Mad Max: Fury Road, the fourth in the iconic Aussie sci-fi/dystopian series has literally been in the works for decades. I remember back in the ’90s I was reading a film magazine that said that writer/director George Miller was working on a fourth installment and that it would be released in the mid-90s sometime. That obviously never came to be and I thought audiences would never see Max return to the screen, but finally, in 2015, after numerous setbacks, re-writes, re-shoots, location changes and other roadblocks, Mad Max comes roaring back onto the screen with Fury Road.
I wonder what anyone who hasn’t seen a previous Mad Max film would make of this, as it hardly gives the audience any back-story and doesn’t really bother doing any world building as the film begins, instead it wants to get right into the action and forget about pesky things like exposition or character development. That’s both a good and bad thing – good for fans who know this world and the central character – here played by Tom Hardy, replacing Mel Gibson – but bad for newbies who might be confused by what’s going on as the film starts, and actually might not be any the wiser when it ends.
The plot sees Max captured by the white-skinned War Boys and kept captive as a human blood bag for these sickly warriors. The War Boys are ruled by a fearsome tyrant named Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne), who controls precious resources like water and keeps survivors of the apocalypse oppressed. But when one of his generals, Imperator Furiousa (Charlize Theron) defies his command, steals a tanker truck and flees with Joe’s five “wives”, the chase is on as Joe and his legion of War Boys hit the road to get his wives back. Max, who is hitched to the front of one of the war party cars as a blood supply for near-death war boy Nux (Nicholas Hoult), eventually agrees to help Furiousa make good her escape in the hopes that they can all find a peaceful existence.
Action and spectacle is the main selling point of Fury Road. From literally the first minute, the car chases begin and don’t end up the final credits roll. There is some downtime when the engines aren’t revving, but thanks to Miller’s hyper-kinetic style and some incredible editing, this never drags or feels slow over its two-hour running length.
The characters are thin by design. Max has always been the least interesting thing in all of the Mad Max movies and that is the same here. Hardy does a good job, but the role is probably not worthy of an actor of his calibre, and could have been played by any number of action stars. Someone like Gerard Butler, nowhere near as good an actor as Hardy, could have probably done as good a job in the role for all that is required of it.
On the other hand, Theron is fantastic and is the real star of the movie, which is a nice surprise. Furiousa is the character driving the plot and has the most interesting arc of the film. Theron is completely convincing as a lethal futuristic warrior. Hoult has probably the most dialogue of any character in the film, and is fantastic as humanising one of the “villains” of the story, as his Nux goes from foe to ally in a convincing way, and the humour and energy he brings to the part is always fun to watch. Hoult is an underrated actor but has been impressive in everything I’ve seen him in, even in so-so movies like Jack the Giant Slayer, and he is great here again.
The way Miller handles the action is involving and exhilarating. With seemingly as little CGI used as possible, Miller’s handling of the action scenes makes them feel dangerous and breathless, and at times this reminded me of 1994’s Speed, in that it feels like one long chase scene, which is of course at the cost of plot and character development, but when the action is this good, you don’t miss things like that.
The pumping score by Junkie XL is another reason to see this, the perfect accompaniment to the visuals. One criticism of the film is the sound mixing. Fury Road is ear-deafeningly loud, and the dialogue is often drowned out by the effects, music and explosions. That’s not a fatal flaw, but it will be helpful to see it on DVD with subtitles to hear what is being said in a lot of scenes. Miller has said he wanted this to almost play like a silent film where you wouldn’t need to hear the dialogue and I can applaud that, but I still think the sound mix favoured explosions over dialogue and as a result some vital exposition and character set-up was lost, and considering there is hardly any of that to begin with, it is a shame.
It was definitely worth the wait for Fury Road, easily the best in the Mad Max series and one of the best action movies in years. Small criticisms aside, this is a near-perfect action movie. A two-hour extravaganza of noise, crashing metal, insanity and adrenaline. I wouldn’t want every film to be like Fury Road, but I am glad that there are old-school action exploitation flicks like this for fans to enjoy.