Mad Max: Fury Road

MadMax1Some films arrive as a surprise; some are, perhaps intentionally, a shock. It is thirty years since Max Rockatansky, then played by Mel Gibson, wandered the lands of Aunty Entity’s Bartertown. Creator and director George Miller had long wished to revisit his signature work, the idea of the revival first floating and falling first in 2001 with many failed attempts culminating in an official announcement in 2011 that production was to take place in Australia the following year.

Unprecedented heavy rain required a last minute relocation to Namibia for much of principal photography, the first time the series had filmed outside Australia, filming from July to December, but extensive reshoots were required almost a year later, in November 2013, inevitably postponing the originally planned release date.

MadMax2Through the tortures of production hell, in planning, shooting and the aftermath, what can reasonably be expected to be salvaged of this cross-continental mess? Fortunately, if anyone thrives in impossible circumstances and daunting adversity where any sane man would abandon hope, it is the man they call Mad Max.

A touchstone of the post-apocalyptic filmmaking, 1979’s original Mad Max is so far back in the mist of memory that it tends to be forgotten that the setting which has become synonymous with the series wasn’t introduced until the second film with its back story of the water wars, 1981’s Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior, which is also where the mythologising of the character began, escalating into the full blown messianic pathway into the somewhat tarnished promised land which lay Beyond Thunderdome (1985).

MadMax3Now portrayed by British character actor Tom Hardy, known for his performances across such diverse roles as the Reman Praetor Shinzon in Star Trek Nemesis (2002), a radio astronomer in the remake of A for Andromeda (2006), the titular violent prisoner of Bronson (2008), a conman in Inception (2010) and Bane in The Dark Knight Rises (2012), the prophetic overtones are lifted from the character but for the first time his madness it touched upon, tortured by repeated and often clumsy flashbacks of the death of his child (curiously now apparently a daughter).

With an opening echoing scenes of earlier films, Max is captured in short order, his vehicle taken, his hair shorn, but rather than put to use as a fighter or a driver, in the Citadel of King Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne, gang leader Toecutter in the original 1979 film) his only purpose is as a universal donor hooked up to War Boy Nux (X-Men: First Class and Warm Bodies‘ Nicholas Hoult).

MadMax4High atop the Citadel, Immortan Joe controls the flow of water to the teeming refugees below but lives in comparative luxury, maintaining a harem of the finest women for breeding, his power exercised through his War Boys and his trade arrangements with Gas Town and the Bullet Farm, across the dunes.

Imperator Furiosa (Prometheus‘ Charlize Theron) leaves the Citadel on her War Rig on the supply run to Gas Town, but she has betrayed her master, taking with her five of his wives, Angharad, Capable, Cheedo, Toast, and the Dag, with the intention of returning them to her own homeland, the Green Place. Imperator Joe despatches the War Boys to bring them back led by Slit (X-Men: First Class‘ Josh Helman) followed by Nux and his own personal portable blood bank Max mounted on the front of his vehicle, straight into a fearsome sandstorm.

MadMax5Where every adventure has crescendoed to a chase sequence more expansive and destructive than the previous, here Miller has abandoned any expectation of build-up which a traditionally structured film would be bound by; Fury Road is as mad as its pace-setting flagman, and with only a few brief scenes establishing the immediate situation its spinning wheels are kicking up dust across the open desert.

Where The Road Warrior was a quest for fuel and Beyond Thunderdome was a quest for knowledge, the hope is that Fury Road will lead to a new life, but death follows hot and close behind. Raw, primitive and tribal, the white powdered skin of the War Boys invites mutation as they cross the scorched land with their own thundering soundtrack, but as much as gasoline it is the poisoned religion of an old man which drives them.

MadMax6Inevitably, there are repeated ideas from the previous films, booby traps, kill switches and concealed arrays of armaments, but while Miller has previously used performers with physical disabilities to emphasise the environmental damage of the dying world, here it is women whom he champions, the Wives rising to the adversity and challenges of their passage and Furiosa equal to Max in her determination and skills, traits she has inherited from the tough and indomitable women of her own tribe led by Farscape‘s Melissa Jaffer as the Keeper of the Seeds.

Despite the promise that the near astonishing stunt sequences were largely created practically wherever possible with digital work limited to removing wirework and safety harnesses, there are moments where the tampering steps forward and announces itself to the audience, a steering wheel which tumbles perfectly into frame emphasising how refreshing the absence elsewhere has been until that moment.

MadMax7A battle for desert power where the combustion engine is fetishised and worshipped, there are moments and images which recall the final scenes of David Lynch’s 1984 adaptation of Dune, though having already played a reluctant messiah Max wisely eschews the role this time, his actions carrying more meaning than his few grudging words.

So breathless and relentless it is almost unbelievable the film is two hours long, for the most part it is the powerful physicality of the heavily modified armoured and overdriven trucks, cars and motorbikes set against the stark and rugged beauty of the sands and mountains which rule the screen, the dialogue sparse and functional, more bullets exchanged than words. Survival is the goal, anything beyond that superfluous.

Mad Max: Fury Road is on general release now in 2D, 3D and 3D IMAX




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