I would like to preface this by saying I’m not particularly a fan of the Mad Max franchise. People mostly just seem to remember the kitch weirdness of the latter films: Master Blaster, Tina Turner, “Two men enter… one man leaves…” and so on…
But the influence that Mad Max has had on popular culture is undeniable. Virtually every other post apocalyptic film, book and video game has taken a leaf from Max’s aesthetic – a harsh irradiated desert world, where savage gangs roam to prey on the weak for valuable resources that we take for granted today - such as food, water and fuel. And now that the 70 year old veteran director George Miller has come back to direct the fourth instalment in his own franchise 30 years later, it seems things have come back around full circle. Except this time he has a hell of a lot more money and technology at his disposal in order to realise his vision.
And boy does it show. Fury Road is batshit crazy, both in terms of the sheer spectacle of what is actually shown onscreen: the production design, sound design, music, action and stunt choreography; but also in terms of how they actually managed to film the thing: largely practical effects and always moving along at speed. Considering that a good three quarters of the film’s total running time is spent on the move, it’s mindboggling to think how complex it must have been to shoot the film. It's a technical marvel and it looks stunning.
The collisions are bone-crunchingly weighty (with minimal CG), rust and dust everywhere on these battered junkyard-modded vehicles, driven by a horde of crazed mutants. There is a great sense of desperation, feral anger and savagery – the filmmakers have managed to snag a more box-office friendly rating by omitting some of the blood and nastiness (that I think could have elevated the feeling of being pursued by these grotesque villains that much more terrifying) - but nevertheless the action is brutal, relentless and most surprisingly: endlessly inventive.
In this world where vehicular combat is a way of life, these tribes employ nitros, explosives, spears, spikes, poles, flamethrowers, machine guns, tank treads… you name it, in order to get the upper hand. Forgot to include a car stereo? Oh wait - they have a truck with a guitarist strapped to the front dedicated solely to rocking out constantly, in order to whip the chase into a frenzy (and also – rather ominously – to let their victims know they are fast approaching).
It’s great that these touches inform you about the world, its power structures and beliefs - without having to over explain them to you. The strange slang they use, their warrior code that encourages the War Boys to seek a glorious death, the worshiping of the wheel and use of chrome spraypaint – all hint at a much larger world of which this is but one story.
Essentially the film is just one long chase - and whilst some may take issue with that fact – it is undeniable that Fury Road does what it does very well – perhaps even one of the best chases ever committed to film. And that’s not said lightly.
It is somewhat strange then that Tom Hardy (as the iconic character originally played by Mel Gibson) comes off a little short-changed here. It’s not that he is weak in this – it’s just that besides the physicality reqiuired for the action sequences he isn’t given that much actual acting to do; his lines are minimal (with a strange mumbling affect punctuated by the occasional grunt to boot). It’s actually Charlize Theron’s wonderfully named Imperator Furiosa that’s the real star of the film. She fully commits in all aspects of this film and her performance is simply astonishing. There’s a nagging feeling that at one point they may have been tempted to just run with it and call the film Mad Maxine, if they weren’t swiftly talked out of it by their marketing department.
There are little niggles of course: the action is so loud and frantic that (mixed with the slang and shifting accents – English? Australian? American?) some dialogue is occasionally lost in the mix; and it is a shame that the iconic Interceptor didn't play more of a part.
However these pale in the face of what has been achieved here, amplified more so by being viewed on the biggest screen you can find. It’s a jawdropping, ballsy, thrilling and occasionally nightmarish vision that is rare gem in this day and age of clean cut and packaged blockbusters. Witness it.
19th May 2015