Mad Max: Fury Road, the much anticipated grandniece of Mad Max stars Charlize Theron and Tom Hardy as equal partners, battling outrageous odds on their journey out of chaos. The imagery is as startling and ugly/beautiful as one would expect and the chase and battle scenes as masterful, imaginative and insane. It’s a freak show on wheels and always has been. So what’s new?
The world’s much older and weaker, due to man’s plunder; a lone dead tree is the only reminder of the time humans roamed the earth freely with bellies full of fruit and water, when harmony existed. Max’ world is grim, the dystopian future we see so often in the multiplexes except it’s not shades of black and navy, it’s gloriously sunny and colourful. There doesn’t seem to be any night, just endless blistering sun (my idea of hell) and no water.
Dusty, dry, featureless and dead, earth is a heap of sand. On it are extraordinarily decorative ants, men and women in savage gear and headspaces, and all acrobatic and well-muscled, despite widespread starvation and dehydration. Oh well, sci-fi defies the odds, so let’s just say humanity is a circus sideshow with an appetite for violent death. The skull motif across the board points to death obsession or fear of death, what will happen when fuel runs out.
Fuel drives this mad world. The people are divided into tribes chasing the same thing – fuel. Over water or food, people want fuel so they can race around, chase one another and straddle their souped-up rides to go to other places where there might be water. Nothing changes in the other places, it’s still dust and death, but hope springs eternal where the water doesn’t, a hint of optimism in this dead world. And they’re in this jam because of us – the earlier generations – and our unthinking rape of the planet and its resources.
Theron’s Furiosa is the star of the tale – she’s transporting sex slaves out of danger to a new territory and she’s as capable a fighter, driver and mechanic as any man we’ve seen onscreen; a warrior of the highest order acting on compassion and the desire to change these women’s histories. She’s physically powerful and stripped of hair and vanity and a natural tough but benevolent leader.
The film opens on Tom Hardy strapped decoratively to the grill of a vehicle, manacled as a prisoner and prize. Once free he allies himself with Furiosa and the women, his compassion awakening something new in him. He needs them to stay alive and suits up with them, but make no mistake, this is the women’s story.
We meet renegade women soldiers, in middle and late life, who knew Furiosa as a child. They fend off the hordes as skilled warriors, and join up to form a superhero battalion. George Miller I could kiss you for presenting a fine team of pro-active, smart and courageous women who are fast learners and fierce warriors. They are the backbone, heart and head of the film.
Miller’s imagination has yielded a battle cry for justice and peace, a feminist war story, a plea for ecological sanity and helluvan awesome spectacle. It’s long, loud and freaky and when it’s over it takes a while to shake off.
Road Warrior the second Mad Max spectacle and the most beloved of the three is every bit as good with the lurid original world and characters, but it is a different kettle of dust. Both are worlds gone Mad, but what a difference a few decades make. CGI is the way things are done now, and this is digital, and problematic. Fury Road is better than most action adventure sci fi films, but Road Warrior, the one with the warm heart, is still the one to beat.
Written by George Miller, Brendan McCarthy, Nick Lathouris
Directed by George Miller
Opens May 15
Runtime: 120 minutes
Country: Australia / USA