After 30 years in Hollywood’s development hell, George Miller’s fourth installment in the “Mad Max” franchise has finally arrived. “Fury Road” heralds the return of the road warrior Max Rockatansky, played by Tom Hardy this time around since a 59-year-old Mel Gibson in an action film isn’t the most entertaining prospect.
The audience is reintroduced to the post-apocalyptic wasteland last witnessed in 1985’s “Beyond Thunderdome.” Not much has changed. People, or savages rather, still hunt and scavenge for resources like wild animals as civilization finds itself confined to small pockets amid the barren landscape. The opening sequence has Max captured by a group of War Boys, pale bald men, who happen to be soldiers serving King Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne). The self-appointed King, a gargantuan old man held together by a breathing machine (think of Bane from “Batman”), attains his ruling status by controlling access to food, water and fuel.
He sends his trusted Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) to bring back gasoline, only to discover that she has gone rogue, smuggling the King’s wives to safety, wives he specifically keeps for the sole purpose of breeding. Meanwhile Max gets assigned as a blood bag for the ailing war boy Nux (Nicholas Hoult) and has to go wherever he does. As things would unfold, they happen to go in pursuit of Furiosa after Immortan Joe sends his army to recapture his lost wives.
The plot may seem rather juvenile at first, but it has a tremendous amount of depth when considered in the context of the movie. This is a dystopian future where law and order has earned itself a cruel name. George Miller does a wonderful job fleshing out the rules of his world, using scenes throughout to detail the means and norms of a world deprived of basic necessities. Along the way, Miller doesn’t forget to treat us to a few laughs every now and again.
Jokes aside, a tremendous amount of credit should go to the actors, specifically Hardy. It is never a simple task to inhabit a character played to perfection by another actor, in this case, Mel Gibson. Think of the comparisons Ben Affleck will be facing with Batman after Christian Bale’s high benchmark. That was the challenge Hardy had, and he managed to surpass expectations. His portrayal was consistent with the Max of Miller’s past three films. Hardy was the reserved loner who maintains a calm, nonchalant manner in the face of maddening adversity, but he takes the role in an interesting direction.
By choice, Max has confined his life to one of solitude. This means that he has minimal contact with any living creature, and this shows when he is thrust into the midst of people. Hardy displays a man who has completely lost touch with the world in the first act, lost in the times. In the beginning he merely mumbles, speaking in only single words and grunts, as if playing a caveman who has forgotten how to speak. It was a bold and effective decision, one of many ways in which the actor reinvigorated the character.
Theron should also be lauded for her role. This movie has strong feminist forces in a male-dominated society and Theron’s Furiosa epitomizes that sentiment, matching Max’s daring behavior at every turn. Hoult’s Nux is a refreshing element, too, highlighting the misplaced zealotry of young men in a world without a true, honest leader.
Central to the movie, though, are its stunningly choreographed vehicle sequences. This is a staple of any Mad Max movie and Fury Road delivers unceasingly. Miller opts to go sans-CGI with the majority of the “road rage” incidents, minimizing the need for post-production effects. Simply put, most everything that you see on the screen is real. Cars grating against each other, trucks crashing and tumbling to set off explosions in the desert; this movie trumped all the sequences of the last three, showing how far filmmaking has gone in 30 years.
“Mad Max” is relentlessly good fun. “Fury Road” sees the franchise return to its roots and that is a welcome sign. Miller’s world building has given additional shades of political, or rather tribal elements to the movie’s universe. We are reminded of Max Rockatansky’s troubled past and his inability to move past it. Consequently, sequels are all but guaranteed. At its core, “Mad Max” has always been about retro automobiles doing exceedingly bizarre and crazy maneuvers.