George Miller choreographs visual chaos with an eye for the absurd in fire and blood reboot of the Mad Max franchise
Mad Max: Fury Road
Starring: Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron, Nicholas Hoult
Directed by: George Miller
Rating: 3½ stars out of 5
Running time: 120 minutes
By Jay Stone
In the middle of the cacophony that is Mad Max: Fury Road —basically a two-hour assault on most of your senses including, but not limited to, sight, hearing and taste — it felt like the theatre patron behind me, driven into a frenzy of excitement, was kicking my seat in restless exhilaration.
After a few seconds, though, it was clear that my neighbor was sitting quietly, albeit on the edge of his seat, and the ground was shaking from the pounding noise of the movie, a 3D soundtrack of drumming, explosions, roaring vehicles, and piercing screams. With its steampunk violence and hazy surreality, Mad Max: Fury Road feels like what might happen if Kiss gave a concert in Sin City, and you were invited to watch it from the confines of one of the amplifiers.
That’s not to say it’s not thrilling. Director George Miller, who made the previous three Mad Max films, has reinvented the story — a cop makes his way through post-apocalyptic Australia — as a non-stop chase decorated with a bizarre collection of unique characters (a villain who wears a masque of death’s head teeth, warriors who dye their bodies white and spray paint silver on their mouths for that extra boost of violent adrenalin, a heroine with an artificial mechanical arm) and brilliantly choreographed mayhem.
“My world is fire and blood,” says Max in a prelude that includes most of his dialogue. Max is played by the great Tom Hardy, whose previous foray into action films was as Bane in The Dark Knight Rises, a character who wore a mask that muffled most of his dialogue. It’s his bad luck that Max is similarly bound: for the first half hour, he’s the prisoner of the insane dictator Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne) who runs this arid world and dispenses what water there is (it’s called Aqua Cola). As such, Max is tied up, gagged and used as a source of blood transfusions for the troops.
Thus the first great visual shock of Mad Max, when our hero is chained to the front of one of the cars that is racing madly through the desert in pursuit of a war rig — an oil tanker that seems to be filled with mother’s milk, one of the premium drinks enjoyed by Immortal Joe — that is trying to escape from the madness. It’s driven by Furiosa (Charlize Theron), a cold-eyed warrior queen who has absconded with some of Joe’s wives and is heading toward a mythical land of green from her past. The wives, who sport various bits of diaphanous cloth, add a note of dystopic supermodel glamour to what is otherwise a fairly bloody-minded saga.
Max’s driver, to whom he is connected by transfusion tubes, is Nux (Nicholas Hoult), a loyal trouper who throws himself into the chase with insane enthusiasm. “What a lovely day it is,” he exclaims as all his dreams — saturated red flares in the dun-coloured sky, desert dust flying from the convoy of chase vehicles, bullets flying — are coming true.
The chase is one of several long sequences through a barren, computer-aided landscape that falls just this side of artificial. Several classes of fighters race after Max and Furiosa — whose fierceness seems to prove the notion that names are destiny — as they run away with the women. The highlights are the polecats, men on tall sticks that weave and bend as they sway high above the vehicles, dipping down occasionally to drop a bomb or be eviscerated.
Furiosa’s homeland is part of a feminist subtext in Mad Max: Fury Road, which allows the heroine to take over at key moments when lesser (and quieter) films would have them cowering behind their man. It’s one of the hints of a broader saga in all of this. Hardy’s Max is a more measured hero than the one played by Mel Gibson in the previous films — at the time, Gibson cornered the market in wild-eyed insanity — and he is haunted by shapes from the past, figures whom he has failed to save. In addition, some of the characters, such as an obese man in a business suit with an artificial metal nose, seem to demand some kind of explanation.
We’ll have to wait for the inevitable sequel to find out where it’s going. In the meantime, get yourself some earplugs.