Mad Max: Fury Road
George Miller returns to the Mad Max franchise with Mad Max: Fury Road, a loose continuation in the spirit of the popular Mad Max trilogy starring Mel Gibson.
The term “spiritual successor” is thrown around every now and again when it comes to reviving old things to be adapted for a new generation. In a nutshell it means it’s a continuation of some work of fiction that doesn’t directly build on what came before. It doesn’t have to be a direct sequel or even in the same universe. A good example of this is the excellent What We Did On Our Holiday which serves as a spiritual successor to the TV show Out Numbered. Both were created by the same people and explore similar concepts.
Superman Returns serves as the other side of that coin as a spiritual successor to the first 2 Richard Donner directed Superman movies without serving as a direct sequel. The mechanics of that one are pretty confusing actually but in general it shares a universe with those films without directly being inspired by anything in them.
With that in mind, Mad Max: Fury Road could be considered an example of that second category. It can be assumed by watching it that it shares a universe with all of the other Mad Max movies but it’s definitely not following on from anything that happened in them. It could be argued that the universe it inhabits is almost entirely different as well but let’s call it the same world.
Basically it looks like writer/director George Miller wanted to revisit the character he helped create but didn’t want to be caught up in any of the trappings that would arise from following on from those 3 movies. Seems fair enough as far as I’m concerned as that vastly limits storytelling potential in a lot of ways. Instead he dusts off the character of Max Rockatansky and puts him a story that doesn’t feed into any larger plan or have any deeper significance. It also avoids the stigma of being yet another popular franchise reboot aiming to cash in on nostalgia.
In a way this film is a bit like James Bond before the Daniel Craig era in that Bond would show up in a film with a largely self contained story that didn’t take any significant cues from a prior one. Arguably that doesn’t help with character development but that’s another debate entirely. In general you can keep a popular character fresh and have them participate in adventures that seem pretty day to day as far as they’re concerned. It’s a concept largely lost in filmmaking these days.
Before this becomes a think piece on the state of the modern franchise I’ll actually get around to talk about Mad Max: Fury Road. I make it a point not to use profane language in my reviews -at least not to a massive degree- so I’ll start with the censored comment of the whole experience being damn awesome. I really want to replace the word “damn” with something else but I won’t.
There’s nothing about this film that didn’t entertain me in some way. I’m not kidding when I say the thing is basically a 2 hour action sequence with some brief interludes to allow the audience and characters breathing space before starting it all up again. The whole thing is just a marvel to watch with spectacular sequences involving fast paced pyrotechnics all done practically. In this age of CGI it’s quite refreshing to look at. Not that I hate CGI, I think it’s great when used well but there’s something about seeing a real thing blow up that makes it all the more satisfying. The destruction has a tangible quality to it that makes it feel all the more significant. It also makes the whole thing more impressive when you consider the stunt work on display here. Bravo everyone involved, truly bravo!
Beyond the stunt work the action is incredibly well directed with no shaky cam in sight and a completely coherent approach. You always know who’s who and where everyone is at any particular point. The focus of particular moments is always clear and nothing is left open to interpretation. I really appreciated that anything incredibly violent was left off screen with the audience imagination filling in the very obvious gap. I’m not a fan of explicit violence so it was good that the film doesn’t present any of that.
In terms of plot there is very little. Charlize Theron’s Imperator Furiosa is tasked by Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne) to take a heavily armed convoy out to a place to collect some stuff but has to go after her when she takes the rig and goes her own way for her own purposes. This causes Immortan Joe to begin a relentless pursuit of her through the wastes of Post-Apocalyptic Australia and that’s our movie.
On the side of that is Max (Tom Hardy) who is along for the ride hooked up to Nux (Nicholas Hoult) who needs him to stay alive because he’s a universal donor. This is all explained but honestly you won’t really care once it gets going. All it really exists to do is get Max in on the action and have him help get the story to the end.
There are very brief character arcs on display here with the most significant being Furiosa who is on a mission to help people and reach her home. Her arc involves her finding a new purpose in life when things don’t quite go her way. Max is just sort of there to help because he’s haunted by past failures and is on a personal mission of redemption. He feels compelled to help people even when it won’t suit his personal well being. Nux has a desire to make his life mean something and doesn’t care what side he’s on in order to accomplish that.
As I said above none of that really matters as the whole thing is a simple get from A to B story with lots of action on the way. The actors all do a capable job but none of their performances could be considered in any way memorable. Tom Hardy brings an amazing sense of physicality to the role but that was never in doubt and he manages to convey a lot with facial expressions. Charlize Theron is in a similar boat with an impressive physical presence and an implied tortured nature to the way she conducts herself. Nux is just incredibly insane and Nicholas Hoult has a lot of fun with that.
Dialogue is incredibly minimal in this narrative with no real memorable exchanges. Such things would get in the way of the breathtaking spectacle and the characters are all very much doers rather than talkers anyway so that all fits. Hilariously I found myself eager to get the action going again during a relatively long dialogue exchange. It’s amazing how this film manages to make the viewer not even want any more plot by the mid point.
Everything here looks great from the decaying lived in locations to the makeup and costume design setting up this Post-Apocalyptic wasteland. The film builds its world perfectly with an implied difficult history and everything being shown as business as usual while still being easy to follow. It’s easy to tell what traditions these people follow and what motivates them to live the way they do. It’s nicely done and doesn’t need to beat the audience over the head with how the world works. It simply does and it’s left at that with an emphasis on experiencing the world rather than being told about it.
There’s not much more I can say other than this film is an absolute must see if you like action films. It’s a high octane thrill ride throughout and remains light on plot and characterisation. That style might not be to the taste of everyone watching and it does at times feel like a show reel for a practical visual effects company looking for work. Safe to say that this movie could go down as an instant action classic and George Miller is bound to be on the shortlist for every major action film currently in development.
A high octane thrill ride that never fails to entertain from start to finish. George Miller’s return to the Mad Max franchise is an incredible feat of visual effects wizardry.
Having the effects be practical really benefits this film in a big way. When something blows up -and things blow up a lot- there’s a real tangible quality to it that is rarely replicated properly with CGI. The stunt work on display is nothing short of mind blowing as well.
The film is very light on characterisation with the three leads letting their actions do the talking rather than their words. There are some dialogue exchanges but they are few and far between and don’t relay any meaningful information. Trust me by the time the film gets around to this you really won’t care. The characters are engaging enough but the film is more focused on being a visual spectacle rather than a character piece.
In terms of story the whole thing is a simple race to get from point A to point B with relentless dogged pursuit hampering that goal. Where they’re going and why they’re going there isn’t really important as it only exists to let the action happen. I had no issues with that personally but it won’t be to everyone’s taste that’s for sure.
World building is definitely one of this film’s strong suits with a decayed lived in setting setting the tone instantly. The costumes and makeup help add more depth to this world and the traditions of the people are simply shown without being explained to any massive degree. In short the viewer experiences the world rather than be told about it.
If all goes well then this film could be stamped as an instant classic but I definitely feel that it’s an absolute must see. It’s an entertaining experience while it lasts and surely puts George Miller on the shortlist for every major action film currently in development.