How do you bring back a franchise that has laid dormant for 30 years? While reboots are plentiful in Hollywoodland, none have been quite in the same position as one Max Rockatansky. Developed on a shoe-string budget, the original Mad Max came with a unique edge, but was a film that was very limited by its budget. It wasn’t until the sequel, known as The Road Warrior in the States, that George Miller managed to truly bring his vision to thunderous, bona-fide classic, life. The effect was somewhat diminished with Beyond the Thunderdome, a film which seemed more designed by Hollywood executives than it did Miller himself. Since then, a fourth instalment has been stuck in development hell, spluttering to a halt at numerous road bumps. Now, finally, we are back in the Wastelands, with a brand new Max and a new group of supporting characters. So, how do you bring back a dormant 30 year franchise? You take everything that made your best instalment a classic, and turn it up to 11.
Max (Tom Hardy) finds himself at the mercy of a gang of crazies led by the formidable Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne), whose followers, the War Boys, look to as a God. Max soon finds a way out through aligning himself with Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) a hardened rig-driver who betrays Immortan Joe in order to lead his Wives to freedom. What ensues is an intense War on a barren trail in the Wastelands, a War which forces wandering loner Max to fight for a righteous cause once again.
The Mad Max franchise is not one that has ever been all that concerned with chronology, very much exemplified by Miller’s own non-committal reposenses when asked if Fury Road is more a sequel or a reboot. He has said it is neither, and it’s hard to argue, as one can easily spot references which place this film in the franchise, yet it does well to stand on its own and reintroduce audiences to the volatile future-scape that Max inhabits. The references never take centre stage, and are very carefully placed for fans to spot, allowing for fan enjoyment without alienating the uninitiated.
Mad Max 2 is rightfully regarded as one of the best sequels of all time, largely because of how much it expands the scale of the dystopia, and how well the practical stunts are executed. With this in mind, Miller has made sure to use the 30 year gap wisely, populating Fury Road with vehicular stunts that are simply mind blowing and breath-taking to behold. The last time audiences have seen carnage on this scale, real carnage, was The Road Warrior, and Miller makes sure that Fury Road rises above expectations to deliver high octane thrills that can only be fully appreciated on the big screen. This is pure action cinema that is made to amaze, yet one which refuses to have scenes bogged down with pointless exposition. This is lean, mean, foot to the floor action, and all the better for it.
Much has been made on the strong feminist stance that Miller exudes through the characters of Furiosa and the Wives. He creates some brilliantly bad-ass female characters who are striving to have agency in a Wasteland which still falls under a warped patriarchy. It gives this instalment a unique twist, and further allows for the world of Mad Max to appear more complex, and more populated by strong and interesting individuals. Miller always took a special interest in the background characters in the previous instalments, making the world feel richer, creating a mythology that is open to explore and feels lived-in. Fury Road loses none of that attention to detail, and in fact packs these characters with even more touches and details that bring these individuals to fuller life, suggesting a history that extends far beyond the frame of the screen.
The re-casting of Max was perhaps inevitable, and Tom Hardy surely stands as the best possible replacement for a role once held by the intimidating mould of Mel Gibson. Hardy’s Max remains a man of few words but powerful action, seemingly only concerned with his self-preservation, but who ultimately becomes the hero, as it is his nature to help people in need. Survival is Max’s mission, but he is a good guy to have on your side in a world crawling with evil and lunatics. Max’s dynamic with Furiosa provides the film with a surprising amount of narrative heft, with the kindred spirits aiding each other with their respective strengths, be it Max’s resilience, or Furiosa’s hawkeye aim. Theron also provides a tough-as-nails performance, and is key to Furiosa’s successful characterisation.
I would say there has never been anything like Fury Road, but it skews quite closely to The Road Warrior in terms of structure, so saying such a thing wouldn’t entirely be true. But the scale and the imagination on screen is certainly unique, as the carnage seems archaic but is so carefully constructed, framed, and executed that it can only be the work of one hell of a maestro. Miller directs with the verve and the energy of a young director trying to prove something, yet the feeling here is that he is more concerned with putting everything he has ever wanted for Max up on the screen, possibly concerned with the fact that he may never get an opportunity to do so again. Every cent of the $150 million budget is on screen to be appreciated, and the welcome reception means that we could yet see more adventures of Max. Until then though, this is one of the finest action movies of the 21st Century, a testament to artistic perseverance, careful planning, and gloriously insane imagination. Max is back, and you don’t wanna miss him.
5/5- Efficient, exciting, empowering and exhilarating; Fury Road is an exemplary action flick brimming with thrills and an insane amount of imagination.