mercy of Cult leader, Immortan Joe.
Escape seems impossible. But then Furiosa (Theron) rebels and runs away with a group of five pregnant women slaves, seeking the ‘Green Place’. Joe’s troops set out in hot pursuit, taking Max with them. Cue a battle for freedom and the mother of all chases, across the ‘Fury Road’.
Mad Max: Fury Road is a visceral, wonderful piece of Cinema. It’s a triumphant shot of adrenaline from the greatest of craftsmen.
The film had a troubled history. For a start, it’s been 30 years since we saw Max onscreen. Last time round, it was Mel Gibson in the lead. He was due to play it again, back in 2000-3 when the film was initially prepped and pitched. A sequence of logistical and other delays (ranging from war to weather) meant it was another decade before filming commenced. Mel was unavailable by then.
Enter Tom Hardy. Hardy is a more than worthy successor to Gibson. He instantly makes the role his own. This is a film star that happens to be a great, intelligent actor. He’s convincing as the drifting everyman; damaged loner and ultimately the action hero. You believe in his competence as a driver, fighter and navigator. And though he’s not cracking jokes or smiles, he exudes an earthy quality and innate charm that makes you want him to win.
Hardy has some first rate support. Nicholas Hoult takes what could be a minor role (henchman / ambiguous initial antagonist) and gives it textured life. His quick description of a backstory is genuinely moving. ‘WHAT A LOVELY DAY’ is already a classic film quote, thanks to Hoult’s delivery. He was always a great actor, from About a Boy through to the most recent X Men films. This is a further reminder of both his ability and potential.
Charlize Theron as Furiosa is a revelation. She’s the best action heroine on screen since Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley in the Alien series. The comparison is evoked visually (bald head) but also emotionally.
Furiosa is journeying through Hell and needs to be rescued. But Theron’s not playing a damsel in distress. This is a competent and tough character who can best Max physically and inspire hope in her fellow female characters. She’s not invincible and displays both physical and emotional vulnerability. That’s conveyed mostly through quick glances and movement: acting at its most raw and real. There are few if any lines to hide behind.
It goes without saying that the piece is light on plot and dialogue. But film is a visual medium. Therefore, the challenges can and perhaps should be logistical and practical if one’s ambition is to make a truly inventive movie. Director George Miller succeeds. He was clear and honest in explaining how he mapped his ambitions. The project was born as a series of ideas and storyboards.
There IS a clear cohesion here. You know from the beginning who the goodies and baddies are; what the object of the quest will be and what stakes are involved. There is a definite beginning, middle and end. Those rudiments of storytelling are neglected in other blockbusters that contrive complexity. Miller instead allows viewers to infer subtext, via crisp concentration in his direction on the logical execution of clearly defined objectives.
The editing is a marvel. Margaret Sixel (Miller’s wife) took an incredible 300 hours of footage and crafted a coherent whole. The lighting and production design are stunning; facilitating moments of haunting reflection and the relentless brutality of the relentless action. Stunt-work is seamless and spectacular, making you feel every kick, punch and fall, whilst retaining moments of escapist sheen and comic book heroics. The pole vault and war rig work deserve Oscars.
There are echoes of Indiana Jones, Star Wars and the Terminator series, whilst remaining an original visual show. This IS a ride, offering fetishized cars and associated tools (steering wheels; exhaust; burning rubber). Listen out for an operatic score, fused to primal drum beats and recurring electric guitar. Sound here is used to convey fear and humour in equal measure.
Drawbacks? The visuals are occasionally ghastly and grotesque. Lactation, mutilation, mutation: all present and gratuitously so. The chrome spray motif is just odd and overused. Avoid this film if you are squeamish about the human body, or of a sensitive disposition.
And it’s difficult to know sometimes what tone is being aimed for. Is this a rip-roaring old school adventure? Or a moving, cautionary tale? That uncertainty sometimes invades the viewing experience, briefly removing you from what’s an otherwise immersive trip. But those are minor quibbles.
If you love the Cinema then you will be impressed by this ground-breaking model of the craft at its very best. You’ll be satisfied as either devotee or casual acquaintance of the Mad Max franchise. And if you are a fan of action /adventure movies then this is simply a MUST see.
A truly ‘apocalyptic’ film (it’s revelatory). Biblical scale Blockbusting Brilliance. Worth the wait, investment and hard work. A tour de force. Thank you, George Miller.
Grade A. ‘WHAT A LOVELY FILM’.