Where do you start? In the tsunami of seemingly universal hyperbole, what more could you possibly say? Well I’m sure that the unstoppable George Miller was challenged with the same question. Five years ago, I jumped out of a plane over the Namib Desert; streaming toward the earth, confronted by the golden expanse I experienced a dose of adrenaline and exhilaration that I’ve never quite experienced since. Watching Mad Max: Fury Road allowed me to touch levels of that potent exhilaration; from a cinema seat.
The synopsis for those uninitiated sees our eponymous hero Max (Tom Hardy), swarmed by a band of War Boys, the minions of Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne). Joe, is a Warlord in charge of an oasis atop a Monument Valley style sliver of mountain called the Citadel. From this perch he hoards a rare spring of untainted water and is personally trying to repopulate the world with his pure seed. When Imperator Furiosa (Chalize Theron), driver of the War Rig, takes a Fury Road detour from her mission to Gas-Town, with Joe’s most prized possession (his wives), Immortan Joe unleashes his hellish fleet of mutilated metal to retrieve them. Meanwhile, a War Boy named Nux (Nicholas Hoult) who requires blood transfusions to survive, straps Max (a universal blood donor or ‘blood bag’) to the front of his rig, so he doesn’t have to miss out on the carnage. George Miller, in a Cannes press conference, described Max as a wild dog, feverishly trying to escape the clutches of Immortal Joe; while Furiosa is the liberator of the wives. They must find a way to work together to overcome the War Lord’s hoard.
Firstly, you’re going to hear some critical dismissal saying that Mad Max: Fury Road is merely a giant car chase. Well, that’s almost like saying that the Sun is merely a giant light in the sky. With Mad ringleader George Miller twirling the baton, a production army manifested the nightmarish twisted metal beasts, and enough gasoline (which everyone must now pronounce as guz-o-leen, in homage to this film) to fuel an F1 Gran Prix twice over, you get to experience an almost film length chase that’s as emotional as it is explosive. Aesthetically, it’s contrasts of oppressive squalor and vibrancy. Multi-coloured flares slash the screen signalling the forthcoming chaos, the desert’s gold shimmers with the reflected heat of an unforgiving sun. The War Boys are pale ghosts alongside, their decorated senior ranks, adorned in war uniforms. There’s something so cinematically elemental about using an almost feature length chase to chart the character’s pursuit to redemption and hope. It’s not a quick sprint to freedom; it’s a marathon on the backs of metal mounts that groan, shriek and collide to maintain Immortan Joe’s lordship of this patch of the Wasteland. Real stunt men and women put their lives on the line for this action spectacle; for you who almost died to bring George Miller’s wild imagination to life, we salute you.
The chase itself is a desperate flight to be free of slavery and oppression. Just as Clint Eastwood revisited the Western genre with Unforgiven, Miller goes back to apocalypse and while he’s there he is making a powerful statement about women, imprisoned as possessions for farming and fucking. The Wives entrust the apex driver in Immortan Joe’s army, Furiosa, with their liberation. Furiosa herself, a spoil of a past conquest, has risen to the penultimate rank at the Citadel. From her influential position she orchestrates an opportunity to break free from Joe’s shackles, back to her homeland, a distant memory known as ‘The Green Place.’ Charlize Theron is the towering heroine in the film. Beautiful, capable, durable; Theron’s Furiosa immediately puts herself amongst the ranks of Ellen Ripley and Sarah Connor.
While there has been significant noise that Feminists have embraced the film and Men Rights Activists have wholly opposed it, the noise may attempt to circumscribe this film into a Feminist corner. Looking at the film, you more often than not find that thematically it’s an extremely gender aware film but branding the film with that singular intent unnecessarily shackles a wonderfully fertile text.
2. YOU’RE ONLY AS YOUNG AS YOUR ART
George Miller, at 70 years of age, revisiting a properly that he’d established now (upon release) 30 years ago has now been cursed with the post-traumatic stress reflex we’ve developed thanks to another George; Lucas (Star Wars prequels and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull). You feel as if, this is desperation, after three (albeit strikingly different films) what was left that hadn’t already been attempted in the chorus of post-apocalyptic disciples of The Road Warrior? The juicy stories of his organic approach, the actors being put on the spot to collaborate and formulate what the film would ultimately be, and finally having a burgeoning vision that simply could not be contained by set-backs; Mad Max: Fury Road is the kind of crucial filmmaking that you associate with the brashness of youth. When Miller began the franchise he was but a learner, now he’s the master.
3. THE WORLD IS VAST AND FULL OF TERRORS
In the modern cinematic landscape of cinematic universes that have eclipsed ‘franchises,’ the immediate reaction to expansion is often an assumption of dilution, over-simplification or creative condescension that essentially rots the mystery from universe that you love. The X-Men franchise has always yearned for expansion with individual spinoffs but when the entire X-Men team converge it seems like the cocktail is at its most potent. For the Star Wars prequels George Lucas showed us the mechanics behind the magical mystery of the original trilogy which is almost as much of a betrayal as seeing the 30s snake oil salesman behind the curtain in the Wizard of Oz. Instead of the each further expansion undermining the previous entry, world of Mad Max is an increasingly fruitful landscape, with every exploration comes a new different take on the disparate remnants of humanity, mutated by this unforgiving future. The downfall of modern society was always the aperitif to whatever chaotic situation that Max had stumbled into. Using the same technique to tease the events that lead to the scorched earth we’ve come to recognise, Miller brings us to a sustainable, if extremely oppressive corner of the world. In rock towers, with bores to deep underground rivers of clean water and an army of War Boys, genetically impure from the damage done to the earth. And too, the ritualistic destruction of any traces that resemble our current existence sees society regress into tribal states and the now intellectually strangled and illiterate masses are brainwashed by those who are in power.
