IN CINEMAS NOW
RUNNING TIME: 120 min
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
It is the year 2060, some time after a series of catastrophic worldwide calamities have caused the downfall of civilization. Max Rockatansky, a former highway patrolman whose family was killed in the early days of societal collapse, enters a kingdom called the Wasteland which is ruled by the tyrannical king Immortan Joe and his bloodthirsty military force the War Boys. He even hogs all the water, only occasionally giving some to the starving populace. When Furiosa and five other former female captives escape, Joe wants them back because they are fertile enough to breed the next generation of the human race to be remade in Joe’s twisted image. Held captive as a human blood bank, Max also escapes and has to decide whether to team up with the women for survival or go it alone like he always does….
Well it really shouldn’t be very good at all should it? We have a project that spent 25 years in development hell, was set to shoot several times before forces transpired to prevent it happening, and had to have reshoots almost a year after principal filming, even after that it seeming to take ages before we got to see even a glimpse of it, as if the filmmakers were ashamed of what they had made. Plus we have a quite elderly filmmaker trying to recapture 70’s and 80’s glories, something that the likes of George Lucas, Steven Spielberg and Ridley Scott have failed to pull off, somebody trying to fill the shoes of an actor who, like him or loathe him [more people loathe him], made the role of the central character his own to the point that it remains iconic, and the film is coming out in an age where screen action seems to be dominated by CGI and a style of filming that makes it hard to actually tell what is taking place on screen to the point where I’m starting to dread when an action scene is about to come along in a film because all that shakycam and incoherent editing often makes me feel sick.
However, something quite extraordinary has happened. The film is good. Very very good. Here’s an example of how good it is. You know the incredible chase that makes up the climax of Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior? Mad Max: Fury Road has a sequence like that seemingly every 15 minutes. In fact, I would say two thirds of its running time is devoted to brilliantly staged and shot action where you spend the time gasping and either on the edge of your seat or clutching the arm of the person you’re with so much he or she is likely to end up with bruises. It’s almost as if director George Miller needed this amount of time to get into the mindset of making his revisit to the post-apocalyptic world of Max Rockatansky the best it could possibly be, and to refine his film. If you’re a big fan of the original trilogy and are unsure whether Miller could match those films, rest assured, he’s not only matched them but bettered them [and I include the terrific second film, easily the best, in this]. If you’re sick of hype and trailers that contain all the best bits and lead one to believe you’re going to see a much better movie than you actually do, rest assured again, because you haven’t seen anything yet and the film will match or even surpass expectations. And if you’re tiring of the often fake and poorly shot mayhem you tend to get in films these days, or actually even if you actually really like it, rest assured yet again that you’ll see screen action get a gigantic shot in the arm. Miller has raised the bar and laid down the gauntlet, challenging everyone else to match him. It’ll be ages before somebody does.
Some brief narration brings the viewer not familiar with Max’s earlier adventures up to scratch succinctly, setting a precedent for a film which, aside from its action obviously, is a model of economy in how to strip everything down to its essence, with small, brief details, gestures and lines the order of the day, meaning that while the majority of its running does indeed consist of metal and skin being smashed to smithereens all over the screen, you do actually need to concentrate to pick everything up. I will say that continuity, something which has never been Miller’s strong point, is a bit vague. I think the general idea is that this film takes place after the second film but not the third, not a huge problem since Mel Gibson’s encounter with Tina Turner is easily the least well regarded of the first three films [though it still has its pleasures]. Anyway, our hero, or rather anti-hero for at least a while, is captured, tortured and briefly escapes while Miller packs the screen with startling imagery and rapidly throws the shots at you in a way that is initially dizzying but controlled [unlike so many other films these days]. You’d think a young man directed this film, not one 70 years old, it feels so fresh and vibrant, yet is devoid of all this shakycam nonsense – Miller actually wants you to see his action. Anyway, we then get a truly spectacular moment straight out of an old Biblical epic where water is given to the citizens en masse. Miller has admitted that he did use CGI at times, but the only obvious bits to me were a still highly impressive sandstorm, first appearing like some shapeless monster, and a few somewhat glaring explosions.
And then the chase is on. The rest of the film is structured as a series of pursuits and encounters with either War Boys or the many other tribes populating the endless desert which Max and the ladies are thrown together in. You’re barely given time to hold your breath before the next movement in this speeded up ballet of carnage comes along, but Miller and his co-writers Brendan McCarthy and Nick Lathouris always remember to give you small but telling gestures of humanity in a film which definitely has a beating heart beneath its future-punk aesthetic and its desire, entirely laudable in this computer generated age, to smash as many vehicles as it can. In part, it’s a story of of a man who regains his humanity, Max being a quite unpleasant brute for the first half an hour. There’s a brilliant couple of seconds where you know Max is starting to become more human where he manages a half smile and a thumbs up. It’s a moment where I felt like cheering, a great example of the way the film often achieves so much with so little, and treats the viewer with respect rather than spelling everything out. The central theme of redemption is echoed touchingly in the subplot of Nux, the War Boy who changes sides, and the film also has much to say about important and timely matters such as blind fanaticism and the environment [there’s a very haunting bit where they pass by a dying area populated by crows and human scarecrows] without all this stuff ever getting in the way of the spectacular, pulsatingly thrilling action. Miller even gives us a slight feminist agenda, but it works for the story.
We can’t tell yet if it will pay off commercially [the audience I saw the film clearly loved the movie and even clapped at the end, something that is normally reserved for worthy, ‘important’ Oscar winner-type films], but Warner Bros. do seem to have let Miller and company just get on with it. This film retains the weirdness, the off-kilter feel of the earlier films, and it’s also an extremely tough film. I warn you – characters who you like will die, some of them being people you haven’t long met but still care about, though the film does still give us a few funny moments, like Max waking up and obviously wondering if he’s in Heaven when the first thing he sees are some pretty young women wearing very little clothes washing, or one War Boy vehicle sporting two drummers and a red-clad guitar player in a great melding of score and source music. Miller remembers to give some series fans some little touches, such as a music box playing a couple of times, and by God is that the cars that ate Paris from Peter Weir’s 1974 cult movie of the same name turning up in one scene? The film only seems to stretch the surface of the fascinating cultures depicted, while character names double as character traits, but the greater budget [and time] has allowed Miller to really delve into his love of tribalism and tribal culture and you believe the insane [or maybe not so insane] world he has put on the screen.
After 15 minutes I barely noticed that it wasn’t Mad Mel in the title role, so strong is Tom Hardy’s silent presence, though when he does he seems to wierdly alternate between his Bane voice, Australian and American. The women are appropriately, given the circumstances, tough and grumpy without ever losing their femininity. Composer Junkie XL’s often pulsating score helps ramp up the excitement to almost unbearable extremes. Despite being obviously influenced by his mate Hans Zimmer, he’s getting rather good at this film scoring lark, and his work easily matches Brian May’s and Maurice Jarre’s strong efforts in the earlier films. One thing that Mad Max: Fury Road does lack compared to Mad Mad 2 and Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, at least until the end, is their mythic dimension, and I’m not sure it needed to be two hours, though it’s the fastest two hours you’ll ever see on a movie screen. Mad Max: Fury Road is being released in both 3D and 2D, but I would totally recommend that you avoid the 3D version which will probably diminish John Seale’s cinematography which is largely bleached out to emphasise yellow and orange. It’s a masterpiece of action cinema that blows the hell out of everything else out there at the moment, pumping up the aesthetics of the genre about as far as they can go. I was thoroughly numb when I came out of the cinema, but I’m sure you realise that I mean in the best possible way. Miller, it was worth the wait.