‘Mad Max : Fury Road’ Review

In considering where ”Fury Road” sits in the ”Mad Max” canon (the original now 36 years old), we tend to think of the first three films being pretty similar.

Actually the 1979 original was set in an era where the apocalypse that befell Max’s (Mel Gibson) world was either descending around them or right around the corner. The police force he was part of with Goose (Steve Bisley) was still operating, and the rampage of vengeance he went on in his Ford Interceptor wasn’t about survival in a lawless future but revenge for the killing of his wife and baby.

In comparison, ”Mad Max 2” (1981) and ”Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome” (1985) were science fiction, set on the other side of the fall of humanity. Society had unmistakably collapsed and marauding gangs fought wars over fuel (those who had it and those who wanted it) across the desert.

The characters dressed like steampunk medieval knights and had names that could only exist in a post-technology society – Wez, The Humungus, Pappagallo, the Feral Kid, Aunty Entity, Ironbar, etc. Their cars were hammered together from the shells and chassis of highway scrap, fearsome war-vehicle weaponry welded on like power-ups in a video game.

Some purists still contend the original was the better movie, writer/director George Miller going much more sci-fi in the sequels. If you’re one of them you might sniff derisively that this isn’t a real ”Mad Max” movie.

For everyone else, it might be the coolest action movie so far in 2015. The jaw-dropping action set pieces, ear-splitting sound of squealing metal and explosions combine to shake the movie theatre to its foundations, and the action barely lets up for a minute. It might not occur to you to equate George Miller with the work of Michael Bay, but here he achieves a similar thing of imagining the most extreme stunt or action gag and going there.

So ”Mad Max: Fury Road” is a remake much more of Mad Max 2 that the first film. It’s about a pitiless, sandblasted world where (in the words of at least one character) the world itself has been killed. Survival of the fittest has reduced humanity to ragged bands scraping a living out of a desert (a country ‘like’ the former Australia, as Miller told reporters, though filmed in Namibia, Africa).

The epicentre is The Citadel, a township of peasants lorded over by Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne, who played the memorable villain The Toecutter from the original). Aided by an army of white-painted, bald, young male warriors called the ‘war boys’ (reminiscent of Star Wars’ Imperial stormtroopers) he controls the supply of everything from water and fuel to fertile women).

Also in Joe’s army are the Imperators – skilled rig drivers who travel across the badlands between The Citadel and Gastown to collect the fuel that drives Immortan Joe’s dictatorship/religious cult.

One of them is Furiosa (Charlize Theron), who drives the story much more than Max (Tom Hardy) himself. On a routine run to Gastown, it turns out Furiosa has kidnapped the four young women Immortan Joe keeps as his personal harem, intending to go off the reservation and return to the homeland of plenty she once knew.

Max finds his way into the mess after being captured by war boys as the film opens. He makes good his escape and then comes across Furiosa and her charges in the war rig, taking it by force but soon learning they’re all going to have to work together to escape Joe’s clutches.

It’s the set-up for one armrest-shreddingly, buttock-clenchingly audacious action scene after another as cars, bikes, trucks, weapons and a gigantic dust storm collide across the highways of the desert. Bullets, explosions and metal fly in every direction at once and aside from a little bit of digital tinkering to remove wires, etc, it’s all done with real cars, real roads and real stunts and is all the more satisfying for it.

Miller hasn’t forgotten what made the tone of the later movies great. It’s about the costumes, the characters’ names, the weapons and – with a decent budget behind him – the incredibly detailed vehicles, built out of barely recognisable shapes and most of them destined to be blown up, flattened or twisted into scrap.

With more chatter all the time about strong female characters, there’s bound to be a lot said about Theron’s character of Furiosa. She literally and narratively drives the tale, Max a bit more like Han Solo as he tags along through circumstances before realising he has to take sides and might even have found some kind of family.

In fact Hardy is among the least effective elements on screen. He’s a good action guy, but he plays Max as a Man With No Name archetype, saying little and merely reacting to what goes on around him (a blessing really – Hardy’s accent is all over the place).

The plot is a pretty simple journey, but what a ride. Back in 1981, this is the kind of ”Mad Max” movie we never knew we wanted, and with enough resources behind him, George Miller has an appropriately wide canvas. What he fills it with is an action/sci-fi gem that has more heart and soul infused in more metal than a hundred CGI superhero slugfests.

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