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Mad Max: Fury Road – film review

May 17, 2015

MAD MAX: FURY ROAD

Take note Hollywood – this is how you do a real summer blockbuster!

Reviewed on Thursday 14th May 2015

mad max fury road tom hardy

An Australian/US co-production. Directed by George Miller. Written by George Miller, Brendan McCarthy and Nico Lathouris. Starring: Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron, Nicholas Hoult and Hugh Keays-Byrne. Running time: 120 mins.

Charlize Theron plays Imperator Furiosa; a one-armed rig driver who attempts to smuggle a quintet of beautiful young wives belonging to her boss; the fearsome mutant overlord Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Burne) – across a post-apocalyptic wasteland with her enraged boss in hot pursuit; commanding a violent horde of     blood-thirsty minions. Through a series of circumstances, former highway patrolman-turned lone wolf Max Rockatansky (Tom Hardy); also on the run from Immortan Joe; reluctantly finds himself embroiled in the ensuing escape to freedom.

Imagine the final truck chase from Mad Max 2 – but extended over two hours – and this is essentially what this latest installment in the franchise feels like. And I don’t mean this in any disparaging way – but the best way possible. That final truck chase in Mad Max 2 was, after all, highly regarded by none other than Steven Spielberg; when he expressed just a little professional envy when comparing it to his own truck chase in Raiders of the Lost Ark – released a year before (it was Spielberg’s admiration for Miller, incidently, which led to Miller’s invitation to participate in 1983’s The Twilight Zone: The Movie – where he again stole everyone’s thunder). To put it bluntly – no one directs action like George Miller; who once described his approach to action sequences as ‘visual rock ‘n roll’ and with his return to action after a thirty year hiatus with Fury Road, this has never beeen more apparent. His signature style is very much in evidence here: his use of practical stunts, vehicular choreography, spot-on camera placement and seamless editing all masterfully combined to create a truly kinetic and breathless thrill ride.

This long-time coming fourth installment finally explodes on the big screen following several delays for varying reasons. Interestingly, it was the surprise success of The Matrix in 1999 which inadvertently took the wind out of Miller’s sails to make the film back then – as Miller (perhaps quite mistakenly) felt at the time that down-and-dirty low-fi action had had its day and auds were hungry for high-tech cyber-action fare instead. Although Fury Road was originally conceived as a direct follow-on to 1985’s Mad Mad: Beyond Thunderdome, the continual delays (and the fact that Mel Gibson had aged somewhat over time) have meant that this latest installment has now been retooled as the first in a stand-alone trilogy quite separate from the original films. So for those unfamiliar with the original series, it isn’t really necessary to have seen those in order to make sense of this new installment (consider it as something akin     to how the James Bond series has continually re-invented itself over time). And for those who are intimately familiar with the original films; who are concerned their love of those films will affect their enjoyment of Fury Road – fear not. With the film’s frenetic pacing and rich layering of inventiveness – there is little opportunity to even think about those films for even one second – as Fury Road barrels along at break-neck speed.

charlize theron mad max fury road

While the always impressive Tom Hardy ably fills the scuffed leathers handed down from Mel Gibson in the originals, it is Charlize Theron’s shaved-headed Furiosa who receives the same – if not more – screentime and focus as Max himself. In a sense, she is essentially Max’s female equal – as she not only shares Max’s survival instincts and courage – but she is also haunted by past regrets (as is he) and is seeking redemption. I guess in order to change the general perception that these Mad Max films are ostensibly aimed at young males, it makes good sense that (aside from wanting to make Fury Road more interesting) Miller would want to feature strong female characters – to broaden the film’s overall appeal to include women (females do, after all, make up one half of a movie’s potential audience).

mad max fury road five wives

Having said this though, of the girls who make up Immortan Joe’s stolen breeding stock; known collectively as The Five Wives: Rosie Huntington-Whiteley and Riley Keough (daughter of Lisa Marie Presley) are really the only ones in the group who are given anything substantial to do. The others; Courtney Eaton (next to be seen in Alex Proyas’ Gods of Egypt), Abbey Lee (also in Gods of Egypt) and Zoë Kravitz are given less of a chance to make an impression and seem only to be included to fill out the numbers. While statuesque Australian beauty and one-time Wonder Woman in waiting (perfectly cast in Miller’s aborted Justice League movie in 2007) – Megan Gale, seems to be added merely as an afterthought late in the piece – making what really only amounts to a cameo appearance as The Valkyrie (a role oddly not too far removed from Virginia Hey’s Warrior Woman from Mad Max 2).

There’s a maxim which dictates that the hero of a story is only as heroic as the villain is villainous. And Hugh Keays-Byrne (who played chief heavy The Toecutter in the 1979 original) is virtually unrecognizable here behind the prosthetic mutant makeup and Bane-like breathing apparatus as Immortan Joe who, despite his fearsome appearance; also manages to elicit a fair amount of sympathy.

