After years spent in financing limbo, with reshoots and delays as the prevailing thrust of early news reports, it had long seemed that George Miller’s fourth installment in his Mad Max series was something of a lost cause. An about turn occurred, however, at the tail end of last year, with the first trailers revealing a propulsive, thrilling look at Miller’s update of the series’ signature stunt-driven dystopia. This set the scene for a brilliantly realised marketing campaign that all but eradicated any sense of unease, and despite its years spent in development hell, Mad Max: Fury Road finally arrives amidst a tornado of anticipation. Sure to enrapture fans of the series and win new converts, Miller’s film delivers on its promise, a gleefully ridiculous action powerhouse that showcases some of the most astoundingly audacious stunt work seen on film in years.”
With thirty years since Beyond Thunderdome, concessions are made for newcomers, with one-time cop Max Rockatansky’s troubled past hazily sketched out over the film’s opening monologue. Tom Hardy brings his signature physicality and ever-unplaceable accent to his interpretation of the titular hero, his lone ranger status undermined somewhat when he is captured in the opening minutes by the deranged War Boys, controlled by the tyrannical and extremely gross Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Bryne). Max is hence rendered a living-breathing ‘blood-bag’ for the child-like Nux (Nicholas Hoult), a terminally-ill War Boy devoted to the notion of dying for his leader. The plot is thrust into motion when Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) abandons a mission to attempt the rescue of Immortan Joe’s Five Wives, having concealed them in the undercarriage of her aptly named ‘war-rig’. This results in a movie-long car-chase across the desolate wasteland that throws Max, Nux and Furiosa together against Joe’s forces. Plot-wise, it’s all willingly preposterous, its consistently OTT execution no less so, not least in Miller’s vision of the ruling classes, a collection of compellingly repulsive fascists who guzzle on mass-produced breast milk while their people go hungry. Hilariously, Immortan Joe’s cavalry even features in-house double-necked guitar player, solo-ing his way along to the War Boys’ pillaging and committed enough to shred even through the heat of battle.
We could read deep into Miller’s portrayal of a disintegrated society and the film’s surprisingly proto-feminist leanings, but the truth is you’ll be far too busy marvelling at the consistently dazzling displays of carnage. The first 45 minutes barely allow us to catch our breath, a dystopian Cirque du Soleil on wheels that takes in kamikaze warfare, repeated bouts of pyromania, and enough explosions to make Michael Bay blush. That it’s even occasionally possible to follow what’s happening amidst the onslaught of practical effects is testament to the stellar choreography on display, John Seale’s all-encompassing cinematography lending a propulsive, aggressive energy to proceedings. The lasting rush of this first stretch is never bested, despite an impressive canyon sequence and a gloriously theatrical final showdown, yet this is extremely forgivable, given that each of the film’s major action sequences could count as centrepieces in their own right.
Scripted by Miller alongside previous collaborators Brendan McCarthy and Nico Lathouris, Fury Road gradually reveals itself to be less interested in the plight of its eponymous hero – realised through infrequent, vague flashbacks – and more invested in Furiosa’s search for the ‘Green place’, a romantic ideal that represents a haven for her and the Five Brides. While he ultimately becomes an invaluable asset in their quest, Max’s is largely sidelined for most of the second act, his most violent encounter taking place entirely off-screen. Max’s insistence to remain emotionally detached from proceedings renders the character relatively inert for much of the running time, yet this is thankfully remedied in a climactic twenty minutes that ramps up the drama, allowing Hardy an 11th hour emotional showcase that sees him assuredly make Max his own. Theron’s one armed warrior Furiosa casts an instantly iconic figure, more than justifying hers and Hardy’s shared top-billing. As inevitable and perhaps disappointing as the cause of her plight may be, Furiosa’s arc provides Fury Road’s third act with the emotional stakes necessary to counteract any exhaustion that some may feel as the film closes in on the 2-hour mark.