Well, I must admit I didn’t see this one coming. I knew Mad Max: Fury Road was about to be released, but my expectations were very low. After all, can a franchise that had its last instalment over thirty years previously come back out of nowhere with any credibility?
The answer, surprisingly, is yes. Director George Miller has crafted an astonishing melee of cinematic carnage that incredibly lives up to the legacy of the original Mad Max films. Essentially one big chase sequence, the film throws the viewer right in at the deep end, refusing point blank to explain any detail of the previous movies. What matters is the here and now – Max (Tom Hardy) the wandering survivor, whose tormented madness in the face of the apocalypse is made tolerable by the fact that the baddies are so much more insane. The plot revolves around a crazed sort-of religious dictator who is betrayed by one of his own, Furiosa (Charlize Theron), who along with his “breeders” (a quintet of women, some of whom are pregnant), try to reach the safety of the “green place”, with Max reluctantly assisting and various crazed minions and factions in hot pursuit.
There is so much incredible stunt work here that it seems redundant to use words like spectacular, jaw-dropping and breath-taking. The production design is astonishingly deranged, and the film so relentlessly cinematic, that one feels utterly immersed in the smell of petrol, flames and burning rubber. In a film like this, performances tend to be a little one-note, but these one-notes are very well played. Hardy is great, Theron is great and there are some brief, unexpected moments of tenderness amid the supporting characters too (especially with Nicholas Hoult). In a film as overwhelming as this, it is easy to end up feeling numbed at the sheer nihilism, yet although Fury Road is essentially a very violent, very grotesque and very, very demented Stagecoach homage (with nods to silent cinema as well, such as Buster Keaton’s The General), there is – incredibly – talk of redemption and hope amid the chaos.
Inevitably, one misses the stripped down, low budget, non-CGI aesthetic of the earlier movies, but although the film does ultimately exhaust it’s audience, Mad Max: Fury Road really is quite something to behold, especially on a big screen. Sometimes films don’t need amazing plots or complicated characters to work. Sometimes the sheer spectacle of incredibly well constructed thrills is enough. And it is more than enough in this case.