In my recent internet skulking, I’ve come to find that much of the fan conversation surrounding the new Mad Max film is dominated by mentions of age. Director George Miller (who also helmed the three previous entries in the post-apocalyptic car-western franchise) is rounding 70, and it’s been 30 years since the last entry, Beyond Thunderdome. ‘But does it feel like the old films?’ cry those yet to take the plunge.
It’s not an unfair question to ask, but it ultimately does the film a disservice. This is no mere imitation, no attempt to recapture the magic of the 80s; Mad Max: Fury Road has molten blood and gasoline coursing through its veins, and an iron heart to pump them. Miller is an uncompromising visionary, and this is the head-rattling, bone-crunching stuff of his visions. If ever it doesn’t feel like the old movies, it’s because the intensity and insanity have been turned up beyond belief – the result is incredibly fresh and, resoundingly, the best Mad Max film yet.
Fury Road is an exquisite cocktail of elements from earlier films in the series, running a split between the more story-heavy first entry, and the straight up action of the second. Though the film leans more towards the latter (the bulk is essentially one extended chase sequence, with a couple of detours here and there) it nonetheless presents us with some of the franchise’s richest characters, not least in Charlize Theron’s ‘Imperator Furiosa’. Furiosa is an inspired creation, equal parts warrior, mother and leader, which has led many to applaud Fury Road for its feminist bent. If this wasn’t exactly Miller’s explicit intention from the outset, it’s nonetheless extremely refreshing to see men and women so naturally and evenly integrated in a blockbuster of this kind – the rarity of this sort of treatment cannot be exaggerated.
The character of Max himself has seen something of an overhaul from the Mel Gibson trilogy. Tom Hardy is solid in the role, though he lacks something of Gibson’s tacit aura of sly wit. Where Gibson’s Max was a silent, unfeeling warrior, Hardy plays him as an animalistic mutterer, haunted by visions of his wife and child. These visions hark back to the character’s for- mative moments in the first Mad Max film, and do a fine job of setting the stage for those who haven’t seen it. Fury Road is just as enjoyable for newcomers who haven’t seen the original trilogy; this is neither a reboot nor a sequel but, in Miller’s words, an “episode”. The franchise has never been big on chronology and this is no exception, though series veterans will get a nostalgic kick out of the buggy, rig and muscle car designs.
And these machines are glorious. The extended action sequences which make up a significant portion of Fury Road are stunningly and outrageously choreographed, every bit the vehicular equal of The Raid or Oldboy’s martial arts mastery. The scenes are absolutely thrilling throughout, and Miller and co know exactly when to mix it up and throw in new ideas, so it never even begins to feel stale. The effects (largely practical, and you can tell) and imagination on display are uniformly breathtaking. See it on as big a screen as possible – the visceral joy of the visual experience is overwhelming.
Of the (appropriately thin) plot, I could mention the slight middle act sag, when we take a very necessary break from the fireworks. But the film is so fucking awesome (and it’s clear that everyone involved had as much fun as you will) that I struggled to care – Mad Max: Fury Road is the best film I’ve seen this year, and I can’t wait to go again.