Review: Mad Max: Fury Road
Julius Pepperwood might just have discovered his film of the year...
It’s difficult to explain just why Mad Max: Fury Road is so very, very good. Why you absolutely have to watch it – not just once, but twice. And why, upon leaving the cinema – your eyes bulging and bloodshot, the deafening roar of diesel engines and high-impact collisions still ringing in your ears – you have to tell everyone you know to watch it, again struggling to fit into words the sheer brilliance of George Miller’s triumphant return to the scorched landscape of Max Rockatansky, where the only rule is to survive, at all costs; preferably inside a very large and very fast vehicle.
“My name is Max, and my world is fire, and blood.” The first words spoken by Tom Hardy’s character, a haunted figure whom you could never accuse of mincing his words. From his introduction – where he is chased in his V8 Interceptor by a roving wasteland militia, who proceed to shave all his hair off and tattoo an itinerary of biological details onto the raw flesh of his back – to the film’s explosive conclusion starring an entire fleet of warring vehicles, that opening monologue rings true.
Fury Road is a simple film, and I don’t mean that to slight the narrative. From Max’s initial capture, where he is taken to the Citadel, ruled by the mutated despot, the Immortan Joe, who presides over a sickly and deformed kingdom bent to his will by their reliance on his control over ‘Aqua Cola’. Water, basically. Joe and his band of wildly disfigured siblings also maintain a stable of ‘breeders; women, his wives, untouched by radiation who produce milk and healthy babies to maintain the purity of the Citadel’s ruling class.
But when Joe’s chief war-general, the Imperator Furiosa – a badass Charlize Theron – sets off with the Immortan’s wives in her War Rig, the story is set in motion, and the captured Max finds himself strapped along for the ride, quite literally, as a mobile ‘blood bag’, pumping fresh blood into a War Boy called Nux, intent on stopping Furiosa and impressing the Immortan with his valour.
Suffice to say, the vast majority of Fury Road is set inside, or on top of, or alongside vehicles of many shapes and sizes. From Furiosa’s massive War Rig, to juiced-up interceptors and spiked dune buggies, the fleet of vehicles unleashed on-screen is as diverse and well designed as the characters we meet. In fact, it would be a disservice not to mention each vehicle as a character in its own right.
And they’re not simply resigned to chase scenes. These vehicles clash and fight like the well-choreographed martial arts fight scene. George Miller’s insistence on using as little computer-generated imagery as possible – shooting real cars on real locations, performing real, death-defying stunts – pays absolute dividends. We don’t appreciate how keen and discerning our eyes are to digital wizardry, and when they see a real car spinning out of control – showering the scene with debris; a real motorbike soaring over an onrushing War Rig, its rider launching itself in mid-air onto the passing vehicle below – it registers. It matters.
Fury Road is relentless, pausing only for very brief spells to dispense dialogue and shift the plot ever so slightly. As you can probably gather, Max finds himself embroiled in Furiosa’s cause, as she seeks to free the wives from the Immortan Joe’s grasp. It’s an easy to follow but no less engaging narrative, and Miller never burdens their plight with sudden divergences or sagging subplots.
It’s hard to draw your attention away from the awesome spectacle of vehicular carnage and destruction, but the performances littered throughout Fury Road really do stand out. Tom Hardy underplays every scene Max finds himself in, his accent lilting from Cockney to Australian and even something sounding a little like South African. Charlize Theron is a force of nature, unbowed in her dedication to reaching the ‘Green Lands’ where the wives can settle, free from Joe’s oppression. The film might bear his name, but the subtitle is telling in its choice of words. This is as much Furiosa’s film as it is Max’s.
Then there’s the slew of villains and side characters. Hugh Keays-Byrne, who starred in the original Mad Max films as a completely different character, brings the Immortan Joe’s relentless rage to screen with aplomb. His face half-hidden behind a gruesome, grinning breathing apparatus, his body mottled with radiation and sheathed in a protective suit; he’s a fitting counterpoint to the selfless and morally-motivated Furiosa.
He’s joined by a band of no less malformed and malignant siblings, each leading a war party of their own, and they all carry a unique visual identity that speaks volumes about their place in the world without ever having to tell us. The visual storytelling Millar employs is outstanding, with even throwaway characters possessed of such striking design that they live long in the memory past their inevitable fiery demise.
If you can accuse the film of anything negative, you might find a late in the game romantic subplot a little distracting – although even here, the film shows restraint – and the dialogue veers wildly from gonzo brilliance to iffy fan-fiction fluff. But the bad is stuffed between so much good that it’s easily forgotten by the next clash of cars.
I think we all expected something special from Mad Max: Fury Road. Word of a standout script and real-world stunts and scenery had the Internet churning with anticipation, which hit critical mass when the trailers dropped. But Hollywood has become adept at hiding a poor film behind very clever marketing, cherry-picking the best bits to distract from the disappointing end product.
But Fury Road is everything you expected it to be, and more. It’s the best action film of the twenty-first century thus far, setting an unenviably high bar for the rest to follow. It casts a very harsh light on the likes of Michael Bay and Marvel, who shower their films in computer-generated imagery and incomprehensible staging; proving that this stuff can be done for real, if you invest enough time and talent into it.
Simply put, go and watch Mad Max: Fury Road. Right now.
Words by Julius ‘J-Peps’ Pepperwood