Mad Max: Fury Road reviewed

Traditionally, the revival, or reboot, of a classic film franchise decades down the line has never been a success. Even if it does well at the box office, which is likely thanks to the simultaneous pull of nostalgia and curiosity, generally the new film will battle to win over critics. If the movie isn't slammed for failing to capture the spirit of the originals (Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull), it can easily be dismissed as a soulless and/or pointless retread (Total Recall).

Yeah, I was in the sceptics camp when, thirty years down the line, a fourth Mad Max movie was announced. Although it was admittedly surprising that original writer-director George Miller was spearheading the project, I didn't have much faith that Max's return to the big screen would be anything noteworthy. I was expecting another slick, CGI-saturated sci-fi actioner. An admittedly dusty-looking one, but still. I didn't even view the casting of new leading man, the always committed Tom Hardy – replacing Mel Gibson – with any excitement. Mad Max 4 was simply going to be another lazy cash-grab, luring audiences simply by stirring up fond memories.

So count me astonished when Mad Mad: Fury Road started up and it was like no time had passed at all since Beyond Thunderdome. It's been years since I watched the latter, but I remember the post-Apocalyptic actioner being equal parts thrilling and batshit insane. Fury Road is no different. It hits the ground running – or perhaps that should be driving? – and is stuffed to the brim with unforgettably surreal imagery, just like its predecessor.

Briefly, in terms of plot, Mad Max: Fury Road seems to be set at some point before Thunderdome; maybe even before The Road Warrior. It doesn't really matter; you don't need a deep prior knowledge of the franchise universe to understand what is going on.

Anyway, the new movie sees a practically feral Max captured by one of the desert wasteland warlords, Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne). Max is forced to become a blood donor for Joe's army of sickly, radiation-exposed War Boys. He receives a chance to escape though when one of Joe's commanders, Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) goes on the run with Joe's wives – a band of beautiful young women kept as slaves to breed the warlord perfect sons. Max forms an uneasy alliance with these women as they attempt to flee to a promised paradisical “Green Place.” This won't be easy, however, as Joe and his allies are relentless in their pursuit.

I'll say right now that despite its critical and commercial success, Fury Road is probably not a film for everyone. Like the rest of the series, it definitely leans towards the cultish. It's wild. It's crazy. And unapologetically so. This is a movie where the villain goes to war with his own personal rock band. Think mask-wearing musicians strapped to the front of a speaker-crammed truck, and frantically playing electric guitars that double as flame throwers. “Mad” is in the film's title for very good reason.

Above all, Mad Max: Fury Road feels like a return to old school film-making. CGI-use is unobtrusive. The stunts are real. The production design is gloriously intricate and creative.

It very quickly becomes clear that Fury Road is a very different movie to blockbusters of the past decade or so. This is not film production by committee. It's not slick and pretty and blunted. In the opening seconds, the audience is dropped into the action, and, like Max, just has to survive... or else.

A LOT is left unsaid in the film. Unlike so many big studio releases these days the audience is trusted to put the pieces together; fill in the blanks. In fact, one crucial action scene takes place completely off-screen. The entire project seems informed by the belief that there is no need to show or telegraph everything. And that is a refreshing change.

Fury Road avoids annoying and insulting the audience in other ways too. This is a movie where characters just get on with things. There's no continual, bitchy in-fighting amongst the heroes, and the whole project is appreciably free of macho posturing. Dumb machismo could have been applied to a handful of characters – as it would have been if Fury Road was a Michael Bay production – but it isn't.

Speaking of Michael Bay, don't look for salacious shots of sweaty, half naked beauties in Fury Road. Dreamlike, yes; pervy, no. Continuing the trend of refusing to grate the viewer, Fury Road features a surprisingly positive depiction of women for this type of genre fare. There has been loads of online commentary about this point already though, so I'll keep my comments brief.

In Fury Road, all the female characters are proactive and competent – as warriors, as survivors, as guardians of humanity's future. When you think it's a great depiction, well, suddenly it ramps up unexpectedly to the next level with the arrival of some new supporting players... whose story would make a great movie in its own right.

Against the odds, Mad Max: Fury Road has ended up as something special. It's exhilarating, thoughtful and rewarding on multiple levels. If your tastes lean towards this type of movie fare –if you're open to high octane insanity (in a good way) – this one has to be experienced.


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