I have to declare from the start that this has been my most eagerly anticipated film of the year. I’ve been a devoted fan of the Mad Max franchise, from its humble B movie origins in 1979, through the awesome action tropes of The Road Warrior in 1981, and on to the inventive storytelling of Beyond Thunderdome in 1985. Through the intervening 35 years… can it really have been that long?… I, like many others have been keeping alive the hope that director George Miller would stop concentrating his talents on anodyne nonsense like Babe and Happy Feet and revisit his glorious, testosterone-fuelled past. And by jove, he’s finally done it – although this time out, he’s added a welcome dash of oestrogen too!
It’s a tough act to follow and a tough act for newbie Max, Tom Hardy, to step into Mel Gibson’s boots – so I’m delighted to report that this is a triumphant return to form and that Fury Road not only equals those earlier efforts but in many ways surpasses them. It’s a blitzkrieg of stunning vehicular chases, amazing stunt work and unforgettable dystopian visions, but it’s also backed up by a compelling central story. As ever in Miller-land, dialogue is kept to a minimum (Hardy doesn’t get to utter so much as a word for the first twenty minutes or so) but there’s so much going on up on the screen, you barely notice.
In a nightmarish, desert landscape, evil dictator Imortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne) has founded an empire built on toil and the exploitation of the weak. (Max fans will remember Keays-Byrne as ‘Toecutter’ in the very first movie.) When one of Joe’s war parties brings in a bearded, half-conscious Max, the captive is summarily shaved, tattooed and branded, and is then assigned to ailing suicide-warrior, Nux (a barely recognisable Nicholas Hoult) as a living blood transfusion unit. However, when one of Joe’s most trusted lieutenants, Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) decides to abscond with Joe’s five young wives (or his breeding stock, as he so delicately refers to them) Nux is one of the team despatched to bring them back and Max duly finds himself strapped to the front of a truck and hurled headlong into a terrifying chase. We’re taken along for the ride.
And what an unforgettable ride it is! The film leaps effortlessly from one frantic chase to the next, as Miller’s welded-together juggernauts collide, accelerate, swerve and explode in jaw-dropping style. There’s barely a sign of CGI to be seen, everything’s done pretty much for real and it’s little wonder that the closing credits feature what looks like hundreds of stunt performers. But it’s more than just action. Miller’s futuristic world is fully thought-through and dazzlingly captured amidst the stunning Namibian landscapes (this is the first of the series not actually shot in Australia) and there’s so much here to delight and surprise the viewers. Key among them are the manic lead guitarist chained to the front of a truck and pumping out death metal and fire in equal amounts; Joe’s breast-milk pumping parlour, where pregnant women are er… pressed into service; and the tribe of aged motorbiking female warriors who turn up to prove that when it comes to a fight, they’re more than a match for the younger men.
I loved this to pieces. The Mad Max films, though, are cinematic Marmite. If you don’t like what Miller does, this is going to feel like putting your head in a tumble drier and pressing the on switch. If however you like action cinema at its most inventive, this one is for you. One thing. The film was actually shot in 2D and for the 3D version, the process has been retroactively applied, which never makes for a good transfer; but trust me. You won’t need 3D for this. It’s eye-popping enough without.
Ahem! Time to eat a few slices of humble pie. After my suggestion that there was no need to see Mad Max; Fury Road in 3D as it hadn’t actually been shot that way, a couple of friends contacted me to say they’d seen it in 3D and it looked pretty damned good to them. So I broke the habit of a lifetime and went back to the cinema to check out their claims. I have to admit that my friends were absolutely spot on. Not only does this movie bear repeated viewing (it really is that good) it also looks eye-poppingly brilliant in 3D and effortlessly leaps into the ranks of my favourite films in that format – Gravity, Hugo, Avatar and er… Piranha 3D. In fact, if i see a better film this year than MMFR, I’ll be very surprised.