Mad Max: Fury Road - A Fan Appreciation
A maelstrom of road warfare
CRASH, BANG, WALLOP ON THE FURY ROAD!After thirty long years of unceasing fanboy anticipation, visionary filmmaker George Miller finally rewards such obsessive loyalty and brings Mad Max back to that blighted Wasteland where he belongs. But this time, he and Warner Bros aren’t doing things low-budget, hand-to-mouth guerrilla-style like they did at the beginning. Now they have big names and all the funds required to catapult the post-apocalyptic adventures of the ever-dishevelled Road Warrior into the faces of not only the devoted but an entirely new generation that expects bigger, better and ever-more bombastic from their multiplex experience. But this does not mean that Miller’s Mad world has lost any of its outrageously bizarre, deliriously inventive carnival insanity. In fact it goes stratospherically over the top. Blood transfusions at a hundred miles an hour. A human dairy. Fanged chastity-belts and twin tumours called Larry and Barry. A flame-throwing guitarist. But this time around, we also have mutants.None more spellbindingly grotesque than prime warlord Immortan Joe, played with grandiose aplomb by Hugh Keys-Byrne, returning to terrorise Max after injecting fun yet foul villainy as the Toecutter in the original 1979 Mad Max. Presiding over the dregs of humanity with control of the water supply, his regime comes unstuck with the theft of his gaggle of brides, thereby derailing his off-the-wall breeding program. The thief is his own Imperator, Furiosa (Charlize Theron), who has turned renegade and fled with the grumpy vixens in her super-powered and heavily armoured War-Rig. Hoping to find her long-lost haven far beyond the reach of maniacal male tyrants, she must run the gamut of various warrior clans and the relentless pursuit of Joe and his crazed War Boys down the Fury Road. True to form, Mad Max Rockatansky becomes a reluctant man-at-arms and unorthodox saviour in this epic endeavour, hurled unwittingly into the rogue convoy and the resulting maelstrom of road warfare
The hype surrounding the fourth saga has been almost as spectacular as the film, itself. The teaser and Comic-Con footage, the barrage of explosive trailers, the reams of online interviews and behind-the-scenes footage stoked a frenzy of interest and excitement. The fan community had been in rabid overdrive, of course, ever since it became clear that the fabled, once shelved and endlessly stalled movie was really, truly going into production. The title had long been known, but the casting would prove divisive at the start. Naturally, it was hoped that Mad Mel Gibson would return to the role that made his name, but a catalogue of mistiming, conflicted schedules and that embarrassingly public superstar meltdown pretty much left him at the wrong end of a very long highway.
Miller changed the script accordingly, basing it on an idea that came to him in a nano-second as he crossed a street, reforming the character in the same way that the likes of James Bond or Batman can be played by different people yet retain the essentials to keep the character in-tune with what has gone before and what audiences expect. But how could anyone just step into Gibbo’s worn-down and battered Rossiter bike boots and take on the marauding denizens of the barbaric future desert? Although a fairly sparse character to begin with, Gibson’s mountain of gruff charisma immediately shone through the grit, blood and sunburn with Mad Max 2 a radiant pinnacle of outright magnetism boosting a sparse screenplay. But those trailers hinted that Hardy was bringing something a little more intriguing and perhaps even avant-garde to the battle-weary Max. Something more psychological.
As he did with the revolutionary first two instalments, Miller pays homage to the premise that shaped his early career as a doctor – that of the rhapsody of high-speed vehicular destruction and its impact on the human body. Memories of the Nightrider’s deranged and guzzaline-soaked rantings are perfectly evoked with the War Boys’ jubilant greeting of their own bone-crushing demise. Images of them tumbling to their deaths with exultant expressions of valiant extinction punctuate the movie and leave a lingering residue of almost Jihadist extremism. Watch their outstretched fingers caressing the bloody sand that they are about to crash into. Giving depth to this car-porn death culture is Nicholas Hoult’s glory-seeking War Boy, Nux, who yearns for a “historic death on the Fury Road” that will open the gates of Valhalla to him. Hoult is excellent too, delivering comedy, passion and sympathy alongside his raging sense of martyrdom.
