Ladies and gentlemen – welcome to the best summer blockbuster of 2015…and we’re only in May!
Mad Max: Fury Road is set in a post apocalyptic future where humanity has lost hope and people fight for the basic necessities of life, under the rule of Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne). Two rebels in the form of Max Rockatansky (Tom Hardy) and Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) lead the fightback for hope and order in a world turned mad.
“Oh what a day, what a lovely day!” – Nux
I didn’t expect much from Mad Max: Fury Road. I was going to see it regardless after watching the trailers but I thought it would be one of those dumb action films with great visuals. My head was prepared for that until I started seeing 4 and 5 star reviews across the board from well-established critics and journalists. Even as I walked into the IMAX screening (because IMAX is how I roll these days), I played down my expectations, refusing to believe the hype…
Walked out of the cinema at 11pm and my mind was totally blown! What a cinematic experience that was.
My friend asked me how I was going to write this up as a review. I replied “I need a couple of days to let that sink in so I can form words!”
Mad Max: Fury Road is exactly what it needed to be. The pace is relentless – as soon as the film begins you’re projected into the high octane world of the wastelands. The plot is wafer thin with minimum dialogue, playing out like a silent movie surrounded by carnage. In any other film, this would have been a massive criticism but this film gets away with it for good measure and reasons. It lives in the moment, not dwelling on the backstory of how the world came to be or Max’s past. It keeps things refreshingly simple.
Everything about this film represents why I love going to the cinema. It’s a feeling I haven’t lost since I was a child. Visiting a cinema can be a magical experience where a film can transport you to another world where the impossible is possible. Mad Max: Fury Road has that in abundance. Visually it presents to you an old school nostalgia, a time where practical effects ruled over computer generated effects. Before I open the debate, there is nothing wrong with computer generated effects. Done correctly and it enhances the film. Done badly and it will appear fake and cartoonish. If I had to put a percentage on this film, 90% of Mad Max was done practically. In today’s modern Hollywood where every film is interwoven and connected with shared universes, it’s unheard of and it plays in the film’s benefit.
There are some crazy, mind-blowing stunts where you’ll wonder how it was achieved and it adds to the intense realism. Every collision or crash on screen, you don’t doubt it, you believe it. You feel it. In a post apocalyptic world, forget Formula 1 and their DRS or Fast and Furious and their turbo/nitro charges. In a Mad Max world, it’s just you, your guts, your guile and the machine you drive in. It’s a driving film in its purest form. If Fast and Furious 7 is like watching Top Gear on steroids, then Mad Max: Fury Road is like watching Top Gear on every conceivable drug known to mankind.
The action is beautifully and bravely choreographed. Just like Dredd or The Raid where the action is no holds barred, each action sequence performs like a domino effect dance where one thing leads to another and another, gradually building up to the spectacle such as the sand storm. The whole thing is brutally chaotic and at times comedic but you can’t stop watching. I’m glad the film had some fade to blacks moments or the audience would just stop breathing!
“You will arrive at the gates of Valhalla, shiny and chrome!” – Immortan Joe
Despite the minimum dialogue, the film does offer clues about the world Max lives in.
Cars are a sign of power and the bigger it is, the more significant you are. Nothing goes to waste as each vehicle is a metal rusting mash-up with another vehicle, creating a new beast altogether.
The cars are also worshipped especially for the War Boys. They proudly hold their steering wheels in the air as they head for battle. They make a symbolic hand gesture to cement their commitment to their leader and their trip to Valhalla, a heaven where they can live forever after dying in glorious death.
But the cult is feeble which Nux (Nicholas Hoult) questions during the course of the film. The War Boys endlessly sacrifice themselves (kamikaze style) for a leader with his own corrupt game. Because Nux doesn’t get the ending he desires, the principles of the faith start to crumble when it’s put under scrutiny.
It’s a society that is broken with humanity on its last knees. Immortan Joe and his War Boys are at the top of the pyramid and the rest are dependant on their services. Joe hoards water and food in the Citadel to keep people desperate because the needs of humanity gives him the power to do what he wants, hence his line about resenting its absence if the people became addicted to water.
But it’s also a world that is sick and toxic. The War Boys are seen with nasal cannulas. Immortan Joe’s face mask doubles up as a breathing mask. His broken body is assembled together with body kit like Darth Vader. Nux has cancerous tumours on his shoulders and has nicknames for them.
Alliances also play their part, especially in the long chase and hunt for the escapees. Joe has dealings with Gas Town (for petrol) and Bullet Town (ammunitions) to keep up their ongoing pace.
“Out here, everything hurts. You wanna get through this? Do as I say. Now pick up what you can and run.” – Imperator Furiosa
There is a slant on how women are portrayed, especially under the dictatorship of Immortan Joe. Women are nothing but commodities, purely used for reproductive purposes. There are women who are breeders, giving birth to the next generation of War Boys for Immortan’s alpha male rule. There are women with the sole job of producing breast milk. When Immortan’s clan are on the hunt to get back his breeders from the hands of Furiosa, they hunt like a pack of highly aggressive, adrenaline junkie wolves, accompanied by their own soundtrack! Imagine hearing that fearful rallying call in the desert while being chased…
But I don’t look at Mad Max: Fury Road having a feminist agenda. I see it as a film about liberation, to break free of oppression and rule – a classic sci-fi ideology.
Tom Hardy’s performance as Max is different from his predecessor, Mel Gibson. Whether you’re familiar with the Mad Max story or not, this new interpretation and his struggles are more subtle and internal than spoken. His performance is more physical. When he’s captured against his will, he becomes a blood bag for the War Boys. All Max wants to do is find peace in the new world but with a man with nothing to lose, he can succumb to the madness in order to survive. This is perfectly illustrated in one brilliant scene where he simply walks off into the desert only to return moments later with a blanket full of guns and blood all over his face.
But the outstanding performance goes to Charlize Theron as Furiosa. She defies her master in order to escape his rule and takes his breeder wives along for the ride. She seeks redemption and wants to return home. In the quieter moments of the film, she provides the emotional heart especially when she discovers what happened to her home.
Mad Max: Fury Road should be celebrated for its strong role reversal. Furiosa is the lead in this film but there is a definite balance between Max and Furiosa and their shared empathy. They are equals, looking for the same thing and that quality separates them from the animals. Furiosa is not a sidekick or a damsel in distress. She can take care of her own, without conforming to a stereotype.
Theron delivers the most complete, well rounded and realistic character since Ripley was first introduced in Alien. It also puts an end to the myth that female characters can’t hold their own in a big budget movie. It’s a positive representation of women being survivors at the end of the world. That’s definitely not a negative or a criticism or in some circles why the film should be boycotted – it’s a refreshing change from what we normally expect out of a summer blockbuster film.
The film may be simple in its premise but it has enough intelligence without spoon feeding information. The characters accept the world they live in and so does the audience.
Films like Mad Max: Fury Road do not come along often. Director George Miller delivers an epic and visual cinema art film that celebrates survival and hope in a bleak and deranged universe.
Cult status awaits for Mad Max: Fury Road and I can’t wait to add this to my blu-ray collection.