Almost 25 years after Tina Turner ran Mel Gibson’s Max Rockatansky out of Bartertown, George Miller’s infamously taciturn anti-hero makes his long-awaited return with Fury Road, a savagely driven and fearlessly imaginative action movie that really is unlikely anything else around.
Gibson may no longer star in the titular role, with Tom Hardy slipping behind the wheel to bring his enviously chiseled form of brooding to haunted loner Max, but this is still undoubtedly a Mad Max film, boasting the rebellious attitude and feral nature of the original movies only this time the post-apocalyptic madness has been dialled up to 11.
Hardy is excellent casting as the enigmatic road warrior, not only bringing the necessary physicality but also the ability to convey a great depth of emotion through subtle facial expressions. You instantly feel that Hardy’s Max is a more relatable character compared to Gibson’s incarnation, which is partly due to the frequent use of flashbacks to expose his previous failures, but also because Hardy is excellent at imbuing strong men with an underlying fragility, and that bodes well with talk already turning to potential sequels.
In keeping with tradition, the plot is extremely simple. 45 years after the collapse of civilisation, resource-starved survivors cling to life at the Citadel, a towering fortress ruled by the terrifying Immortan Joe (Keays-Byrne) – think American Horror Story’s Twisty the Clown with Jimmy Savile’s wispy white locks. When Imperator Furiosa – an intense and formidable Charlize Theron – steals a heavily armoured tanker to liberate a band of young ladies, she’s forced into an alliance with Hardy’s Max to stave off the relentless attacks from a horde of albino wack-jobs dubbed the War Bars – led by Nicholas Hoult’s sickly driver Nox – as they flee across the volatile Wasteland.
What follows is essentially one long, bombastic chase sequence, unfolding like a symphony of insanity as beefed-up vehicles power across the desert via an array of inventive and outlandish stunts. That this relentless explosion of action never feels tiresome is a credit to Miller’s creative direction as he utilises multiple frame rates, handheld cameras and crash zooms to give each segment a different style, ensuring the automobile annihilation is always uniquely visceral and exhilarating.
Yet what’s most striking about the film’s visuals is the sheer feral originality of Miller’s nuke-ravaged world. At a time when every depiction of a dystopian future appears to be trapped in a period of grim homogeneity, Fury Road’s vision of a post-apocalyptic Australia is wildly unique, looking for all the world like a mash-up of a steam-punk wonderland and a nightmarish fever dream where the desert is regularly ransacked by surreal sandstorms that unleash forks of lightening, roaring tornadoes and ferocious fireballs upon the earth.
Despite this near-constant carnage and minimal dialogue, Fury Road is not short of emotional heft with Miller making excellent use of the rare quiet moments to develop textured characters. Hoult is surprisingly endearing as a radioactively debilitated War Boy who starts to doubt his loyalty, and Theron’s Furiosa feels like an early version of Max, constantly brooding with a similar haunted intensity but still possessing the glimmer of hope that has long since abandoned the series’ hero.
Their respective quests for redemption add an extra layer of tension to the action as we come to genuinely care about them and fear for their safety, while an overt attempt to challenge the representation of gender in the 21st Century offers a more serious message for those not simply placated by the glorious entertainment.
Bold, imaginative and visually striking, Mad Max: Fury Road delivers unrelenting carnage with a distinctive style that sets it apart from the increasingly homogenised dystopian thrillers currently doing the rounds. With this film, George Miller shows that the near-three decades spent away from his creation has done little to dampen his creative flair; hopefully, Max’s next outing won’t take nearly as long to hit the road.
Runtime: 120 mins; Genre: Action; Released: 14 May 2015;
Director: George Miller; Screenwriters: George Miller, Brendan McCarthy, Nick Lathouris;
Starring: Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron, Nicholas Hoult, Hugh Keays-Byrne
Click here to watch the trailer for Mad Max: Fury Road