There is much talk of the strong feminist angle that Miller seems to be exploiting. And this is personified not only by a startlingly bravura performance from Theron, whose veteran War-Rig driver becomes a warrior goddess, but also from a lost tribe of motorcycle-riding matriarchal gunfighters, led by a septuagenarian super-sniper. Crucially, Theron successfully slips the grungy kick-ass vibe when later revelations come and her emotional core is laid bare. She provides the heart, as well as much of the brawn of the story. And yet despite this smart sexist revision, and counter to what many people think, Fury Road is definitely Tom Hardy’s film.
His portrayal of Max is certainly different from Gibson’s. Whilst many American commentators appeared not to like or to understand his distinct lack of dialogue, occasionally odd delivery and somewhat introverted nuance, I believe he delivers a convincingly traumatised, reclusive and feral survivor who only learns, on the hoof, how to accept other people, show compassion and rediscover the value of language. Physically, there was never any doubt that he could pull this off. Whether spitting unintelligible vitriol from behind a mask whilst strapped to the front of a hotrod, or leaping from truck to truck, despatching baddies with each bound, he totally embodies the spirit of a do-or-die hero.
Whilst the second two films in the series dealt with Max’s grim acceptance that being a loner didn’t mean that he couldn’t get along with other people, Fury Road cleverly, and utterly without trite exposition (we won’t count the dreadful voiceover at the start), shows him going through a transition from brute force to soulful redeemer. It might not be the Max many anticipated, but Hardy’s economical characterisation brilliantly essays a genuinely affecting rebirth.
There was also some dismay at the choice of composer for the film. Tom Holkenborg, aka Junkie XL, was not the sort of tunesmith that many fans would have looked towards. Tutored by Hans Zimmer, and a well-known synth, percussion and bass thumper Holkenborg had pulverised the senses with his score to 300: Rise of an Empire, but naysayers didn’t want their new Max to suffer the indignities of a generic drum-machine wall-of-sound approach after the having two wonderful scores from the great Brian May, and an astonishingly rich and thematic one from Maurice Jarre. Personally, I love what he has come up with here. Pounding and remorseless it may be for much of the time but there are moments when a beautiful string adagio reminds us of the human cost of this warp-speed exodus.
And speed is the main ingredient here.
Within the first few minutes, we have been told, or rather shown, everything we need to know about this world, Miller literally tying us to the tail of his insane locomotive and then roaring off into oblivion and dragging us behind him at breakneck pace. It is storytelling on-the-go, stripped down and rarely pausing for breath. Each set-piece escalates the action and the intensity, upping the stakes and the desperation. The choreography of the chases, fights and crashes is superlative. Seesawing polecat warriors mount airborne snatch ‘n’ grab missions. Motorcycle raiders launch themselves over the roof of the War-Rig. Chromed-out punks fling thunder-sticks with fiery zeal. Bodies are crushed, stabbed, shot and chainsawed. Even the quieter moments tend to involve characters clambouring over, under and along their speeding vehicles.
Inevitably, this much action does cause a few casualties in the space of a two-hour film. So many provocative characters are introduced but rarely are they given enough time to breathe. Oddballs like the Bullet Farmer and the People Eater totally deserve more flesh on their bones. And, although he makes a tremendous impact, Immortan Joe really needed more screen-time. Plus, the epic quality of the narrative is a bit of a misnomer because the events only take place over a couple of days. Tom Holkenborg has described watching a three hour cut of the film that was actually missing its opening and closing chapters... so it seems apparent that a much longer, more in-depth version exists.
So does Mad Max Fury Road meet our fever-pitch expectations?
I say yes. I’ve seen it three times now and totally embrace this new incarnation, and love the hints of a larger mythology to be explored. Miller set the burned rubber benchmark for road action with Mad Max 2 and whilst I still think that is the better all-round and more iconic film – the edge, the danger and the bruises are real compared to the polish and sheen seen here – Fury Road is righteously thunderous entertainment that leaves you stunned and exhausted.
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