“They say people don’t believe in heroes anymore. Well damn them! You and me,Max, we’re gonna give them back their heroes!” – Fifi (Roger Ward) Max 1979.
I have made no secret of my love for the original Mad Max movies. I have been fighting equal but conflicting feelings towards the long overdue latest instalment Mad Max: Fury Road. I am pleased to report that it is every bit as good as the first two films and short of an incredible second half of the year, a film that will make my top ten of 2015. As much as I enjoyed the film, it does make me ask some questions. I am not going to review the film but I do want to talk about a few aspects of it.
I assume most people reading this will have seen the film and have some knowledge of the original trilogy. For those that don’t a little background for the uninitiated: The first film was set “A few years from now” at time when society is beginning to crumble. After his wife, child and best friend are killed by a biker gang, cop Max Rockatansky steels the forces best vehicle and goes out seeking revenge. Mad Max 2 picks up a few years later and further into a dystopian future. Max gets involved with a small community wishing to escape a nomadic gang who want their precious fuel. By the third film society is virtually back to the dark ages. Max first encounters Bartertown, a hub for scavengers and desperate people then a group of children with no memory of the world before the fall. He eventually becomes a reluctant hero. Fury Road is set at an unspecified time that appears to be somewhere between parts two and three and is essentially a reboot rather than a sequel. Max is captured by the War Boys, the army of cult leader Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne – who also played Toecutter in the first film) who is also in condole of the only supply of clean water. Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron), driver of an armoured “War Rig” deviates from her mission to collect gasoline taking with her Joe’s Five Wives – young women held hostage for breeding – the war party sent in pursuit give Max the opportunity to escape in turn bringing him back to humanity from the brink of insanity.
When I learnt that there was to be a new entry to the series without the presence of Mel Gibson as Max, I suggested they should make a movie in the Mad Max universe but without the character of Max. To the credit of writer director George Miller, that is largely what he has done. Tom Hardy takes over the title of Max Rockatansky, but he is a very different character to Gibson’s Max, a more haunted by his past. The centre and heart of the films is Charlize Theron’s Imperator Furiosa. Max offers the viewers a way into the story and its setting, but the story could have been told without Max. Imperator Furiosa is a strong enough character to carry the film especially with Charlize Theron’s stunning performance. Hardy is very good as Max and I enjoyed his performance, I am not suggesting the film would be better without him or his character, but do think it would be more interesting. Is there a fear of letting a woman carry a film like this? I can’t complain about George Miller after he has given us a film with such a strong female lead but have to ask the question.
Those familiar with the original 1979 film will remember it as a violent revenge film: “The chain in those handcuffs is high-tensile steel. It’d take you ten minutes to hack through it with this. Now, if you’re lucky, you could hack through your ankle in five minutes. Go.” however on re-inspection you will realise that only the last fifteen minutes of the 88 minute runtime is devoted to Max’s revenge. Similar is true of Mad Mad 2 from 1981 (known as The Road Warrior in some counties). We all remember the chase scene with Max driving a Mack truck towing a tanker (or a bulldog Mack with a can on back, to quote Convoy), but that scene is only around 20 minutes of 95. Fury Road on the other hand is made up largely of one long chase scene. This is far from a criticism, it offers the purity and intensity of The Raid (2011) or Black Hawk Down (2001) that devote their running time to one idea. That said I am not convinced Fury Road needed to be two hours long, a little trimming could have made a better film.
Easily the greatest triumph of the film is visual effects; Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man looked like he was made of rubber and never seemed real. The same is true of Michael Bay’s robots. As many times as they hit each other, or as fast as they move, they never seem to me made of metal or have any mass. Possibly the worst offender was G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra (2009), whilst trying to sell us on the idea of super power suits but fail to make a motorcycle move like a motorcycle. Why am I telling you this? Simply because Mad Max absolutely nails it. Not through the use of the latest and greatest CGI, but by using real stunts performed by real actors and stunt performers where possible. Over 150 stunt performers were used including Cirque du Soleil performers. It has been suggested that around 80% of the film is real, this is not to say modern technology was shunned over 1,500 effects where used.
It has been suggested that this is the start point of a new trilogy, I am certainly onboard for this but can’t help thinking Max’s story has been told and I would like to see more of Imperator Furiosa. If you are still wondering why I called this article “Hope and Redemption” watch the movie to find out. In one of its quieter moments, it is at the heart of the movie, but then isn’t it what most movies are about?