Mad Max: Fury Road (****)
Running time: 120 minutes
Director: George Miller
Cast: Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron, Nicholas Hoult, Zoë Kravitz, Rosie-Huntington-Whiteley and Hugh Keays-Byrne.
(Movie House Cinemas, Dublin Road press screening 11/05/2015)
STRAP yourself in because George Miller is taking viewers for one hell of a thrill ride with his latest feature, Mad Max: Fury Road. The Australian filmmaker returns to his post-apocalyptic franchise after a 30 year absence and this latest instalment is as wonderfully over the top as we’ve come to expect from Miller. It’s a two-hour chase movie that plays out at an unrelentingly breakneck pace.
The project has been in development for nearly six years, with Miller allegedly at one point considering making it as an animated feature in 2009; but after various setbacks the director finally got his movie made with Tom Hardy taking over from Mel Gibson in the franchise’s central role. Mad Max fans needn’t worry though, because this is no remake or series reboot; instead it’s a continuation of the story from 1985’s third instalment, Mad Max Beyond the Thunderdome; albeit with a new leading man.
Since Max is a man of action rather than words Hardy seems like an inspired choice to play the aforementioned ‘road warrior’. He’s an immensely physical actor with real screen presence, capable of saying as much with a mere frown or shrug of his shoulder as he could through spouting any ream of dialogue. Surprisingly though for much of the film Hardy is forced to take a back seat in all the action as his female co-stars steal the show.
Charlize Theron is simply fantastic (and barely recognisable) as Imperator Furiosa, a skin-headed amputee with a mech-arm that would rival even Luke Skywalker’s. She’s trying to lead a group of beautiful young women to freedom from their former captor King Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne). Known as the first wives, Joe has imprisoned these beautiful women because they are still fertile enough to bear his children. Determined not to lose them, he is in hot pursuit and will stop at nothing to have his property returned to him unharmed, frantically chasing after them through Australia’s apocalyptic wasteland.
Reportedly Miller brought in Eve Ensler, who wrote The Vagina Monologues, to consult on how women react differently to the same traumas as men. As a result we don’t see Theron’s character, or any of her female companions, acting as mere damsels in distress throughout the movie. Furiosa in particular is just as bad ass as her male counterparts, evoking memories of Eileen Ripley in Aliens and even Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games as she competently handles herself onscreen.
Shot for an estimated budget of around $100 million, this latest instalment in the Mad Max franchise is as far removed from the 1979 original as it could possibly be. The first movie saw Gibson’s character setting out to avenge the death of his wife and son at the hands of a motorcycle gang. Each further instalment has further explored Miller’s dystopian vision for the future of humanity and the collapse of society as we know it. Although Fury Road loosely follows on from events in Beyond the Thunderdome, spiritedly it’s much more in keeping with the tone of Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior.
Miller’s feature is such a fantastic throwback to the golden-age of cinema, a grand spectacle of an old-school blockbuster that relies on it’s stunning cinematography and choreographed set-pieces to deliver onscreen, rather than over bloating itself with CGI and special effects. Nowadays when it’s so easy to make almost anything appear onscreen with the use of a computer and a green screen in post-production, it’s great to see a filmmaker still trying to do as much as he practically can in front of the camera for real; because the final result is something which is generally much more satisfying to watch on the big screen.
The sight of a large convoy of various motor vehicles chasing after a petrol tanker across the Australian desert, while one individual strapped to the truck leading the convoy plays a guitar converted into a flame thrower, is truly a sight to behold. It’s a sequence that should live longer in the memory of any viewer, than anything they’ll have seen within the umpteen, formulaic comic book adaptions churned out by Hollywood studios.
Just when you think you’ve seen it all, Miller constantly ups the ante with another stunning set-piece after another, letting the action do most of the film’s talking. Despite an absence of dialogue at times, the gravitas of proceedings isn’t lost at all, mainly down to John Seale’s wondrous cinematography and fine editing.
This ‘punk-western’ mightn’t be to everyone’s taste; some viewers might simply find it just too ‘out there’. Probably the best and worst thing about this film is that producers have allowed Miller to make the film he’s been patiently waiting to make for the past nine years. It’s in keeping with the tone of previous instalments, so viewers who didn’t like those movies mightn’t enjoy sitting through Fury Road.
For me personally, Miller’s feature is by no means a cinematic masterpiece, but it just about sums up everything I love about the cinema; it’s sheer escapism and worth every penny of your admission. It deserves to be seen on the biggest possible screen and I’d recommend trying to catch an IMAX screening if there’s one available near you. Since I only saw a standard 2D print, I can’t really judge how the 3D visuals affect the viewing process, but I think it might just be a dimension too far for me; I simply can’t fathom watching Fury Road in 3D without worrying my eyes would bleed from the visual assault that would take place
There’s a part of me that wishes Gibson was still cast in the leading role, but Hardy is a confident heir to the ‘Road Warrior’ title and I can’t wait to see where the franchise goes from here.