It’s rare that I see a film these days that reminds me of what it was like to watch films when I was younger, before I began to overanalyse everything – to look for the joins that hold the movie together, if you will.
I remember watching action movies, and being awed by the spectacle – being lost in it, without reservation. It was only after the film was done that you could look back on it, and begin to wonder.
The best films are not films at all – they’re stories that live on in your heart and mind, for years. You see them, absorb them, and they become a part of you.
That is what Mad Max: Fury Road is like.
I know that I’ll watch and re-watch it again and again; and no matter how many times I see it, it’ll still fill me with a visceral thrill and a sense of wonder at the depth that George Miller has managed to incorporate into his imagined, post-apocalyptic world.
For those who don’t know, Max Rockatansky is a character who has been with us since 1979, when George Miller and Byron Kennedy, an Australian director and producer pair, dreamt him up. He’s a former police officer who bears witness to the collapse of civilisation (the cause of which is never fully specified) and loses everything in the process, becoming a wanderer and “Road Warrior”, scavenging to survive and fighting to hold onto the last shred of his humanity and the world sinks further and further into chaos, anarchy and depravity.
The first film, Mad Max, was followed by Mad Max 2 (called The Road Warrior in some markets) in 1981 and Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome in 1985.
Now, Max is back, 30 years later and no less iconic. Although Mel Gibson has been replaced by Tom Hardy in the role, he handles it admirably. So does George Miller for that matter, who makes sure to frame the story of Fury Road as a mythic narrative. In this way, it is neither a true sequel nor a reboot – it’s just another story that stands alongside and apart from the others.
The plot is surprisingly strong considering that the majority of the film’s 120 minute running time is taken up by chase and action sequences, so that there is hardly a moment for the audience to draw breath and process the chaotic mayhem that dominates the screen.
It starts with Max being captured by the War Boys of Immorten Joe, a brutal dictator who uses water and the quasi-religious fervour of his followers to dominate the Wasteland.
Hardier than many of the others who have grown up in the irradiated, plague-ridden desert of the future, Max is initially used as a “blood bag” – a forced donor – to preserve the life of Nux (Nicholas Hoult), a young driver in Joe’s army who is on his last legs.
At the same time, Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) is planning an escape from Joe’s world, across the desert to a dimly-remembered “green place” where she was born and stolen from as a child. With her, in the “War Rig” she drives, are five stowaways – Immorten Joe’s young wives, forced to nothing more than baby factories to help him produce healthy heirs.
None-to-pleased about losing his prized “breeders”, Joe sets off in pursuit of Furiosa, and with him are Nux and Max.
And that’s where things get really interesting.
There has already been (and will continue to be, I’m sure) a lot said about Fury Road’s message, themes and tone. Sexual politics play a part, to be sure. But for me, it’s as much a story about the concepts of survival, hope and redemption.
As he has done before, Miller proves himself a master at pacing and tone, while the cinematography, stunts and practical effects combine to draw the audience into a world that is at once both terrifying and compelling.
Hardy and Theron inhabit their characters so fully it’s impossible to tell where the acting ends and the living begins, while the others (especially those portraying the more outlandish denizens of the Wasteland) do equally as well.
All in all, Mad Max: Fury Road is the rarest kind of film there is – one that works on many levels, not just as an action film, but also as a philosophical musing on life and a commentary on the failures of humanity.
Watch it, and be changed forever.
Verdict: 5 stars (out of 5).