Up until a week ago, I was really looking forward to this film. Mad Max as a series has a criminally underestimated impact on our pop culture psyche thanks to its unique aesthetic. Everyone now knows exactly what they want to do in the event of the apocalypse; strap dustbin lids and S&M gear to our bodies.
Then I remembered that other recent reboot of a beloved 80’s sci-fi film, 2014’s Robocop. Specifically, I remembered that it was absolutely awful, a broken train-wreck of a movie that doesn’t understand and full on resents the original film, and drained all the personality out of a film bursting with it. 2012’s Total Recall shared similar problems, so the question came; would this modern reboot of an 80’s genre classic be the first of its kind to match the quality of the original?
The answer is no. It is far, far better.
The original Mad Max films each had the budget of a school nativity play and relied entirely on the scrapyard aesthetic and charismatic villains rather than action. Fury Road, on the other hand, is the cinematic equivalent of Red Bull; fast paced, frenetic and wild. The action sequences are almost constant, only broken up when the audience’s hearts are about to burst, accompanied by one of the most energetic and brilliant soundtracks I’ve ever heard. In the hands of a lesser filmmaker it would be too much to handle, but Miller makes sure to frame and edit each scene in a way that allows the audience to always follow the action.
Visually, the film is much more in line with Alejandro Jodorowsky’s failed Dune adaptation than anything else, with its deformed mutants, impractical clothes and grungy mechanics. Every image on screen is madder than the last; the audience will probably ask “Why does that guy have a flamethrower guitar?” or “Why is there a fat dude in a business suit with his nipples exposed?” and the film just says “Because you wanted to see it and didn’t know you did.” And it is totally right. Like Big Game, the landscapes are achingly beautiful too, turning a barren desert into a sea of colours.
The plot is utter gibberish; there is absolutely no reason that any series of events would lead to the world looking the way it does and the characters looking and acting the way they do. Most films would be ashamed of this and try to handwave it away or explain it; Fury Road, however, takes the smarter option, and full on embraces the insanity. Characters spout lines like “I have seen the three gates” and “You will ride with silver and chrome” without irony, and it all just works, sweeping the audience up into a world where logic is superfluous as long as what you’re saying is cool.
This wouldn’t work if the acting wasn’t on point, but every single actor is completely game for the madcap lunacy that is the script. Everyone sings their lines, which might be nonsense but just sound so good. The only weak spot is Tom Hardy as Max himself, who tries to be a calming anchor to contrast everyone else but instead seems like he came out of a different, much more boring film. In fact, Max seems here only so the film can be called Mad Max, because really it is Charlize Theron’s movie; Imperator Furiosa is the true main character and Theron easily gives the most nuanced performance.
Upon seeing this film, I genuinely had to go for a jog to get all of the energy out of me. This film is mad glory from beginning to end, a fireworks show for the eyes and ears. One of the best action films of the year in an already good year for the genre. Certainly a much better reboot than Robocop. Now if you excuse me, I’m going to make a suit of armour out of washing machine parts and ball gags.
Mad Max: Fury Road (UK Cert 15)
Director: George Miller
Screenplay: George Miller, Brendan McCarthy & Nico Lathouris
Starring: Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron, Nicholas Hoult