WARNING: SPOILER ALERTS
It turns out we do need another hero, and it comes in the guise of George Miller. The 70-year-old Australian director’s absence from the action genre since the proliferation of computer graphics is entirely what helps make his comeback, Mad Max: Fury Road, so deliciously entertaining. There hasn’t been a film in this franchise for 30 years, and that entry, Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, was a compromised production on which Miller only co-directed, but if the man’s list of credits since then reads more like the family catalog of sublime inflight entertainment, let it be said that he never really gave up the ghost of darkness that swallows the characters in his latest film. Both Babe: Pig in the City and the two Happy Feet films were full of cruelty and sadness and issues that one doesn’t often associate with modern day ‘kids flicks’.
Nevertheless, Miller has come roaring back with the fourth entry in the franchise that he birthed in 1979 and Fury Road is the biggest one yet. Rather surprisingly handed a ginormous budget (these films were never particularly huge box office hits in America), Miller does what so few blockbuster filmmakers seem incapable of doing and actually letting audiences see the money. Despite being set in a post-apocalyptic desert wasteland (Namibia standing in for Australia after heavy rainfalls made the outback look too green!), every frame feels rich and decadent, full of imagination-stretching images that feel tangible. Miller’s insistence on practical stunt-work, effects, and sets where possible is plain to see as each rough-and-ready action scene full of hurtling, exploding, revved-up automobiles smash and crash into one another at breakneck speed and they were really tumbling around axis-over-hood in the desert sant. He allows the camera to follow the action in a way that only James Cameron can truly rival. The editing is similarly strong, with the action sequences, each more outlandishly devilish as the last, finding a riveting rhythm amidst the mayhem that makes the destruction easy to comprehend and follow.
I have thus far avoided detailing the plot, and that’s mostly because there isn’t much of one. It’s a fairly standard course of direction with a near-wordless outback wanderer played by Tom Hardy (taking over the role made famous by Mel Gibson) falling foul of a gang of overlords and adopted of sorts by a group of escaping women, baby-factories used by the tyrannical Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne) to birth a true human, one that hasn’t been infected by the disgusting, disfiguring after-effects of the apocalypse. The leader of the women is Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) and together she and Max must devise a plan to find a world of green and flowing water amongst the arid wasteland that they call home. Needless to say, things don’t go to plan.
Theron is actually more of the lead character than Hardy, despite the name of the movie. Miller’s feminist cred comes to the forefront with the themes of patriarchy and independence. Themes of anti-capitalism, too, rear their heads especially in the final act when Furiosa and Max are joined by a pack of kick-ass older women desert-fighters, the wrinkles of their sunburnt skin highlighted just as much as their skills with weapons and fists. It’s a refreshing change of pace in terms of representation of women in action films. The gonzo take-no-prisoners fighting feels real and the stunt work may be some of the greatest ever seen.
Much like The Lego Movie was imbued with the joy of playing free-assembly with a tub of errant lego pieces, so too does Mad Max: Fury Road feel energized with the spirit of a kid – or more likely a young-at-heart adult – playing smash ‘em up with toy cars. The monster truck on acid vibe of the film may make it hard to become the crossover mainstream zeitgeist wonder that other generation-defining action flicks such as Terminator 2: Judgment Day and The Matrix have done, but it’s certainly not for lack of trying. The outré giddiness with which Miller and his own gang of Hollywood outlaws have taken to this material is infectious and rousing. A five-star thrilling action adventure that is unlike anything that has been splashed across 4000 screens across America. This Australian extravaganza is not to be missed, especially when put up against the uninspiring computer-generated movies that usually take up space at the multiplex at this time of the year.