That old film-maker’s adage about cutting to the chase takes on new meaning in Mad Max: Fury Road, which is in essence one big, bone-rattling pursuit, gleefully revving up the franchise three decades after Mel Gibson last donned the leathers. Tom Hardy is his worthy successor as the hi-tech lone ranger who has at this point – 45 years after the fall of civilisation – given up all hope of ever seeing order returned to a sun-scorched land.
Moviegoers new to this world might not realise it’s post-apocalypse Australia. Creator/director George Miller doesn’t underline the point (it’s academic), however there are few places on Earth where the wind could stir a sandstorm on the scale of the one he conjures up here, a supermassive cloud of red dust that gives rebel imperator and fuel tank driver, Furiosa, a chance to throw the bad guys off her tail. Charlize Theron is formidable in the role, sporting a number-one cut and a smear of grease paint across her face to make her wild eyes brighter – and she rarely takes them off the road.
After deviating from her usual route, she is fuelled by hope, which makes her vulnerable, too.
Despite the film’s title, Furiosa turns out to be the star of the show and that may irk some fans of the series. Max is relegated to supporting player – her wingman – and he looks up to her, because she still believes in the future when all he has are the ghosts of the past. Hardy is a magnetic presence, though, and as Furiosa begins to question her motives for dissenting, he keeps the rig steady and helps her follow through on what she has started: an all-out hair-raising, pedal-to-the-metal, road-raging war. Her stolen cargo is a harem of women, enslaved for breeding by nefarious tribal leader Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne, who played the villainous Toecutter in the 1979 original) and one of them (Rosie Huntington-Whitely) is pregnant.
Immortan has cast himself as a demigod at the Citadel where he controls the water supply and keeps people as livestock. He has an army, too, of impressionable, disease-ridden boys who are so stoked by religious fervour that they will fight to the death for him. Nicholas Hoult plays one such lad, even madder than Max with his shaven head, scarified chest and white war paint. He has a bad case of chapped lips too (well, the air is very dry), but it’s the tumours that’ll kill him, doomed by pollution before he was even born.
There is a sociopolitical subtext here, but only if you’re willing to dig for it. Miller’s primary concern is keeping the war rigs rolling and the adrenaline coursing. He does that. The action is relentlessly high-octane, giving the quiet moments surprising shock value.
Old bangers are pimped up with roaring V-8 engines and stunts come tumbling one into the other, with a refreshing lack of CGI. Miller crashes cars for real and he finds other ways to exploit the latest film technology. Cameras get in among the crunching metal, giving the film a more heightened sense of chaos than was possible in the Gibson films and the actors aren’t always safely behind the wheel, either; they clamber around, see-sawing and pole vaulting between vehicles and Miller adds a humorous touch by having a guitarist strapped to the grill of one of the war rigs. This is thrash metal taken to the extreme. Sound is, of course, integral, but Miller doesn’t just bash your eardrums; instead he builds rhythm in scenes with slave-ship drumbeats and thrumming engines.
If the original Mad Max was lean and mean, Fury Road is muscled up and in your face. And yet, it isn’t obnoxious. The animalism is counterbalanced by great humanism, with Theron and Hardy balancing out those tendencies in each other. There are pit stops and a few pauses for thought, but there’s no time for kissing. Above all, this is a fast and furious ride.