A few years ago I put my long-held (and it turned out perfectly well founded) Mel Gibson prejudice to one side to experience the original Mad Max trilogy as part of a brief, if very interesting, look into Ozploitation. What I found there were three generally enjoyable action/road movies with grand ideas, not quite such grand execution and Tina Turner.
In 2015, nearly four decades on from the original, creator/writer/director George Miller breathed new life into his dystopian hero (now in the form of Tom Hardy) for a follow-up to 1985’s Beyond Thunderdome.
While it is clearly the same character and the same universe, this works as a stand alone story and the scene is set with a great montage of oil wars and nuclear devastation ending with our man Max standing atop a hill overlooking a desert and eating a raw lizard.
From there the next 120 minutes or so are near non-stop action, as we meet big bad Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne, terrifyingly channeling an apocalyptic Peter Stringfellow), arguable joint lead Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) and a whole host of side characters (many of whom become cannon fodder) in Joe’s castle like mountain hideaway/mine/slave city, The Citadel.
From there Furiosa leads an escape attempt, with Joe’s ‘wives’, into the desert in the appropriately named War Rig petrol tanker and we get what is essentially an hour and 45 minute car chase.
I realise that may not sound the most edifying experience in the current climate of over the top action movies for the whole family (see Marvel and Michael Bay’s Transformers), but, what Miller does is make the whole thing feel real by, according to reports, filming most of it with as many practical effects and stunts as possible – and it shows in a sense of real weight and feeling amidst the banging and crashing.
On top of this Hardy and Theron give linchpin performances that, with very little actual dialogue, show a physical side of acting rarely seen in a world where blockbusters tend to prefer show and tell obviousness. Along with the two leads a mention also has to go out to Nicholas Hoult as ‘War Boy’ Nux who probably has the biggest character arc of the film and is genuinely effective in an understated (as much as anything here is understated) kind of way.
Since the film’s release, as well as suggestions it could win Best Picture in various awards, much has been made of its potential feminist message. I’ll be the first to admit such soicio-political theory isn’t my forte, however, I can see where this idea might come from and it does set Mad Max: Fury Road apart from its fellow action blockbusters (arguably with the exception of Star Wars: The Force Awakens).
In this regard, as well as Furiosa and excepting Max, the majority of the lead, hero, cast are female. While a few do represent the ‘traditional’ damsel in distress type role (with one exception) they all go onto to be, at least partially, active fighters on more than a par with the men in the film and, while Max does remain the de-facto hero, by the end the women have given just as much in the face of, potentially, even greater odds.
The upshot of all of this is that George Miller has created a film that at once seems to realise a vision he had forty years ago while developing on a template of blockbuster cinema that had become somewhat staid and tired in the endless cycle of franchise filmmaking.
And on top of that it is genuinely one of the most insane visions ever committed to mainstream action cinema with some of the most exciting character names around – how can you fault The Doof Warrior, The Splendid Angharad, The Organic Mechanic and, a particular highlight, Rictus Erectus, though they all still pale in comparison to Max Rockatansky.