It’s been 36 years since the Aussie hero Mad Max first graced our screens, of course played by Mel Gibson, a role he would return to twice. Jump forward a few decades and we have a new actor Tom Hardy in the role, a big and bold new style but helmed by the same man who started it all, George Miller.
The film is set in a stark and uncompromising post-apocalyptic landscape where water and oil are in short supply, the heat and dryness bordering on insufferable and the people left populating a decimated world are either totally mad or power crazy (or both). There’s a ruler of sorts in the form of a man named “Immortan Joe,” who wears a skull mask with what appears to be vacuum pipes protruding, holding dominion over his cult-like people who worship him because of his control over the crucial water supply and that a chosen few of his “Warboys” will walk with him in Valhalla.
Enter Max Rockatansky (Hardy), caught and held captive by the group for his blood supply because he is a universal donor. When he is taken along on a dangerous mission to retrieve some precious stolen cargo, Max teams up with another rebel in the form of Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron), a ruthless woman who will stop at nothing to get back to her childhood homeland.
The hype surrounding the film has been practically insurmountable – not least because Miller has been trying to get this fourth film made for almost 15 years now – but the film meets expectations and then some. Miller has delivered a monumentally entertaining, utterly beguiling statement of blockbuster spectacle that once it gets going barely stops for breath and when it does, it’s to let you take in the almost painting-like still imagery adorned with orange that seems to echo the state of the characters’ minds or ocean deep night-time blues, before hitting you over the head with another sledgehammer full of frenetic action. You’d never expect it all to be helmed by a man now in his ’70s.
It’s very difficult for a big blockbuster these days to truly surprise in terms of its set-pieces but Fury Road genuinely contains some imagery amid the purposefully chaotic action that really hasn’t been seen before. From baddies with white painted skin swinging between chasing vehicles on what appear to be pole vaulting sticks to a red-clothed crazed guitar player on strings rattling out a solo as metal and bodies smash to pieces around them, the film provides a unique blockbuster experience that’s to be reveled in and cherished. Just when you thought Fast and Furious 7 raised the bar of enjoyable ridiculousness this summer, along comes Mad Max: Fury Road and leaps it.
Despite what all the big studios would like to think these days, Hardy is not an actor suited to every role (just look at This Means War, for example). But he is one of the most charismatic, brooding and intense actors around and this makes him utterly perfect for the titular role here. To quote Tony Soprano, whatever happened to the strong, silent type? Well, it turns out he’s in the middle of the blistering desert, a man of few words, penetrating stares and furious action. He’s not Mel Gibson but nor is he trying to emulate what he did all those years ago. Theron more than holds her own opposite him, playing one of the strongest and most complex blockbuster heroines to come along in quite some time. Both play the archetypal characters with both strength and vulnerability; Max can more than handle himself while not being an uncaring thug while Theron is vulnerable without just being the damsel in distress, and crucially neither are portrayed as infallible warriors that can never be hurt no matter how many bullets or spears are thrown at them.
A special mention must go out to Nicholas Hoult who, in a very surprising piece of casting, plays one of Immortan Joe’s cult members, almost unrecognisable with his shaven-head, white body paint and lips painted to look like a skull, spouting pseudo-religious gobbledygook as he participates and revels in the utter pandemonium around him. It’s great to see the former About a Boy actor branch out even further with his roles and he actually gets some of the film’s most memorably crazy, and even redemptive, moments.
It might seem like for all its breathtaking action and beguiling visual style that there’s nothing of substance underneath but that just isn’t the case here. Yes, some of the dialogue is a tad too on the nose – characters repeatedly talk about finding some sort of redemption – but it’s a damn sight more than we get from a lot of other blockbusters. Third act revelations add an emotional resonance that give the film’s spectacularly climactic final set-piece an extra sense of purpose and even pathos. It’s a finale that somehow manages to one-up all the carnage that has come before it.
It’s such a joy when a much hyped blockbuster comes along and not only meets expectations but completely blows them away. Mad Max: Fury Road delivers on what it promises to be from the get-go; a frenetic, operatic, ridiculously over-the-top action fest filled with jaw-dropping “did I just see that?” set-pieces that are thankfully devoid of the shaky cam that plagues most blockbuster cinema. Miller has delivered a blistering barrage of breathlessly intense, expertly choreographed, delightfully bonkers action spectacle that will be very hard to beat the rest of the year.