When our eponymous hero declares ‘My name is Max,’ this is director, producer and co-writer George Miller saying: ‘This is my film, my character and I am proud!’—and rightly so. He is a crazy person. Since the first Mad Max (1979), he has developed a world that has become more and more bizarre with each instalment. This nightmare of a country, overrun by gun toting maniacs—or Australia, as we call it—has descended into chaos since the oil ran out a few years before the first film. It’s amazing to see how George Miller has gradually transformed the setting from a version of the Australian outback, not unlike the existing one (admittedly with more biker gangs), to a desert-dwelling society that worships a warlord because he occasionally blesses them with water. What’s even more fascinating is how the Max’s character has changed. Once a loving husband and father as well as a dedicated officer played by Mel Gibson, he is now a shell of the man he once was, now portrayed by Tom Hardy. Thankfully, we soon get to see the Max we’ve all come to expect as he has a change of heart, and decides to help Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) rescue the five wives of Immortum Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne) from his captivity.
Technically, yes, this has all the makings of another copy-and-paste 80s movie reboot/sequel which we have all grown sick of over the past few years, but it was never meant to be. George Miller had the idea for Fury Road over 15 years ago. Unfortunately, Mel Gibson was unable to reprise the role, and since Miller knew this idea would only work with a contemporary hero, Tom Hardy was cast. While this situation was not ideal, I can only be pleased with the way things worked out, because what you get with Mad Max: Fury Road is a beautiful, action-packed two-and-half-hour car chase, starring who I consider to be the perfect Mad Max. Tom Hardy ranges from intense to sympathetic, without the transition being clunky. Just one example is when he is barrelling through a canyon in the War Rig and gives a quick thumbs-up to one of the five wives, Angharad (Rosie Huntington-Whiteley), through his wing mirror, and suddenly this driving machine is given a heart. You can tell he has come to care about the safety of these victims, rather than just himself.
As far as the rest of the cast goes, everyone did a terrific job. It’s amazing that, despite there being five ‘damsels in distress’ in this film, each one gets a significant role and a great deal of character, not only thanks to terrific writing, but also to the (surprisingly) very entertaining performances from the ensemble of models. Another thing that might not have been expected is how Charlize Theron is the star of the film. She plays a more interesting and important role than even Max himself, and does a damn fine job of it. After seeing Emily Blunt in Edge of Tomorrow last year, I didn’t think I would see another female in a leading action role for a long time, but Theron’s portrayal of a female hero is by far the best I have seen since. Furiosa is not just your typical Hollywood ‘strong female’ role—she is a real fleshed-out human being who also happens to be a total badass with a metal arm.
And that’s something Miller has always been able to do with his films. The characters in the Mad Max franchise are never just ‘one thing’. They are completely actualised and believable. Even Nux (Nicholas Hoult) makes for a compelling and interesting character, when he could have just been the token evil henchmen—he’s ‘at the end of his half-life’ and desperate to prove himself to Joe. Every character could exist outside of the film’s plot. I even imagined Immortum Joe just being a more vicious version of Toecutter, who now believes himself to be immortal, having survived his collision with a truck at the end of the first film: especially since they’re both played by Hugh Keays-Byrne. Even though the plot is relatively simple, the characters create the story. You feel like you know what each character is about just from what little dialogue there is, because the script is so concise.
Miller also knows how to craft great action scenes. Something modern action films suffer with is an over-reliance on computer animation and shaky-cam. That is not the case in Fury Road. While I think some people have exaggerated how little CGI there is in this film, it is still awe-inspiring to think how much is practical. Digital effects were almost exclusively used for backdrops. The only time I really noticed the CGI was during the sandstorm scene, which didn’t look particularly convincing—but it only stood out because all the other scenes were shot in real desert. Other than that, the audience are shown real people jumping from real cars driving away from real explosions. A lot of things left me wondering, “How did they shoot that without killing someone?” It truly is incredible what lengths Miller went to create an authentic experience for his audience.
The cinematography also does this film a lot of justice. It is clear how much Miller has learned since the first film. The first time I watched Mad Max, I was actually confused as to what kind of style the director was aiming for. At times he used extreme long shots but then he’d cut to an extreme close-up or a quick flash of cuts around a crash, and at times it was hard to know what really was going on. He’s learnt to balance and moderate his shots so that a good view of the action from all around is seen without being disorientating. Throughout the film there are extreme long-shots, revealing vast lengths of empty desert as well as intense close-ups of just about every inch of the War Rig. But you always know where you are as a viewer. The shot of Furiosa collapsing was so beautifully shot with a backlight; it made the scene incredibly intense and gave weight to the character when it could have just been cheesy. The only issue I had was when sequences were intentionally sped up, which is probably Miller’s way of making the scenes faster paced, as in Mad Max: The Road Warrior (1981). One of the opening scenes is a chase scene in which Max runs from Immortum’s followers, and to me it felt like Yakety Sax should be playing.
This brings me to the score, something which seems to change significantly with every film. The original Mad Max was for the most part very quiet, the occasional horn would be brought in for action sequences or moments of intense drama—but that was it. In Road Warrior, things got louder, with more instruments, more frequently: the score got more heavy-handed along with the action. In Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome (1985) the score became a bit sillier to match the tone of the film. More synthesizer was added to compliment the campy antagonist, Aunty, played by Tina Turner, even going so far as to have a title track recorded by her. In Fury Road, there is a big emphasis on strings, which add huge emphasis to scenes of peril. One of the stand-out features of this movie is how it blends diegetic elements with the score, like one of Joe’s minions playing a twin-necked, electric guitar which shoots fire (yes, that actually appears in this film) being incorporated into the score as a way to give the hoard a theme.
Hopefully, I’ve given a clear enough description of this film to let you know what you’re in for, because if you don’t like explosions and cars and post-apocalyptic insanity, you are not going to like this film. Fury Road knows what it is and delivers in total confidence, because there is an audience for it. If you have never seen a Mad Max film before, you are taking could be taking a gamble and hate this film, but if you have followed Mad Max since the first film or just love a good action movie, then you are going to love this fourth instalment.