4. A FILMMAKER’S POST-APOCALYPSE
Miller, like so many titanic filmmakers before him, was seemingly bogged in the quagmire of production issues even getting Mad Max: Fury Road to the screen. After the huge squandered attempt to bring the Justice League to the big screen, it felt as if yet another promising idea was going to end up gathering dust on a shelf (soon to be explored in a new documentary film by our very own Maria Lewis). The original gestation of the idea came in 1999. Miller says that the entire film came to him on a flight between Sydney and L.A. Once he landed he shared it with his creative partners and almost immediately began talking to the studio about making the film. 9/11 happens, the global financial crisis occurs, other more projects emerge and come to fruition and then the man we’d come to know as Max, Mel Gibson, became his bad publicity machine. It seemed that every conceivable external factor that could affect production, was and that’s before the film itself actually made it to production. Once it was in production, Broken Hill, the Australian country town that formed the back drop for The Road Warrior, that had been ear marked to be the location of Fury Road unfortunately became a blooming green landscape after some much needed rain. This forced the entire production to pause, re-evaluate and collect their convoy of vehicles and make their way to Namibia. The trade publications and on line news outlets were forecasting failure; and to be honest after such a long and stuttered production, they were right to. Then that first trailer happened. When the first trailer gave us a snippet of what we had in store, those who saw it suffered almost spiritual experiences, speaking in tongues and blubbering were often the symptoms. With a rabid audience waiting what looked to be the triumphant return of franchise Miller and his team made the poetic gesture. Screen the film at the Cannes Film Festival (just as Francis Ford Coppola debuted Apocalypse Now) in the wake of reams of paper and binary code dedicated to pre-emptively writing off the film’s promise. After record demolishing openings in Australia, huge international reception, almost universal critical praise; it’s the outcome the project deserved.
5. MAX, MAD MAX.
The James Bond franchise (and perhaps Batman) is possibly the only two cinematic franchises that have the reflex to recast and refresh their brand with a new actor in the titular role. Bringing the sensational Tom Hardy into the leather was just a genius piece of casting. From the moment you see him, it’s an altogether different take on the character. Long hair, thick with dirt and grime that seems to have grown into an equally matted beard; he’s haunted by whispers of the people he’s failed. In the first film, there was some semblance of the societal structures that we once knew; now the vehicles and trinkets are the only signs of contemporary life. Hardy is a performer who will willingly mould his body to the requirements of the role. After roles as Bane (The Dark Knight Rises), or the titular Bronson, and especially Tommy Conlon (Warrior) we’ve watched him literally reshape his body to fit his character. For Max he’s physically able to demonstrate a ferocity that’s just so intensely believable; and psychologically and emotionally he’s able to bring us a madder Max than perhaps we’ve ever seen before. Haunted and strangely protected by the visions of those he’d been unable to protect along the road.
Mad Max: Fury Road does for the post-apocalyptic genre what Apocalypse Now did for war. Fury Road is an act of defiance; rage against computer generated strangulation of physical orchestration; rage against limits of age; rage against the hurried production and diminished quality; and rage against the mindless blockbuster. I defy you to see a better film this year.
Blake Howard – follow Blake on Twitter here: @blakeisbatman and listen to legacy audio reviews on That Movie Show 2UE here or on top-rating film podcast Pod Save Our Screen, available now on iTunes.
Directed by: George Miller
Written by: George Miller and Brendan McCarthy and Nick Lathouris
Starring: Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron, Nicholas Hoult, Hugh Keays-Byrne, Josh Helman, Nathan Jones, Zoë Kravitz, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Riley Keough, Abbey Lee, Courtney Eaton, John Howard, Richard Carter, Angus Sampson, Jennifer Hagan, Megan Gale, Melissa Jaffer, Melita Jurisic, Gillian Jones, Joy Smithers, Antoinette Kellermann, Christina Koch, Jon Iles, Quentin Kenihan, Coco Jack Gillies, Chris Patton, Stephen Dunlevy, Richard Norton
Tom Hardy … Max Rockatansky
Charlize Theron … Imperator Furiosa
Nicholas Hoult … Nux
Hugh Keays-Byrne … Immortan Joe
Josh Helman … Slit
Nathan Jones … Rictus Erectus
Zoë Kravitz … Toast the Knowing
Rosie Huntington-Whiteley … The Splendid Angharad
Riley Keough … Capable
Abbey Lee … The Dag
Courtney Eaton … Cheedo the Fragile
John Howard … The People Eater
Richard Carter … The Bullet Farmer
Iota Iota … The Doof Warrior
Angus Sampson … The Organic Mechanic
Jennifer Hagan … Miss Giddy
Megan Gale … The Valkyrie
Melissa Jaffer … Keeper of the Seeds
Melita Jurisic … The Vuvalini
Gillian Jones … The Vuvalini
Joy Smithers … The Vuvalini
Antoinette Kellermann … The Vuvalini
Christina Koch … The Vuvalini
Jon Iles … The Ace
Quentin Kenihan … Corpus Colossus
Coco Jack Gillies … Glory the Child
Chris Patton … Morsov
Stephen Dunlevy … The Rock Rider Chief / The Winchman
Richard Norton … The Prime Imperator