This was originally published at The Edge SUSU on May 15th 2015.
Fans of action cinema; you may now take a collective sigh of relief. We all know that it’s been a tough ride these past few years but none of it was your fault. The late noughties/earlier 2010s have been a dark time for the traditional action genre. Thanks to all of the Taken 3s and the Die Hard 5s of the world, audience members have had no choice but to adapt to incomprehensible action, PG-13 violence and a succession of lifeless reboots. True, there’s been the occasional diamond in the rough, like Dredd or The Raid, but these films are the exceptions not the rule and only managed to reach comparatively tiny cult audiences, losing out to their bigger budget, soulless counterparts.
Praise must then be given to George Miller. An unusual filmmaker to say the least, Miller’s career has covered everything from Babe: Pig in the City to Happy Feet and even Happy Feet 2. Exactly why is anybody’s guess. But it goes without saying that his defining achievement is the post-apocalyptic Mad Max trilogy, which kicked off in 1979 with a low budget revenge thriller, peaked in 1981 with the massively influential The Road Warrior and then stumbled in 1985 with the Tina Turner starring (yup) Beyond Thunderdome. Now, a whopping 30 years later, he returns to the world he created, in order to give it the reboot it deserves. What ensues is one of the most creative, visceral and downright demented blockbusters of, well, ever.
Anyone who is concerned that they’ll be lost if they haven’t seen the preceding films can allay their fears right off the bat. The Mad Max series is no Marvel-esque saga. In fact, all of the original films have been distinctly self-contained, much like James Bond. There’s a clear chronology, as society crumbles further and further with every passing instalment, but on a whole, each story is an isolated episode revolving around the enigmatic Max, a lone wanderer who travels through the desolate wasteland of the future in search of nothing more than the means to survive. Now he’s back, only this time the iconic Mel Gibson has been switched out for the equally intense and magnetic Tom Hardy.
Perhaps one of Fury Road’s greatest strengths is that it comes straight from the imagination of the original mastermind. Too many reboots, sequels and prequels have been tarnished by directors who lacked a crucial understanding of what made the material great in the first place. Hell, in the case of Star Wars even George Lucas didn’t seem too certain. But the 70 year old Miller returns to the universe he created with the same anarchic flair that he possessed three decades ago and, as many have pointed out, he really does go some way to putting the young’uns to shame.
Ditching convoluted, MacGuffin-centric narratives, Fury Road is as streamlined as they come and that is no bad thing. Simple means clear. Simple means coherent. Simple means you can get on with delivering the goods as soon as possible. So pleasantly, the film’s plot can be neatly summarized with minimal confusion. When Max is captured by a tyrannical cult, he is imprisoned and utilized as a blood bag for one of the sick followers named Nux (Nicholas Hoult). Whilst Max is held captive, the tenacious Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) is commissioned by the cult’s leader, King Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne), to drive a heavily-armored War Rig out into the wastelands to scavenge for gasoline. When she begins driving off route however, it becomes apparent that she has liberated Joe’s many wives and is driving them to freedom. Joe subsequently sends out his “War-boy” army, including Nux, in pursuit and, reliant on the blood supplied to him by Max, Nux brings him along for the chase. In the following carnage, Max is forced to decide whether or not he will help the women escape or go his own way, as expressed through car chases. Lots and lots of car chases.
The term “jaw dropping” is used far too frequently these days (by myself included) and has consequently lost almost all of its meaning. Thus, when it is said that the vehicular mayhem of Fury Road is truly jaw dropping, it sounds like mere faint praise. So let’s reiterate: Fury Road is legitimately jaw-dropping. As in your jaw will actually drop because the things happening on screen are so amazing. That might seem obvious, but it needs to be affirmed, because, and this is no exaggeration, Mad Max: Fury Road is one of the greatest action films of all time. Not only does the spectacle come unrelentingly thick and fast but it is able to sustain the same outlandish standard throughout. In fact, impossible though it may seem, it actually manages to exponentially escalate, and somehow repeatedly one-ups itself. Add to that stunt-work which is flat-out unbelievable (another word which is often used but rarely justified as it is here) and a welcome emphasis on practical FX, and it really gives each set-piece a legitimate sense of jeopardy and danger.
It’s worth saying also that subtly isn’t exactly Fury Road’s strongest suit, but then again, why would you expect it to be? The self-conscious insanity is what’s so delightfully refreshing about the film, but then somehow, outside of the action, things are just as good. The strong female characters will get the majority of the attention and although this is deserved, don’t discredit the more understated Hardy either. Additionally the location photography is incredibly beautiful, even when the scenery is being blown to hell, and the spirit of the earlier films remains intact from beginning to end.
Suffice it to say, condensing everything wonderful about Fury Road into just one review is a difficult undertaking. We haven’t even mentioned the impressive design, the intriguing additions to the world or the pulsating score. There just isn’t the time to give it all of the recognition that it deserves. But then, is there any higher mark of praise than that?
RATING: 10/10- Not only is Fury Road more or less a dead-cert for the film of the summer, it’s also an early contender for the film of the year. The rest of you may be skeptical, but connoisseurs of action cinema should consider it their duty to see this multiple times.
Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) directed by George Miller is distributed in UK cinemas by Warner Bros, certificate 15.