Mad Max: Fury Road

The credits rolled and the house lights slowly started to come up at the end of Mad Max: Fury Road.  I turned to my companions, Stevie (of many Croydon bands you've never heard of) and Ali (podcast editor for a rather well known movie magazine, whom I’d held to ransom to get us in), and we shared the same look of confused, exhilarated, bliss.  Even now, 18 hours or so after we walked back into Leicester Square, my head is still spinning at the experience of returning to George Miller’s wasteland road war.

35 years ago, George Miller quit being a doctor, cobbled together a budget, a crew and a group of actors, which included Mel Gibson, and headed outside of Melbourne to make a movie.  The result was Mad Max, a genre defining film that spawned two sequels (The Road Warrior and Beyond Thunderdome) and launched the careers of its director and star.  Max Rockatansky entered the lexicon of anti-heroes and drove off into the wasteland of an Earth ruined by war and pollution.  What made the original films work, was the setting of a familiar, yet uncomfortably alien world that all hell had been let loose upon.  Returning to this rather world, even more prescient today, Miller has taken the best bits of his original trilogy, including the Toecutter himself, actor Hugh Keays-Byrne, and turned everything, and I do mean everything, up to eleven.

Tom Hardy as Max

Tom Hardy as Max

The world died 45 years ago, Max (Tom Hardy), suffering from his inability to save his wife and daughter (see 1979’s Mad Max for that), wanders alone in the wastelands with his demons and his super-charged V8 Interceptor.  Hunted down and captured, Max awakens to find himself in the Citadel, the base of operations for Immortal Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne) and his band of followers.  The Immortal has created a world based on his control of the Aqua-Cola (water to you and me) he discovered there.  He has his War Boys, warriors indoctrinated in a Viking-like ethos with the dream of leaving this world for Valhalla powered by a V8.  There are his Black Fingers, the mechanics and various others that make up the world of the Citadel.  Clustered around it are the dregs of the world, drawn by the hope of water.  Locked away in the depths of his fortress are his precocious Five Wives.  With the pollution and rampant cancers killing off his people, he has taken to trying to create a healthy heir to his empire, and these five young woman are the ones he hopes will provide it.  They, of course, have other plans.  The Wives convince Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) to help them escape.  Despite herself, Furiosa smuggles The Wives aboard her War Rig, a tanker filled with water and “mothers milk” (which is just what the name implies…) and heads off towards Gastown, a refinery across the plain.  Giving in, she changes direction and heads out into the wastes, triggering the Road War.

Charlize Theron as  Imperator Furiosa

Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa

All of that takes up the first 10 minutes of film.  The next 110 minutes are the battle for the brides at 100 miles an hour.  And it certainly feels like it every mph is on screen.  The film barely pauses to catch its breath.  About 20-odd minutes in, there is a pause and the screen, momentarily goes black.  It last for about 5 seconds.  You could hear the audience I was in collectively exhale and take on some water.  Trust me, do the same because as insane as the first act is, the film goes through the gears from here.  It is visceral, violent, funny and astonishing.  Things happen on screen that you’ve never seen before, or if they are lifted from Mad Max 2, they are bigger and bolder than you would believe.  If you want nuanced character development, this isn’t your film.  Interestingly, it isn’t really Tom Hardy’s film either.  The centre of the film is Theron’s Furiosa.  Pulling off an incredible empathy with just a look, Theron owns this film.  Max is the force of nature in the middle, played crazier than Gibson’s Max, he is only useful to Furiosa, who is the driving force of the film, to complete her goal of getting to “The Green Place”.  Theron gives an incredible performance that really doesn’t deserve to be in a summer action film like this.  Charlize Theron is wonderful, she dominates the screen and holds your attention in her steel fist.  And the film is all the better for it.

Trying to explain what happens in Fury Road is pointless, if only because I’m still not sure exactly what I saw.  In the Lamb and Flag pub, for a post-film de-brief, Stevie and I just found ourselves laughing when we tried to explain it to each other.  We just kept saying, “It’s brilliant” and ordering another round before starting again.  In the open scenes, Max is chained to the front of Nicholas Holt’s character’s car.  The way Fury Road flings itself at you, you might as well be chained on the front of one of those cars alongside Max.  As much of the stunts as humanly possible are practical, there is minimal CGI and when they do use a CGI, it’s glaringly noticeable.  The speed, noise and unsettling nature of the film, never lets you breath and you just have to try and take in the carnage going on before your eyes.  They blow up an actual tanker and give the audience the biggest real explosion I’ve seen in years, nothing CGI has looked that good, ever.  Throughout Fury Road, Miller reuses one of the most effective tricks from the original films.  Miller speeds up the frame rate of the film slightly, to what feels about 30-35 fps.  It’s a trick as old as cinema, but in Miller’s hands, it is wonderfully evocative.  The speeded up film, makes you uneasy, increases you grip on your seat and makes you, in a number scenes, reach for a seat belt.  It is a simple effect, but very powerful when matched to the glorious insanity going on before your eyes.

The War Rig under attack from the Polecats

The War Rig under attack from the Polecats

I have been trying desperately to temper my expectations for Mad Max: Fury Road ever since the first trailer came out last year.  The five star reviews that have been popping up lately only added to my fear of another Phantom Menace moment.  Yet, it all did little to lower the excitement.  Fury Road is everything I wanted it to be and not a single second of it was what I expected.  It is far too clever a film for the summer action blockbuster it is.  Given the might and hype of Avengers recently, Mad Max: Fury Road is a film that is looking at it those costumed heroes through its rear view, with a movie star strapped to it bonnet and, probably, is on fire.  George Miller wrote this rulebook 35 years ago.  On his return to his wasteland, he’s torn it up, poured petrol on it and then thrown a grenade at it.  There will be studios and filmmaker working on big budget action/adventure fare at the moment who will be booking into their therapist after seeing this movie.  Thank you Warner Bros and Village Roadshow for stumping up the cash for this gamble.  If there is any justice in the world, George Miller has just crafted the new template for the summer blockbuster and will find a huge audience.  Mad Max: Fury Road is far from perfect, but as just writing about it has got my pulse racing and my fostered strong desire to experience every insane, mental moment of it again, has only gotten stronger.

NOTE TO VIEWERS: I’d recommend not seeing Mad Max: Fury Road in 3D.  This is not anything to do with my aversion to the format, but I felt that my face was sunburnt after seeing Fury Road.  It may be too much.  Just a thought, IMAX 2D would be perfect!

Mad Max: Fury Road is release on Friday May 15th 2015 and is rated 15.