David Strat­ton gives his ver­dict on Mad Max: Fury Road

Mad Max: Fury Road (MA15+) Na­tional re­lease

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Contents - David Strat­ton

As the whole world knows, Mad Max is back. Thirty-six years af­ter Ge­orge Miller cre­ated and Mel Gibson in­car­nated the char­ac­ter of Max Rock­atan­sky, a traf­fic cop keep­ing the peace on Australia’s en­dan­gered high­ways “a few years from now”, and 30 years af­ter the third film in the fran­chise, Mad Max Be­yond Thun­der­dome, the road war­rior has re­turned. Was it worth the wait? Does the re­sult com­pen­sate for the seem­ingly end­less pro­duc­tion dif­fi­cul­ties, de­lays, re-cast­ing, re­lo­ca­tion and a bud­get re­port­edly blown out to be­yond $US150 mil­lion? The an­swer to that de­pends very much where you’re com­ing from.

In purely fi­nan­cial terms, the new film looks like be­ing a huge suc­cess, as it opens this week­end across the world. On a vis­ceral level it de­liv­ers ev­ery­thing that revheads, video game play­ers and lovers of non­stop ac­tion around the world have been wait­ing for. In the two ex­tended chase se­quences that com­prise most of the film, the stunts are of­ten amaz­ing, though in this era of CGI and vis­ual ef­fects it’s not al­ways easy to judge the gen­uine stunt from the dig­i­talised ar­ti­fice. Strange ve­hi­cles, imag­i­na­tively con­structed from bits and pieces of recog­nis­able cars, thun­der across the dusty land­scape (a land­scape that, as has been widely re­ported, was far from the Aus­tralian set­tings of the pre­vi­ous three films but which was ac­tu­ally shot in Namibia). Shot at high speed as the pur­suers and pur­sued con­stantly clash and ve­hi­cles spec­tac­u­larly crash into one an­other, th­ese scenes are un­de­ni­ably ex­cit­ing. Some of the cars, with their spiked body­work, look as though they’ve driven in from the set of Peter Weir’s The Cars that Ate Paris, the won­der­fully strange com­edy that pre­ceded the orig­i­nal Mad Max by five years.

While the stunt work is mind-bog­glingly im­pres­sive, and in most re­spects the freaky imag­i­na­tion that’s gone into the char­ac­ters pro­vides lots of fun, the core of the film, the nar­ra­tive, is al­most nonex­is­tent. It’s in­ter­est­ing that the lengths of the four films have grad­u­ally ex­tended (the orig­i­nal ran just 90 min­utes, while the new one clocks in at two hours), the bud­gets have bal­looned (the first was made for a re­ported $380,000 in 1979 dollar value) but those es­sen­tial in­gre­di­ents, a good story and char­ac­ters with whom we can em­pathise, have markedly di­min­ished.

The new film be­gins with Max, now in­car­nated by Bri­tish ac­tor Tom Hardy, rem­i­nisc­ing that he was once a cop “search­ing for a right­eous cause”. “Who is crazy? Me or ev­ery­one else?” he muses as he scans a desert land­scape while stomp­ing on, and eat­ing, a two-headed lizard. The an­swer comes soon enough: Max is cap­tured by min­ions of Im­mor­tan Joe ( Hugh Keays-Byrne), a for­mi­da­ble despot who rules the im­pov­er­ished masses from a moun­tain domain known as the Citadel, parcels out oc­ca­sional ra­tions of priceless wa­ter to keep the peo­ple con­tent, and main­tains an army of “war boys”, fa­nat­i­cal young men with shaven heads, var­i­ous kinds of pierc­ings and white body paint.

The plot (scripted by Miller in col­lab­o­ra­tion with comic-book cre­ator Bren­dan McCarthy and Nico Lathouris, who, as Nick Lathouris, acted in the orig­i­nal Mad Max) kicks in when Im­mor­tan despatches Im­per­a­tor Fu­riosa (Char­l­ize Theron) to nearby Gas­town on a mission to re­plen­ish the colony’s sup­plies of fuel.

