Mad Max: Fury Road – Reviewed by David Turpin
Directed by George Miller
Starring: Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron, Nicholas Hoult, Rosie Huntington-Whitely.
After dalliances with talking pigs and dancing penguins, septuagenarian George Miller returns to the post-apocalyptic series that made his reputation with the brazenly thrilling Mad Mad: Fury Road. The breathlessly paced film starts as it means to go on, as Max (Tom Hardy) is hunted and taken prisoner by the strikingly realised “Warboys” (including Nicholas Hoult) marshalled by the despotic Immortun Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne). After making his escape, Max allies himself with the steely Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron), who has absconded with one of Immortun Joe’s “war rigs” – as well as his harem of five youthful “wives”. Together, the group attempts to outrun Immortun Joe and his army, and find a mythic place of safety beyond the desert.
That, as far as plot goes, is that – because Mad Max: Fury Road is essentially a spectacular extended chase scene with occasional pit-stops for gallows humour and eerie beauty. Updating both the kinetic grindhouse action of Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior (1981) and the more elaborate world-building of the underrated third instalment, Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome (1985), Fury Road is one of the most strikingly realised action films to cross our screens in a long time. While it misses Beyond Thunderdome’s intriguing plays on language and Australian history – not to mention its extensive borrowing from Russell Hoban’s Ridley Walker – the new film amply makes up for it by building exponentially on the series’ unique vision of a mutant society creating itself out of whatever detritus is to hand.
Max himself has always been a point of entry into this strange world, rather than a three-dimensional character in his own right and he remains a man of few words here – which is just as well since, as usual, it’s difficult to know what accent Hardy is attempting from one scene to the next. Hardy certainly looks the part, though – particularly when trussed to the front of a speeding car – and Mel Gibson is unmissed.
Hugh Keays-Byrne’s Immortun Joe owes something to Kenneth McMillan’s divisive turn as Baron Harkonen in David Lynch’s fascinating botch Dune (1984). Covered in sores, and with a mysterious facial disfigurement hidden by a half-mask, he’s a memorable creation – perhaps more so because Miller never pauses to provide backstory or context for how he came to rule his strange colony.
The film belongs, however, to the female cast. Resplendent with cropped hair and an uncannily convincing severed arm, Charlize Theron’s Furiosa is the most root-for-able action heroine since Uma Thurman sliced through an army of assailants in Kill Bill (2003). Of the “wives”, ice-blonde Abbey Lee makes for a surreal vision against the sun-baked desert, while British model Rosie Huntington-Whitely – who made an inauspicious acting debut in Transformers: Dark of the Moon (2011) – is actually quite affecting as the heavily pregnant Splendid. In smaller parts, veteran Australian grand dames Melissa Jaffer and Gillian Jones make the most of their limited screen-time.
It’s genuinely refreshing, after what seems like endless years of boy-centric Marvel and Christopher Nolan films, to encounter a large-scale action opus that foregrounds its women, and that treats them with neither condescension nor contempt.
This feminine slant is merely one surprise in a film that is packed with restless invention. As vast as Miller’s canvas is, he still crams it with potent details – ragged nomads crawling through a swamp on stilts, a feral child greedily gathering hair as a prisoner’s head is shaved – that bring his fanciful domain vividly to life. For a film with a plot that could be written on a postage stamp, Mad Max: Fury Road fairly teems with interest for its full two hours. If you are unmoved by the climactic sequence – which features some of the most breath-taking and bizarre stunts ever filmed, as well as the precious spectacle of elderly Australian women fending off barbarians with shotguns while clambering on a speeding truck – you may be dead inside.