You wait 30 years for the next Mad Max, and then Charlize Theron comes along and steals the show, writes
Nicholas Hoult and Charlize Theron in Mad Max: Fury Road
MAD MAX: FURY ROAD Directed by George Miller. Starring Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron, Nicholas Hoult, Hugh Keays-Byrne, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Riley Keough, Zoë Kravitz, Abbey Lee. 15A cert, gen release, 120 min A recent piece by Scott Mendelson for Forbes made the telling observation that – in a classic example of hope vanquishing experience – fans of movie franchises remain quaintly eager for each new iteration despite disliking most of the previous episodes. (Glance towards Star Wars for confirmation.)
The Mad Max sequence prompts interesting ruminations on this theory. The sentimental third romp wasn’t awfully good. The first film was a cracker, but, more closely bolted to its own period, Mad Max scarcely exists in the same universe as its successor. So, 30 years after Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome, what we’re looking for is a worthy, tonally consistent follow-up to Mad Max 2.
Would you credit it? Despite frequent cancellations, climactic catastrophes and the recasting of his lead, George Miller has delivered the goods. There is some unhappy news. Too much of the action is rendered through computer graphics. Tom Hardy is not quite what we hoped he would be. But Fury Road remains a post-apocalyptic western of the highest order.
Miller and Brendan McCarthy, the comic-book artist who helped develop the pitch, have, quite wisely, worked hard at fleshing out the universe while keeping the story lean and efficient.
Henchmen of an evil lunatic named Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne, who was in the first Mad Max) capture Max (Hardy) and force him to act as a “bloodbag” for one of many anaemic minions. Following various convulsions that we won’t spoil, our hero ends up helping a female road warrior called Furiosa (Charlize Theron) in her attempts to flee Joe with a truck of valuable human cargo.
Other plot twists follow, but Fury Road is essentially one colossal chase sequence interspersed with growled monosyllables and icky body horror.
Miller (who, let us not forget, is also the man behind Happy Feet) has spent too much time in front of the computer and not enough staging old-school stunts. The sense of automotive danger is significantly lessened by constant awareness of digital artificiality. But many of the tweaks in design and composition are delicious.
McCarthy brought influences from Mad Max 2 into his work for 2000 AD spin-offs and the debt is now repaid in bold framing that recalls the best of that comic. The violence is orchestrated with great imagination and the anthropological variations are left tantalisingly half-explained.
Here is the real surprise. Mad Max: Fury Road belongs almost entirely to Charlize Theron. This is partly because it is mainly Furiosa’s story – Max arrives to help out like Keith Carradine in Kung Fu – and partly because the actress grabs the opportunity with two eager fists. Despite the alleged contributions from Eve Ensler of the Vagina Monologues, you’d strain to call the project a feminist picture. Furiosa is, nonetheless, at least as assertive as Ripley in Alien or Sarah Connor in The Terminator.
A bafflingly neutral performance from Tom Hardy makes Theron’s not-unwelcome takeover more complete. The star is turning out to be a real enigma. Mel Gibson, a weaker actor than Hardy, had no more lines in Mad Max 2, but the Australian dominated the earlier film in a way that Hardy just can’t manage. Perhaps he’s trying too hard. Maybe he’s unwisely seeking to fashion a fleshed-out human being from a force of nature. Whatever the reason, Hardy is largely swallowed up by the escalating mayhem.
None of this matters as much as it should. Fury Road admirably honours its predecessors while creating endless new myths worth investigating. It is not a reboot. See it in glorious 2-D.