This barkingly brilliant reboot of the classic 1980’s action franchise brings the Road Warrior thundering back in a cacophonous cloud of craziness which cranks up the frontier stylings of the previous instalment, and puts full-throttle four-wheeled action to the fore.
It’s dystopian action eco-thriller, a pulse-quickening extended motorised chase across a hostile apocalyptic desert with the future of humankind at stake.
Max is caught up in a deadly hundred mile an hour battle of wills between a fundamentalist petrol-headed patriarch, and his former concubine seeking to liberate herself.
Tom Hardy replaces Mel Gibson in the role which made him famous.In the original film, Max is driven to righteous anger by the murder of his family – this time he is insane from the first frame, a feral, lizard-eating animal.
In 2013’s low kew car-set drama Locke, Hardy did nothing but talk – here he barely talks at all, mostly grunting and occasionally barking out demands.
Interested only in his personal survival, Max is haunted by the loss of his daughter in the oil wars that have turned the world into a barren wasteland. However Max is not in the driving seat but a shotgun riding passenger next to a brilliantly hard-edged Charlize Theron.
As Imperator Furiosa, a renegade on the run, Theron is as damaged and driven as Max; a feminine hard-nut to rival Ellen Ripley of 1986’s sci-fi classic, Aliens. And Theron eschews glamour for cast-iron attitude, a skin-head haircut and a metal prosthetic arm.
Water, blood, bullets and babies are the precious commodities in this grim future which sees Hugh Keays-Byrne’s warlord unleash three heavily armed war parties in pursuit of Theron’s renegade concubine, Furiosa, who’s stolen a tanker full of precious fuel and Joe’s five wives.
The wives are angelic beauties who possess economical clothing and extravagant names – such as The Splendid Angharad. Whereas the rest of the toothless population are blistered and ravaged by disease, these girls resemble chastity belt-wearing Victoria Secrets models.
Although the women are treated badly, they’re portrayed as tough, courageous, resourceful, compassionate and in all ways the equal of men.
Though suspicious of each other Max and Furiosa team up to and what follows is a ridiculously rollicking race from A to B across the desert to the Green Zone of Furiosa’s youth.
This a frantic metal circus on wheels populated with clowns, acrobats, showgirls and bare-chested warriors, blasting across the desert to the power chords of its own onboard guitarist.
An exhilarating chase, it is far closer in epic sweep, energy and colour to Mel Gibson’s directorial 2006 historical action adventure, Apocalypto, with which it would make a dazzling demented double-bill.
Writer and director George Miller returns but moves from the 1985’s Beyond Thunderdome, and has made a bigger, badder and more bonkers movie than any in the franchise. Or any other franchise. Clearly there was a meeting where all ideas were left on the table and ended up on the screen.
Miller’s mythology is as patched together as the vehicles and just as entertaining. The name Fury Road is an allusion to the Greek goddesses of vengeance, the furies, and Furiosa is their battle-hardened representative on Earth.
A reckless pursuit of spectacular entertainment which could have easily ended up as a six lane motorway pile-up, it’s credit to Miller and his team they weren’t content to retread familiar ground.
And it’s another left turn for Miller whose career also includes 1995’s delightful talking pig animated family film, Babe, and 2008’s Happy Feet, about dancing penguins, for which he won the Best Animated Feature Oscar.
The script is co-written by artist Brendan McCarthy who first achieved success as an artist on 2000AD’s Judge Dredd comic strip. Dredd himself was visually influenced in part by the poster for 1975’s Death Race 2000 which itself was an influence on the first Mad Max movie.
The dialogue is as sparse and hard as the desert location with location work in Namibia, South Africa and Miller’s native Australia – where the first films in the franchise were made.
Miller is aided in his pursuit of a no-holds barred cinema experience by cinematographer John Seale, editor Margaret Sixel and production designer Colin Gibson.
Seale’s colour palate is dominated by blues and oranges with controlled explosions of white and green, and saturated colour levels which add to the intensity of the action.
Sixel’s manic and itchy editing puts us inside the addled mind of Max. Although it generates a ferocious pace it allows time for us to draw breath before the next assault on our senses.
Colin Gibson’s designs are nasty, brutal and far from beautiful – but they are brilliant. Over one hundred and fifty wildly different vehicles are fused from different eras and give a new meaning to the expression ‘hybrid motor’.
The greatest of them is Furiosa’s War Rig, a character in itself and one resembling a giant rusting Ninky Nonk from BBC’s In the Night Garden. There are also design nods to 1974’s The Cars That Ate Paris, and 1982’s The Dark Crystal.
Dutch multi-instrumentalist, producer Junkie XL provide an incredible, raucous, unforgiving soundtrack to accentuate the staggering action sequences.
Although every character screams insanity, there’s an optimism about humanity’s return from the brink of destruction and offers green shoots of hope.
In conception and execution this is a thrill-ride of chaos, an extraordinarily epic and apocalyptic nitrous charge of pure cinema.
You’d be mad to miss it.
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