Writers: George Miller, Brendan McCarthy, Nico Lathouris
Cast: Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron, Nicholas Hoult, Hugh Keays-Byrne, Zoe Kravitz, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Nathan Jones
Running time: 120mins
The lowdown: 30 years beyond the Thunderdome, George Miller once more unleashes Carmageddon. And in a marketplace crowded with mopey superhero movies, how refreshing it is to breathe in the exhaust fumes of Fury Road’s inspired lunacy. Plot is distilled into a prolonged chase scene as Tom Hardy’s Max helps Charlize Theron’s Furiosa spirit precious cargo from warlord Immortan Joe. But, the stunts are just one part of the spicy stew Miller has concocted – there are sights and sounds here far beyond the imaginings of most blockbusters. Fast & Furious 7? This is fast n’ furious and cranked up to 11.
The full verdict: No-one knew they wanted another Mad Max movie. Not us, even with that trailer everyone revved their engines over.
But, Fury Road may be the action movie of the summer. Fevered, hallucinogenic, relentless and hilarious, George Miller has spliced his original trilogy with El Topo and a generous dollop of neo-feminism for a film that is much more than a chase movie.
Directing with the energy and vitality of someone less than half his 70 years, the antipodean director embraces the rough edges and zero civility of classic Ozploitation, creating an eye-popping post-apocalyptic Hellscape.
In Max’s rebooted world, gasoline is not the prized commodity, the “oil wars” mentioned in Hardy’s opening voiceover presumably being won by Australia (represented here by the deserts of Namibia).
Instead, the violent civilisation is divided into three epic tribes who trade water, gas and bullets. Immortan Joe (Keays-Byrne, the Toecutter in the original Mad Max) is the water warlord, ruler of the vast mountain enclave known as the Citadel (imagine the Temple of Doom decorated by Mad Max 2’s Lord Humongous).
Joe keeps his population in check by rationing the water and maintains order via his War Boys, bone white young men, sick from radiation, amped up on paint fumes and delusions of battle glory, the steering wheel their weapon of choice.
Thus, when Imperator Furiosa (Theron) goes rogue with the armoured supertanker, the War Rig, Joe sends his troops after her, calling in help from the Gas and Bullet gangs.
One of the chief surprises is how secondary Max is in his own movie. Furiosa is the film’s focus with Theron more than equal to the task of giving action cinema its latest kick-ass heroine. Let the numbskull naysayers moaning about a feminist agenda being snuck in eat the latest Steven Seagal snoozefest. Hardy, gruff, unplaceably accented in what little dialogue he has, cannot match Mad Mel Gibson’s original charisma, but gamely dives into the physical grunt work.
But, Fury Road allots ample screen time to its gallery of grotesques, including Nicholas Hoult’s callow driver Nux, a personification of the film’s madness, and Nathan Jones as Joe’s formidable muscle, the wonderfully monikered Rictus Erectus.
Fans of the original trilogy will appreciate Miller’s fealty to the legend. Max is still haunted by the death of his family (here a daughter who plagues his dreams and waking moments) and the hard road to redemption spread across Mad Max 2 and Beyond Thunderdome is condensed here into one breathless pursuit over 120 minutes.
Surprisingly, it is in the chases where the film doesn’t match the earlier films. Perhaps it’s because we’re so wirework savvy, but the heart in the mouth stunt work performed in the early 80s still has a thrill to it only partially matched here.
Offsetting this is the sheer imagination the crew have put into creating memorable automobiles – vehicles as warped and mutated as the characters driving them, paying homage to Australian cinema with the spiked VW from Peter Weir’s The Cars That Ate Paris making a notable cameo.
Weir seems to be referenced again in the gang of desert beauties (including Kravitz and Huntington-Whiteley) along for the ride echoing the ethereal oddness of Picnic At Hanging Rock’s young ladies.
Miller and his co-writers also include enough invention in the obstacles put in the runaways’ path to avoid roadblocks of repetition, particularly a pursuit through a quagmire that is as gorgeously shot as it is tense. Space is also made for subtext asides, including the realisation problems can’t be fled from and war is little more than old men’s egos feeding young kids into the meat grinder.
And special mention must go to the polecats, Cirque Du Soleil soldiers who ride bungee cords mounted on the back of cars and snatch their prey out of moving vehicles. Every film going forward should make room for them.
Hardy has signed on for more Max movies and this is likely to score big globally. Another spin around the track might make for another lovely day indeed.