It should come as no surprise Miller has been a long-time scholar of the work of famed comparative mythology researcher Joseph Campbell (whose work also allegedly inspired George Lucas with Star Wars – although this assertion is still up for debate). This was perhaps a big part of the reason why the original Mad Max was embraced so whole-heartedly by different cultures around the world – as the idea of a wronged man seeking revenge for the death of his family is a universal theme which sprouts from the very heart of the human condition. Not surprisingly, the original film was also a huge hit in Japan – as they saw Max as nothing less than the modern day embodiment of samurai ideals. This was the reason why Miller and his producing partner Byron Kennedy next tailored Mad Max 2 specifically for the Japanese market (hence the paring down of dialogue; allowing the visuals to essentially tell the story; unhindered by language). Of course, Mad Max 2 (retitled The Road Warrior for the     US market) became a massive hit in the States (as it did the rest of the world) – prompting Miller to then tailor Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome specifically for the lucrative US market. With Fury Road, however, Miller has returned (and rightly so) to the ‘actions speak louder than words’ dynamic of Mad Max 2 – thus ensuring global cross-cultural appeal.

mad max fury road warboy leaps

The screenplay for Fury Road (credited to Miller, Brendan McCarthy and Nico Lathouris) was reportedly penned following the creation of the storyboard – and this goes a long way to explain the ‘pure cinema’ sensibility which infuses the film. This is not so much a plot-driven or even character-driven piece – but something altogether different – an ‘action-driven’ film. And it’s actually kinda’ refreshing to see a big summer movie which refuses to adhere so religiously to screenplay conventions. This unflinching disregard for narrative convention does something really interesting – it gives us a sense that anything can happen at any moment – thus creating a general sense of unease in the audience. With the unexpected demise of one of the principal characters halfway through (no, I won’t spoil who) – Miller basically pulls the rug out from under our feet; letting us know – in no uncertain terms – that anyone is fair game and all bets are off as to who will survive from that moment onwards (an incredibly brave decision if ever there was). And while the characters overall are broadly-drawn (unapologetically so) – they are vivid and interesting enough to warrant our investment. Adding to this ‘pure cinema’ sensibility is the dialogue (or lack thereof) which, while sparse, is filled with many cultural flourishes – creating a palpable sense that here we have an actual living breathing society with its own culture, mythology and social mores.

As Miller has demonstrated previously with the original trilogy, his flare for highly-detailed and believable world-building is one of the major aspects which makes these films stand out from the crowd. Indeed, the post-apocalyptic settings of these films are as much characters as the characters themselves. Although here, Miller eschews the subtle homoerotic underpinnings of the original Mad Max, and the more overtly fetishistic leather bar sensibility of Mad Max 2 (not to mention; the all-out campiness of Thunderdome) – in favor of something more in line with classic large-scale fantasy fare (such as the universe created in Star Wars for example).

mad max fury road stunts

True to Miller’s word, the majority of the wall-to-wall action in this film was all done for real, with CG only utilized sparingly to enhance the scope of the more fanciful vistas where necessary (the storm sequence and the depiction of Immortan Joe’s citadel stronghold being the most obvious examples). The result of this is that the action (being practical) has a raw sense of energy and real peril to it – something sorely absent from most action fare these days.

Although the distinctive vistas and big skies of the Aussie outback which featured so prominently in Mad Max 2 have been conspicuously surplanted by the ochre deserts of Southern Africa’s Namib region (the production were forced to relocate from Broken Hill after unprecedented rains turned the harsh desolation of the outback into a beautiful, but unsuitable paradise of wild flowers); the gorgeous lensing by legendary Aussie DOP John Seale (who came out of retirement specifically to shoot this film) beautifully captures the majesty and expanse of the Namib Desert; giving this film an equally desolate and distinctive look all its own. While the production design team headed by Colin Gibson have also done a remarkable job in creating a fresh new look for the film and its many outlandish vehicles.

mad max fury road chase

If I were to have any issue with Fury Road (and it’s only a minor one) – it would be the overuse of flashback visions which Max suffers from time to time; suggesting his feelings of guilt over not being able to save a small child in his past (possibly his daughter?) when he had the chance. These flashes tend to needlessly interrupt the flow of the action – when a simple dialogue exchange at some point could have easily imparted this backstory exposition. By continually drawing attention to itself in this way; it does indeed run the risk of seeming somewhat contrived. But, as I said, it’s only a minor issue – and it doesn’t really take away from the overall enjoyment of     the film.

While the original Mad Max has its cult following and Beyond Thunderdome its own fair share of fans too, Mad Max 2 is universally appraised as one of the most iconic and influential action films ever made. And it seemed inconceivable Fury Road would surpass that undisputed classic. So it comes as something of a surprise to report that Fury Road will indeed be considered the new benchmark of the genre; to which all future post-apocalyptic vehicular action flicks will be compared.

Miller’s latest offering is perhaps the only film I’ve seen in recent years where, by     the time the credits rolled – I just wanted to go buy another ticket and see it again straight away. High praise I know – but, as far as I’m concerned; this summer season is now over – as I seriously doubt any upcomming summer release of 2015 will come anywhere near the sheer game-changing and instant classic awesomeness of Mad Max: Fury Road.

5 stars out of 5

Star ratings: 1 – poor / 2 – below average / 3 – good / 4 – excellent / 5 – unmissable

Viewed at the Event Cinemas Megaplex Marion, Adelaide, May 14th 2015.

Greg Moss is a film school graduate with a background in directing music videos     and is currently seeking representation as a screenwriter. He likes creative people, feeding the cat and watching genre movies. Greg can also be heard on the Blu-ray commentary track for the 1980 sci-fi thriller Saturn 3, out now from Scream Factory.

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One Comment
  1. gregory moss permalink

    And a big thank you to the MAD MAX 4 FURY ROAD FACEBOOK PUBLIC GROUP PAGE for posting my review. For all Mad Max fans out there – I highly recommend you visit and ‘like’ this page – as it is a terrific forum for fans to discuss all things Fury Road and Mad Max in general. And you’ll even find the odd comment or two from actual crew members who worked on the film!

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