Up until about ten days ago, I had never seen a single Mad Max movie. Having decided to buy in to the hype and not wanting to go in to the 2015 instalment with no background or context, over the course of a week I spent my evenings catching up on the three previous films in the franchise. It was a week full of mixed emotions from sheer awe at the revolutionary and, quite frankly, bonkers nature of the first two episodes, to slight disappointment in the much debated third outing Thunderdome for its rather bizarre Hollywood style restraint, and misguided attempt to turn Mel Gibson’s Max in to something of a Robin William’s Hook style baby sitter/mentor at the centre of the film’s ‘lost children’ plot. Overall, though, bingeing the Mad Max series in anticipation of the newest addition was a revelatory cinematic experience for me, and I was more than a little excited to see if the series could pick up where the more impressive first and second movies left off.
And gosh, it really, really did. In all honesty, after seeing Mad Max: Fury Road it is hard to ever talk about action films in the same way ever again. Fury Road is quite simply, crazy, in all of the best ways possible. Taking place, one assumes, years after Max Rockatansky’s (Tom Hardy) adventures with Tina Turner and co. in the Thunderdome, the film details the bangs and flashes of a spectacular cross desert chase in which the road warrior finds himself embroiled. Finding himself in a poverty stricken township ruled by maniacal cult leader Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne), Max unwittingly becomes the co-conspirator of an attempt to escape the dictator’s clutches and free his five beautiful wives, or ‘breeders’, alongside a determined and skilful rig driver Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron). Once their plan is revealed, the remainder of the film becomes an extended action set piece to chase the escaping crew across the hostile Australian wasteland, and there is no better word I can think of to describe the on screen happenings than totally and utterly insane. To discuss the pacing or rhythm of the picture would be a wasted venture, just know that it begins at an eleven and finishes at a number not yet reached by mankind. What truly matters in the universe of Mad Max is the style and the action, and the film has both in glorious abundance. Never have I seen a desolate desert setting look so incredibly vivid and alive, and in terms of action there are set pieces during Fury Road that include things I have never experienced on the big screen before. There are times when you can almost smell the heat of the explosions, almost feel the desert wind on your face, almost the gasoline dripping from the chasing vehicles. Your ears ring with the revving of engines accompanied by a perfectly retro feeling score, and by the time the picture has come to end you are almost too bewildered to leave the cinema. Complaints, if any, revolve around the film’s running time. Whereas the first Mad Max was compacted in to a tight and frantic ninety minute package, Fury Road has exercised the luxury of allowing a further thirty minutes of chaotic road rage. Admittedly, two hours is hardly uncommon in today’s cinematic landscape, but when a film runs at such a hi-octane level as this, the mind (and even body!) starts to weaken and the sheer force of the picture has the potential to beat you in to submission and tire you out. However, those who become engrossed in the carnage, much like myself and every single person in my screening, will never want the film to end.
Of course, the image of Mel Gibson as Max is almost an impossible one to effectively replace, but Tom Hardy does a fine job in the role and boasts an arresting, believable physical presence that is much needed in such a chaotic on screen environment. Much of Hardy’s work in the film is reduced to grunts and incredible stunts, both of which he pulls off to an impressive end and I can see the future of the franchise being in safe hands. Most interestingly, though, is the place of Charlize Theron’s Imperator Furiosa as arguably the true protagonist of the film. Evoking more than just a vibe of Sigourney’s Weavers timeless sci-fi heroine Ellen Ripley, Theron commands much of the screen time and gives an absolute masterclass in surly, strong feminine bad-assery. Hardy and Theron together spark a great partnership, and one that thankfully never strays in to unnecessary romance, that’s not what the Mad Max series is about and it certainly wasn’t needed for the first instalment of the new era. Notable and enjoyable performances are given by, amongst others, Nicholas Hoult, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley and Riley Keough, but in all honesty, amongst the mind bending action and ear splitting soundtrack, there is nothing any actor could have done to mess it all up.
Overall, Mad Max: Fury Road really is something that has to be seen to be believed. Fans of nuanced drama and layered performance will not find what they crave here, but the film is a roller coaster thrill ride of a calibre I have never experienced before. If you do nothing else in the next month or so, make sure you see it on as big a screen as possible. Prepare to lose yourself in a vision of the post-apocalyptic future that features no Hunger Games, no vampires, no teenage trials and tribulations of any kind. Just two hours of sheer insanity that will either delight or destroy you. When it comes to Mad Max, there is no in-between!