Thirty years after the last (and third) instalment, 12 years in the making, director George Miller (Happy Feet) is back with more of the post apocalyptic horror of Mad Max. But this time it is English actor Tom Hardy (The Dark Knight Rises) instead of Mel Gibson, who plays the road warrior Max Rockatansky.
Haunted by his turbulent past, Mad Max believes the best way to survive is to wander alone. Nevertheless, he becomes swept up with a group fleeing across the Wasteland in a rig driven by Charlize Theron (Prometheus). They are escaping a Citadel run by a tyrannical Warlord, who looks ferocious, courtesy of his skeletal facemask, not to overlook his carefully crafted body armour. Enraged, the Warlord marshals all his gangs and ruthlessly pursues the rebels in the high-octane road war that follows.
We are talking about a time frame 45 years after the fall of the world. There is no rule of law, no power grids, no water and no mercy. Civilisation is but a distant memory and only to a few. The world’s great economies have crumbled; the coastal cities have been erased. What’s left of humanity roams the Wasteland in wild tribes or clings to survival at the foot of the Citadel, a fortress spun into a cave system where water is pumped from the only aquifer for kilometres around.
The film features Nicholas Hoult (X-Men: Days of Future Past) as a hybrid character who is energised by war. Rosie Huntington-Whiteley (Transformers: Dark of the Moon) plays one of the Warlord’s wives looking to escape his evil clutches. Angus Sampson is a Warlord henchman – one of the many Aussies in the cast.
Writer, producer and director Miller always envisaged a film that would play out as a breathless chase from start to finish amidst the chaos of a new world order, where fuel is the ultimate currency. I am pleased to say he has largely succeeded in delivering that, save for a flat patch about two thirds of the way through when Theron comes face-to-face with those with whom she grew up … and little happens.
And then there’s the issue of more of the same, in other words loud, pulsating sounds and music, battle after battle, with all but no concentration on plot development. But this is essentially a visceral movie – one for the senses. It is big, bold, loud and evocative. I struggled to understand a word spoken in the first half hour or so. Max barely utters a sound and the Warlord is basically incomprehensible. Nevertheless, I was swept up in the pulsating action and gradually got a grip on what all this was about. To me its screams inventiveness.
It doesn’t miss a beat in passing the mantle of Mad Max from Gibson to Hardy. The latter does an excellent job inhabiting the paranoid psyche of his predecessor. Charlize Theron, too, is a force to be reckoned with as the no nonsense, one armed, protective fighting machine searching for freedom.
Mad Max: Fury Road is, indeed, a wild ride. Think rock concert mixed with dramatic opera – the appropriate metaphor Miller uses. In the late 1970s, he was just out of medical school when, fueled by his love for cinema’s early action and chase movies, he set out to rediscover their visual purity. Drawing from his experiences as an emergency room doctor, he conceived a tale of a solitary figure terrorised by psychotic road gangs in a world stripped bare following the collapse of society. Scraping together a shoestring budget, he assembled a rolling carnival of motorbikes and muscle cars, cast an unknown named Mel Gibson straight out of drama school and hit the desolate highways on the outskirts of Melbourne. Mad Max burst onto our screens in 1979, Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior two years later and Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome followed in 1985.
Mad Max: Fury Road ups the ante, with technological innovation having come a long way in the interim. Importantly, this movie opens up the franchise to a new generation, which wasn’t born when the original was conceived or, indeed, the last instalment released. Gens “X” and “Y” should find just as much to enjoy and appreciate here as will the Baby Boomers that found such pleasure in the first three Mad Max pictures.
Apart from leveraging the talents of hundreds of artists to design and fabricate an authentic post-apocalyptic universe, it became a massive logistical operation involving 150 hand-built drivable vehicles. Mad Max: Fury Road was originally going to be shot in the arid Australian desert but rain intervened and held up the filming for month after month. Eventually, production had to be moved to Namibia because all that precipitation had turned a usually barren landscape into a flora filled paradise – certainly not appropriate to the backdrop for a Mad Max movie. Four months of shooting followed. Miller acknowledges the intensity and exhilaration in crashing vehicles in the desert. He puts it well when he paraphrases an old saying: “You don’t have to be crazy to make a Mad Max movie, but it helps.”
Hear, hear to that – the stunts are electrifying, the sound is mammoth and the violence is palpable.
Rated MA, Mad Max: Fury Road is an immersive experience that scores a 7½ to 8 out of 10.
Director: George Miller
Cast: Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron, Nicholas Hoult, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley and Zoe Kravitz
Release Date: 14 May 2015
David Edwards is the editor of The Blurb and a contributor on film and television