By Callum Willmott
George Miller’s Mad Max trilogy has certainly come a long way in the past thirty years. From its initial origins as the “Citizen Kane of gutbucket exploitation cinema”, the director’s vision of a stark, post-apocalyptic world fuelled something of a cult following in subsequent decades. Now, with the ever widening gap between its last cinematic release, the character returns for the fourth installment of the series; and for me, the results definitely hold up.
Bringing us back to the desolate, death ridden deserts of the original trilogy, the new film begins more or less where the previous ones left off. Set against the horrors of an anarchic society, former cop/drifter Max Rockatansky (Tom Hardy) travels across the wastelands, grinding through the gears in a chase for survival. Things soon take a wrong turning when the character is captured by the tyrannical “Wild Boys” – a violent cult led by warlord Immortan Joe (Hugh Keyas-Byrne) – who also controls the land’s water supplies. Hung up and left as a blood slave, Max’s path eventually crosses with that of Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron), the one armed bandit on a mission to save a group of Joe’s ‘breeders’. Joining forces, the gang make their way across the terrain, searching for the mysterious “Green Land” of Furiosa’s youth.
From the onset, it’s clear that Fury Road is a visually striking film. Far from the cheap-as-chips budget of Miller’s first 1979 outing, the director’s eye for stunning action-packed sequences is somewhat amplified here. As an audience, we are immediately thrown into a series of chases, rushing through the scenery at high level speeds. It may sound daunting, and with a running time of two hours (the longest of the series length wise) it’s hard not to feel more than a bit overwhelmed. Despite this, the film’s pacing keeps it from becoming too indulgent. During its quieter moments, the vast landscape of Miller’s vision is truly brought to life onscreen – vibrant colours bringing out the strange, isolated scenery.
And yet, for all this spectacle, it is in fact the characters that lie at the heart of Fury Road’s appeal. As the second actor to take on the iconic role, Tom Hardy grunts and snarls his way through the tough conditions, effectively portraying the animal-like nature of a haunted survivor. Even Nicholas Hoult excels as the otherworldly Nux, a devout follower of the Wild Boys who slowly becomes embroiled in the gang’s escape. If it seems like the film’s female leads have been sidelined, then viewers should be in for a surprise. Recalling perhaps the settler/lone hero dynamic of Mad Max 2, Theron’s portrayal of Furiosa takes center stage in Fury Road’s plot.
Granted, this is an unusual approach; but all the same, it’s a necessary one. With her shaven head and oil smeared face, Furiosa is the typical image of a post apocalyptic rebel. Indeed, fans of the original trilogy will no doubt see the possible influences here. While never a series to shy away from injury, the character’s mechanical arm recalls some of Max’s own seemingly permanent wounds throughout the series (fans may be able to count these: a gunshot to the knee, a leg brace in the second film etc.) Of course, it helps too that Furiosa is a unique character in her own right. As an ex-captive of Joe’s, we are immediately sympathetic to her cause – her hope-filled outlook bringing the group closer to their promised salvation.
In all, a wild but satisfying film. For those weary of the sequel/reboot craze of contemporary Hollywood, then Fury Road may go a long way in redeeming the concept. A word of warning though: it is a bumpy ride.