For many the most anticipated film of the year (bar Star Wars), and this distinguishes itself as a timely milestone movie waving the flag for ‘non-CGI’ (although truth be told there is some) and ‘non-superhero’ action; a rallying cry for the increasingly vocal calls to turn against that particular juggernaut. I’m going to say I’m not among those voices (as I think there’s room for all kinds). The more the merrier, but there’s no denying this is makes for a refreshing change of fantasy direction: gloriously huge in production scale yet at the same stripped-back, real and raw.
In terms of characterization, little is needed and little is given. Max was never a particularly fleshed-out character and he isn’t here either. Fine with me- I didn’t need much background on Judge Dredd to enjoy his pitch perfect movie incarnation a few years ago. Some have said that the Max character didn’t need to be in the film at all, as any male character would do. That right there is the whole point of Max. He’s the embodiment of the ‘everyman’. A regular Joe in an insane world- forced to embrace that insanity or let it kill him.
In that respect, Tom Hardy gives exactly the right man-of-few-words performance as a stoic survivor with a fragment of a heart, who uses his guile and survival skills to help those in need in a last ditch attempt to save his own soul. I would have liked just a smidge more depth to be honest; the film’s few quieter interludes afforded an opportunity for perhaps the emotive flashback needed to give the movie a much-needed emotional fuel injection.
The same applies to the female contingent, here embodied by Charlize Theron’s superb Imperator Furiosa. She too is a battle-worn survivor with a painful past- seeking her own personal redemption- yet we are only given crumbs of her previous life and personal story. It’s no exaggeration to say that her character (at least Max’s equal) is one of the best female protagonists in a very long while. Sure there have been plenty of feisty females and 'femme fatales'; from Princess Leia to Black Widow. But in terms of truly strong, independent, emotionally tough females with human vulnerabilities, only Ellen Ripley and Sarah Connor really stand out. Now those two are joined by a third sister-in-arms (or ‘arm’ in this case). Furiosa is warrior but she’s no gymnastic femme fatale; she’s a human first and foremost with a will of iron and a fierce protective instinct. In some ways, with her Alien 3 buzz cut and Terminator-esque metal arm- she physically represents the Ripley/Connor for our time.
Much is being said about the film’s feminist themes and there’s no doubt the film should resonate with those among us (male and female) who feel women need stronger representation in movies and in society as a whole. The plot revolves around Furiosa rebelling against her male overlord; liberating her sisters from a pure patriarchy where women are slaves and, in some cases, literally livestock for breeding and producing breast milk as a saleable commodity. The scene where Furiosa cuts off the women’s chastity belts is a symbolic unshackling that draws a line in the sand. From that point, the young women are no longer victims; they pitch in and fight right alongside the others.
Some might say the feminist message is undermined slightly by Max’s ‘leadership’. There’s a scene for example where he convinces Furiosa to do a literal u-turn. However I took that to mean “don’t run away from a male-dominated world- go back and change the world”.
Nick Hoult is also excellent as Nux; a tortured-soul just seeking approval, who learns he’s on the wrong team. Rosie-Huntington Whitely is also surprisingly good as the women’s group leader Splendid, who keeps everyone strong while Furiosa keeps them safe. Immortan Joe also makes for a wonderfully nasty antagonist: a cross between Bane and Jabba The Hutt played somewhat poetically by Hugh Keays-Byrne: the first film’s ‘Toe-Cutter’.
Where Fury Road is really at though is in its action and it’s world building. Miller has crafted the best Mad Max universe to date; with stunning vistas, beautiful cinematography, outrageously imaginative concept design, lurid colours and phenomenal combat choreography. George Miller directs as if it’s a silent film, letting the visuals speak for themselves and it’s just an effortlessly spectacular adrenaline rush. If pressed, I’d have liked a little more R-rated gore dressing to go with the feast of collision-tastic crashes and explosions. It’s relatively bloodless given the amount of flesh-rending carnage, and that’s ever so slightly disappointing given that the action is dialed up to 11 and beyond in absolutely ever other aspect. That’s a nit-pick though.
Fury Road turbo-charges not only its own franchise but the 'car-western' genre and perhaps action movies in general. Put simply, it’s a phenomenal fantasy action film; an eye-melting, bone-crunching, meaty mega-chase of a movie that cant’ be missed. See you at the sequel.