May 16, 2015 Leave a comment
Captured by the War Boys of Citadel, a small oasis lost in the wastelands of what used to be Australia, Max Rockatansky (Tom Hardy) is condemned to have his blood harvested for injured warrior Nux (Nicholas Hoult). Before the transfusion can begin, however, Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) flees the Citadel aboard a tank truck containing despot Immortan Joe’s (Hugh Keays-Byrne) “prize breeders” — wives Splendid (Rosie Huntington-Whiteley), Capable (Riley Keough), Cheedo (Courtney Eaton) and Toast (Zoë Kravitz) — drawing Joe and his War Boys out of the city in pursuit. Chained to the front of Nux’s vehicle, out in front of the fleet, the transfusion now in progress, Max’s only chance of survival is to escape his confines and join the women on the rig before either he runs out of blood or Nux runs out of luck. With a cargo of gasoline as well as women, it’s not long until hunting parties from rival territories Gas Town and Bullet Farm join the chase.
Ostensibly the fourth film in George Miller’s Mad Max franchise, albeit at something of a remove from the original trilogy by virtue of a recast lead actor (Hardy taking over from Mel Gibson) and a recycled villain (series veteran Keays-Byrne returning in a new role), Mad Max: Fury Road is more of a soft reboot. No longer an independent, under-the-radar antipodean oddity, the latest instalment has been financed by Hollywood with a high profile cast and exponentially bigger budget. Remarkably — and refreshingly — that seems to be the full extent of the compromises enacted by Warner Bros. While notable enough simply for having swerved the traditional backlash against belated trilogy-cappers that befell Indiana Jones and John McClane, and which dogs all remakes, however honourable their intentions, Fury Road is even more impressive for running circles not just around the usual skeptics and cynics but also the Cannes Croisette. There is more originality on display in this franchise film than there is in most standalone features.
Although it’s initially a little jarring to see Miller’s uncompromising vision writ large, the grinding of gears is so intrinsic to a film such as this that it soon becomes second nature when watching. Max may be mad but Miller’s film is maniacal; from the manic edits to the frantic pacing, the returning director builds a momentum that doesn’t let up for a single moment. This is a film in which fade-outs signal the passing of minutes rather than months, in which characterisation takes place at pace or not at all, and in which characters give blood/fight baddies/blast out guitar riffs while strapped to the front of supercharged muscle cars. That the chase not only continues but intensifies through swirling sandstorms, crumbling canyons and cloying quagmires only goes to show how insane it eventually becomes — in a no-holds-barred drag race to the finish. It’s hard to think of another live-action movie that can match it in terms of surrealist scale and spectacle — at least until that Fast & Furious/Doomsday crossover exactly nobody is asking for — and it’s telling that for years Fury Road was actually mooted as an animated movie, albeit one that doesn’t deal in love interests and daddy issues.
Seventeen years in the making, Mad Max has had plenty of time to balance impeccable style with unexpected substance. As is so often the case with supposedly studied dystopian fiction, the film deals with an underclass railing against dishonest dictators, but Fury Road is a little more nuanced than that. The characters aren’t simply trying to topple a tyrant; they’re attempting to overthrow a patriarchy. Both Max and Furiosa receive essentially the same billing, both in the opening credits and the title of the film itself, in which the two are separated only by a colon. Interpreted literally as a route travelled in anger the fury of the film’s title is clearly that of Furiosa’s and her four female compatriots; but read metaphorically it could just as easily relate to a road of furies — as in the creatures of Grecian myth, embodied here by those selfsame five. As if the women aren’t depicted as dominant enough (Max is never much more a passenger aboard the rig), he is at one point shown to rely upon “mother’s milk” — and he isn’t the only one. Unfortunately, while Furiosa flourishes onscreen, and both Huntington-Whiteley and Kravitz are given fleeting opportunities to prove themselves and flesh out their characters, the two other wives don’t make quite the same impression.
While commendable for his conviction, only time will tell whether Miller’s refusal to compromise has cost his film commercially. Like Drag Me To Hell, itself a solid but by no means sensational success at the box office, it’s at some points so crazed that it’s actually comical — more rumpus than riot. It is clear throughout, even at its most unlikely and over the top, however, that there is method to this madness.