The­bom­ba­s­tandthe­fu­ri­ous

You wait 30 years for the next Mad Max, and then Char­l­ize Theron comes along and steals the show, writes

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - FILM -

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.

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