This proves to be no sim­ple out­ing to the lo­cal petrol sta­tion, how­ever, as Fu­riosa has an­other agenda, one frus­trat­ingly un­ex­plored by the film: she has “res­cued” five young women (Rosie Hunt­ing­ton-White­ley, Zoe Kravitz, Ri­ley Keough, Abbey Lee and Court­ney Eaton), who had been forced to serve as Im­mor­tan’s con­cu­bines. Im­mor­tan and his war boys give chase when they re­alise Fu­riosa has be­trayed them, us­ing a daz­zling va­ri­ety of trans­porta­tion, while Max, chained and en­cased in an iron face mask, is taken along for the ride. This pur­suit be­comes the film’s first big chase se­quence and it’s re­peated, with mi­nor vari­a­tions, in re­verse in the sec­ond half of the film when ev­ery­one heads back to the Citadel.

The in­ter­mis­sion be­tween th­ese two set pieces in­volves some hack­neyed plot­ting in which Fu­riosa, who dreamed of re­turn­ing to the Green Place where she grew up, finds that, in this postapoc­a­lyp­tic world, noth­ing stays the same.

Whether de­lib­er­ately or not, Fu­riosa be­comes the film’s main char­ac­ter. She drives faster than Max, she shoots bet­ter than Max (at one point, af­ter he’s missed a cou­ple of cru­cial tar­gets, she takes over and scores a bulls­eye) and she’s marginally more in­ter­est­ing than Max. Though shorn of her hair and cov­ered in grime, Theron still man­ages to cre­ate an in­trigu­ing char­ac­ter, per­haps be­cause she’s the only char­ac­ter in the film given any lay­er­ing. Hardy’s Max, when he fi­nally emerges from that mask, has lit­tle to say and not much more to do. We know, from films such as Locke and The Drop, that Hardy is a con­sum­mate ac­tor, but you wouldn’t know that from his con­tri­bu­tion here.

Re­view­ing the orig­i­nal Mad Max for the Amer­i­can trade pa­per Va­ri­ety in 1979, I wrote: “Stunts them­selves would be noth­ing with­out a film­maker be­hind the cam­era and Miller … mak­ing his first fea­ture, shows he knows what cinema is all about.” That still holds true. Miller is a su­perb film­maker, one of this coun­try’s best, but I find it dis­ap­point­ing that he’s rarely stretched him­self. Fans of the grotesque char­ac­ters and amaz­ing stunts that he and his team have cre­ated for Fury Road may well be sat­is­fied, but Miller is ca­pa­ble of far more than this sort of ex­trav­a­gant may­hem. His best film, I think, is Lorenzo’s Oil, which he made in the US in 1992 and which told, most beau­ti­fully, the true story of par­ents seek­ing a cure for their sick child.

In that film, Miller demon­strated his skills as a sto­ry­teller, his fa­cil­ity with ac­tors, and his abil­ity to tackle a pro­foundly mov­ing theme with­out re­sort­ing to mawk­ish­ness or cheap sen­ti­ment. He’s never made an­other film like this, and you won­der why. Fury Road is un­doubt­edly a thrilling ride, and maybe that’s enough; but Miller has much more to of­fer.

And yet Fury Road, de­spite its lack of an in­ter­est­ing plot, de­spite the ab­sence of flesh-and­blood char­ac­ters (some­thing the orig­i­nal Mad Max was able to ac­com­mo­date be­tween the stunts and the car crashes), de­spite the ba­sic same­ness of any se­quel, still man­ages to thrill. Miller, who turned 70 ear­lier this year, re­mains a mas­ter of me­chan­i­cal may­hem and I read­ily ad­mit he de­liv­ers the goods in ex­cite­ment. Credit should also go to his pro­duc­tion team, es­pe­cially to vet­eran cine­matog­ra­pher John Seale, whose work is ex­cep­tional, but also to Colin Gibson for some re­mark­able pro­duc­tion de­sign, es­pe­cially the con­cept of the Citadel set.

Hardy and Theron aside, there are some strong con­tri­bu­tions among the ac­tors, with Ni­cholas Hoult giv­ing a thor­oughly en­gag­ing per­for­mance as a war boy who joins Team Max. And then there’s Keays-Byrne who, back in 1979, played the Toe­cut­ter, the leader of the bikie gang re­spon­si­ble for the deaths of Max’s wife and child; Keays-Byrne is as for­mi­da­ble as ever as the fascis­tic Im­mor­tan, a chill­ing pres­ence of pure evil who dom­i­nates ev­ery scene in which he ap­pears.

Char­l­ize Theron as Fu­riosa, kneel­ing, on a mission to res­cue a group of women forced to be con­cu­bines; Tom Hardy as Max, be­low

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.