There’s been a lot of debate recently about whether or not posh chefs should serve their increasingly avant garde meal on a shovel or in a flat cap or in a bin or whatever. Make no mistake, (director) George Miller doesn’t go in for any of that kind of fancy nonsense, he’s a plain white plate kind of guy, but what he serves up is every bit as exciting as a Michelin starred chef at the top of his game. In an age of blockbusters bloated with artificial computer generated additives, over ripe dialogue, frighteningly calorific exposition and syrup conflict, Mad Max: Fury Road is a refreshing, low fat, high fibre concoction that totally satisfies your stomach-rumbling hunger for a really great action movie.
Following the collapse of civilisation, desert wanderer Max (Tom Hardy) finds himself captured by self-proclaimed god, Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne) and used as a “blood bag” for one of Joe’s Warboys (read “followers”), Nux (Nicholas Hoult). When one of Immortan Joe’s most trusted Generals, Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) makes a break for freedom (along with five of Joe’s wives), Max finds himself, still intravenously attached to Nux, chained to the front of a pursuit car like a literal figurehead. And that, basically, is all you need to know about the plot. Fury Road is a propulsive, breathless, pounding chase movie that, when it reaches the end of the road, simply about turns and races back again.
Mad Max is the role that launched the global superstardom career of Mel Gibson (or more precisely Mad Max 2, the first movie was largely overlooked in the US where, bizarrely, it was dubbed by American actors), but this time around Max’s mismatched boots are filled by the heir-apparent to Brando’s throne, Tom Hardy. It‘s thirty years since Mad Max Beyond the Thunderdome (the slightly disappointing third Max Movie) and whilst it would have been interesting to see Gibson back as an older Max, the appointment of Hardy has given the franchise a fresh new impetus. Hardy isn’t doing a Mel Gibson impression and the loose continuity of the series allows him to step into Max’s world seamlessly. Hardy’s Max is charismatic and charming, exasperated, baffled and, surprisingly, very funny, many of the best moments of the film are Hardy’s reactions to the chaos in which he’s embroiled.
But it’s not Hardy’s Max who is the central driving (ahem) force or protagonist of Fury Road, but Charlize Theron’s Furiosa and she is magnificent. Theron plays her with savage ferocity, a warrior who has had enough of the horrors of Immortan’s dictatorship; she’s taking a principled stand, even if it costs her her life. Despite the steampunk hand and the alarming proficiency with firearms, Furiosa always feels like a woman, she never becomes masculinised in a James Cameron kind of way. Her motivations are not vengeance or power, it’s to save the five sex-slave wives of Immortan Joe.
In a lesser movie the wives (played by Zoe Kravitz, Rosie Huntinton-Whiteley, Rylie Keough, Abbie Lee and Courtney Eaton) would all be background noise, showing up to be menaced eye candy ripe for sexual assault. But in Fury Road each one of them has their own character arcs and moments and each reacts to their situation differently. Some cower, some fight, some want to return to the familiarity of their abuse, but all react as humans, not plot devices. “We are not things” is written on the wall of the chamber they have escaped from. And just to upset the whining, man-baby “Meninists” even more, a whole other bunch of female warriors show up, gun-toting, motor-cycle riding, Hell’s Grannies who are equally as amazing.
Hugh Keays-Byrne’s Immortan Joe is a terrifying figure, a pale, red-eyed, aging warlord in a skeletal, horse-toothed respirator mask and Keays-Byrne sells every bit of his ruthlessness and nastiness. He’s an all-timer great villain every bit as great as Mad Max’s Toecutter (again played by Keays-Byrne) or 2’s hockey-mask horror, Lord Humungous.
But the real star of Mad Max: Fury Road is the action. With very little cgi (well apart from one terrifying, swirling, ferocious sandstorm) you feel every crash, you draw back at every explosion, you wince at the bone-crunching stunt work. It’s full of bonkers imagery: men hanging onto poles mounted on the rear of speeding vehicles, swinging back and forth; a guy playing a double neck guitar (with a flame thrower attached, obviously) on a truck stacked with amplifiers and drummers beating out a battle charge mounted on the back.
You know what’s truly great about Fury Road? Instead of upping the stakes through increased and escalating chaos, 70 year old director Miller ups the stakes via emotion and character arcs. Yes, this film is full of emotion, so full that in one horrific yet moving scene we are even made to feel for Immortan Joe and his terrifying son, Rictus, “A brother. I had a brother!” It’s also filled with sublimely smart themes, themes like the patriarchy and the myth of the benevolent rich; the perpetual war machine culture; faith, hope and redemption. There are critiques hidden amongst the explosions and touching character moments deftly squeezed in between the crashes. Miller wants it all, he wants the mayhem and excitement of great action movies and he wants the character development and depth of the best science fiction. He wants it all. He gets it all. He gives it all to us.
And, while that action is astonishing, the imagery as mad as a two headed lizard, the world of the Apocalypse harrowing, Mad Max: Fury Road is capital letters F.U.N. It’s a good time. The colours are bright and saturated to the point of popping off the screen. The action is stunning and visceral but rarely cruel. It’s a total blast that will have you punching the air, stomping your feet and shaking in your seat with excitement. If the “Menininists” are right and this is feminist propaganda, then I for one welcome our new female overlords (overladies?).
Check out the show times and even book your seats online at the Odeon