After a few deceptively fluffy and kid-friendly outings, George Miller returns to the Mad Max universe, 30 years after Mel Gibson turned in the keys to the tune of Tina Turner’s “We Don’t Need Another Hero”. The question on everyone’s mind before the first trailer unleashed an internet frenzy was, in this age of needless reboots, has Miller sold out or has he used this opportunity to finally realize his full vision for the famous saga?
By now you will know that the latter is true, but you might not appreciate to what extent, and how little this implies that you are guaranteed to actually like the result. Miller hasn’t just provided an update of Mad Max, or even a reboot. In fact this plays like just another episode in the wild life of his antihero, relegating back- story or origins to one or two short opening lines and brief flashes of past violence. It’s also much more than a modernized take: it is early 21st century filmmaking taken to its furthest possible extreme.
Since most blockbusters today are at least partially bathed in Michael Bay’s patented orange/teal palette, Fury Road pushes that beyond its aesthetic limits, to quasi-fluorescent territory, creating the impression of a very violent Tex Avery cartoon, or at least one viewed while doing some serious drugs. Plot-wise, it doesn’t get any more streamlined than this, or economical, and what you’re left with is a hellish landscape populated by astonishingly inventive grotesques, conflicted heroes (our protagonist Max is arguably not THE hero of his own film) and a sustained action sequence.
If this sounds like something you wouldn’t enjoy, don’t waste your time. If the trailer had you hyperventilating though, what awaits is pure nirvana. The action – most of it the result of practical effects and stunts – sets an unprecedented standard, as does the level of perverse originality in the baddies’ physical and moral decrepitude: even in the hallowed company of other Mad Max entries, these are some weird freaks. Finally, the lead duo is pitch-perfect. Most of the attention has fallen on Charlize Theron’s fearless Furiosa, but special mention should go to a very subdued Hardy, who beautifully anchors the film and gives it an almost calm, simmering center. Whether grumbling at sights of his stolen gear or fighting for his life in one of the meanest brawls in cinematic history, he makes us believe in this twisted universe, and feel the pain.
This is a journey through hell, Dante’s inferno without the sanctimoniousness: distilled to its essence and spiked with cocaine. A wilder ride you will not find this year, perhaps even this decade.
8 out of 10 stars