Fans of widescreen blockbusters which prize real stunts and invention over CGI effects will be left gobsmacked by Mad Max: Fury Road. Using real-life Olympic gymnasts and circus artists, this thrilling post-apocalyptic steampunk western also features fine acting, an absorbing screenplay and stunning photography. You are unlikely to see a better action film this year.
Mad Max: Fury Road is the fourth film in Australian writer/director/producer George Miller’s Mad Max franchise, the first since 1985. Tom Hardy replaces Mel Gibson as ‘Mad’ Max Rockatansky, but no prior knowledge of the previous films is necessary, as Max’s opening voiceover explains everything we need to know:
‘My name is Max. My world is fire and blood. Once I was a cop, a road warrior searching for a righteous cause. As the world fell, each of us was broken by their own war. It was hard to know who was more crazy, me or everyone else.’
The film is set in a future desert wasteland where gasoline and water are scarce commodities. In a bravura opening sequence Max is captured by a gang of baldies, then tries to escape from the terrifying world of the Citadel. It is like Indiana Jones on crack, directed by Terry Gilliam. Sun-baked and blue eyed, Hardy has the furrowed charm of Harrison Ford, with added craziness. The scale of madcap invention and the awe-inspiring sweep of it all brings to mind Biblical epics such as Ben Hur, whose chariot race and Red Sea-parting find echoes later on.
When leader of the baldy cult, Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne) sends his lieutenant Furiosa (Charlize Theron) off in an armored tanker truck to collect gasoline, she goes ‘off-ride’ and off-message. Joe sends his entire army in pursuit of her. There follows what amounts to a series of high-octane chases, interspersed with brief pauses for breath and character bonding.
Miller has described Mad Max: Fury Road as ‘a Western on wheels’. When Max joins forces with Furiosa, then dissident baldy Nux (Nicholas Hoult), and a gang of biker grannies, their convoy is like a wagon train being attacked by Indians. In their battle for survival and personal redemption, this motley crew of ‘goodies’ represent mankind’s best hope for the future.
Key collaborators take credit for making this film much more than your average action blockbuster. The screenplay was co-written by cult British comic creator Brendan McCarthy, who brings a ‘make-do-and-mend’ steampunk sensibility to the invention of the mongrel vehicles that career through the desert. He was probably responsible for the brilliantly crazy idea of lashing a heavy metal guitarist to the prow of a truck, a bank of speakers behind him, riffing like a member of Slipknot on his twin-necked ‘axe’.
The verve and panache of the acrobatic fight sequences is the result of stunt coordinator Guy Norris using over 150 stuntmen, including Cirque du Soleil performers and Olympic athletes.
Miller also invited feminist author of The Vagina Monologues, Eve Ensler, to act as an on-set adviser. She was reputedly impressed with the script’s depth and feminist themes, and spent a week on-set in Namibia, where she spoke to the actors about issues of violence against women. As Furiosa, Charlize Theron is more than a match for Max, as she leads their mostly-female band in their quest to find ‘the green place’, rebelling against the ruling male tyrants. Ensler would agree with the painted graffiti in the Citadel: ‘our babies will not be warlords’ and ‘we are not things.’