George Miller’s Mad Max series was always the odd one out in terms of this years summer blockbusters. Going up against Marvel, The Terminator and Jurassic Park, it had almost been shoved to the side, forgotten for its more illustrious peers. Therefore, it may come as a bit of a shock that Mad Max: Fury Road stands a very good chance of being the best of them.
Thirty years after the bonkers Beyond Thunderdome, Fury Road sees us returning to Max, although he appears to have grown a new face as Tom Hardy replaces Mel Gibson in the leading role. The only other thing that has changed is the budget and you can tell Miller has been given a lot more money to play with here. That aside however, fans of the series will instantly feel at home in the post-apocalyptic Australia that Max’s eeks out a living in. It’s still all bondage gear and grotesque human beings, who actually manage to make Mad Max himself seem rather sane.
The film starts with Max being captured by a warlord called Immortan Joe and put to work as a blood bag for one of his War Boys. It’s this that sees him strapped to the front of a car as a living figurehead, as they hunt down Imperator Furiosa, (Charlize Theron) who has betrayed Joe in an attempt to free his harem of wives. When things go wrong for Joe, Max ends up working with Furiosa and in classic Mad Max style what follows is a chase movie with the kind of high-octane action that I can only imagine is similar to taking a shitload of meth.
But while that action is incredible and never once lets up, it isn’t actually what makes this film as good as it is. For underneath all the explosions and death-defying leaps, Miller never forgets to tell a story. While Hardy doesn’t change Max by making him anymore talkative than he was before, his incredible physicality means he says as much with a look or a movement as many others say with a paragraph. In the background, the Australia they cross, which was actually primarily shot in Nambia, tells its own story. The reasons for this post apocalyptic world are never quite made clear in the Mad Max Universe, but this society based around survival of the fittest and the desperate need for provisions feels terrifyingly real and the mystery only works to strengthen that resolve.
Of course, there have been some nut jobs decrying this film as feminist propaganda, which while obviously the mindset of an idiot, is worth addressing. Because yes, there are some kickass women in this film, none more so that Furiosa, who is both the toughest character in the film and the one who is most desperate to leave this world behind. She’s backed up by Joe’s former wives, who join her in this quest to get as far away from their former ‘husband’ as possible. They are all great female character who have strengths and weaknesses and because of that are all the more impressive. If for some strange reason that worries you, then that is your own little weird problem.
Of course, while all this storytelling is what makes the film as brilliant as it is, the action plays a pretty big part too. The chase section of this movie starts within the first half hour and doesn’t really stop until the closing credits. There are moments of calm there, but Miller creates the feeling that you need to keep moving, to the point where when the characters on the screen stop, you are willing them to get back on the road. When the action does come to a head, it is reminiscent of the first three films but bigger. People leap from car to car, hurling grenades off motorbikes and flying above each others heads on giant poles designed to allow them to dip down over other vehicles. All of this is soundtracked by some lunatic strapped into a bungee suit on the front of a truck, playing an electric guitar that shoots flames. It is heavy metal excess at its most ridiculous and the closest thing I can think of as a comparison, is seeing Rammstein live.
Mad Max: Fury Road is one of the best action movies you will see this year and in fact, will probably be the best full stop. There is also a claim to be made that it is one of the best we have had in a long time and at the very least it sits up there with the Raid films. However, what is most impressive is that it manages to be more than an action film, it tells a truly interesting story set in a world that is made fascinating by how little we know about it. Mad Max: Fury Road has thrown down the gauntlet to the films ahead this summer and it is going to take something very special to beat it.