After decades of waiting, of false starts and languishing in development hell, ‘Mad Max: Fury Road’ is finally here. It’s been twenty years since George Miller revisited his most famous creation, ex-policeman turned loner vigilante Max Rockatansky and the post-apocalyptic desert wasteland he survives in. ‘Fury Road’ always seemed like the film that would never happen, until that first trailer dropped and we were given a glimpse of a kind of film we hadn’t seen in a long time - something insane, utterly preposterous and spectacular. And that really was just a glimpse, because even though Mad Max has been away from our screen since 1985, George Miller had something very special hiding up his sleeve that whole time.
Stepping into the shoes of Mel Gibson as Max is Tom Hardy, who finds himself captive to a bizarre cult of mutants, led by their maniacal leader Immortal Joe (Hugh Keays-Bryne, who was also in the original film). Joe’s precious brides have been stolen by Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron), and the mad ruler launches an assault across the desert to find her and retrieve them. Max is trapped as prisoner and blood supply to deranged war boy Nux (Nicholas Hoult), who's hell-bent on getting to Furiosa first and winning Joe’s approval. With an army of apocalyptic vehicles behind them, Furiosa and the brides race against their pursuers for freedom and a new hope.
I have to admit, I went in with barely any knowledge of the original films, so the fact that I walked out of ‘Fury Road’ almost totally beside myself with delirium is probably a good sign. I seriously doubt there will be a more gob-smacking, nail-biting, awe-inspiring, bat-shit utterly insane film released not only this year, but this decade. The sheer scale of Miller’s vision is absolutely staggering, from the apocalyptic vistas to the tiniest of details. Working on an enormous canvas, the film is essentially the most epic and violent car chase imaginable; enormous rigs and souped-up cars morphed into ridiculous killing machines, crashing and colliding with one another with primal fury. From literally the moment it begins, the film throttles along at breakneck speed, opening with a half-hour action chase sequence so incredible that the audience actually applauded at our screening. From every technical standpoint, the film pushes itself to the edges of sanity, whether it be the impossible cinematography to the editing that has the film moving so fast, you feel like you’re in a music video fever dream gone completely nuts. The production design is a marvel, a nightmare of metal, death and depravity, revelling in deformed bodies and brute animal force. And at the centre of it all are the practical effects, some of which just have to be seen to be believed. ‘Fury Road’ is a symphony of explosions and crashing metal, executed with such mastery that it’s hard to imagine how they did it at all. Every time you think you’ve seen the best the stunt team has to offer, they top themselves yet again in a film that had already topped almost every other action film ever made in its first few minutes.
In many ways, ‘Fury Road’ represents cinema at its purest, in that wherever possible the story must be told visually rather than through dialogue. You’re offered almost no backstory or exposition until the third act of the film, but the visual storytelling is so accomplished that none of this matters one bit. At no point are you left wanting or confused, as Miller grabs you by the scruff of the neck and drags you into his vision of dust and sand and bloody hell. The narrative has been stripped to the bone, so that in this rare instance it serves the images rather than the images serving it, and only because Miller is such a visionary filmmaker does it work. ‘Fury Road’ doesn’t ask you to turn your brain off; it turns it off for you by assaulting your eyes and ears with a barrage of sumptuous sights and sounds that never let up until the final frame. It makes for an exhausting experience, but probably as satisfying an exhaustion as cinema can give you.
It’s also difficult to discuss the performances, as like the story they are totally in service to Miller’s vision. That said, not a single member of this eclectic cast drops the ball at any point, and every one of them throws themselves completely into the enormous physical demands of the film. Hardy is nothing like Mel Gibson, and that works totally to his advantage, making Max a silent yet strangely sardonic character. Theron holds it together as the stern heroine, while everyone else around her completely loses their minds. Nicholas Hoult shows a side of him we’ve never seen before, physical and instinctual and wonderfully fascinating. It’s as if Miller has convinced the cast of the film to go insane along with him, and not a single one doesn’t look like they’re having the absolute time of their lives.
From literally the moment it begins, the film throttles along at breakneck speed, opening with a half-hour action chase sequence so incredible that the audience actually applauded at our screening.
In the end though, even with the spectacular cast and the enormous technical achievements and the legendary character at its centre, there’s only one star in ‘Mad Max: Fury Road’, and that’s the film itself. This is a movie that has totally lost its mind, unrelenting and unforgiving with no rules whatsoever and no territory out of bounds. George Miller’s vision is utterly complete and a wonder to behold, and fulfils the promise of being the best goddamn thrill ride the cinema could possibly give you. I’m already dying to see it again if only so I can confirm that I didn’t imagine half the things I think I saw in it. This is an extraordinary film, the bar by which all action films must now be measured, and to think that this incredible work has come from Australian artists proves how powerful a force we are in this medium. Regardless of whether you’re familiar with Max Rockatansky or like me, a total novice, you cannot miss this film. Find it on the biggest screen with the loudest sound possible. I promise you have never seen anything like this.