Mad Max: Fury Road is the most surprisingly brilliant, gloriously demented film of the year. It’s a carnival of the grotesque that combines Hollywood sheen with a heart of pure pulp. What’s just as extraordinary is that the only other movies director George Miller has worked on since the millennium are Happy Feet and Happy Feet Two.
He burst onto the scene with 1979’s blistering Aussie western Mad Max, going on to produce cutesy kids’ film Babe and direct its sequel Babe: Pig in the City. With all the talking pigs and penguins, you’d be forgiven for thinking he’d lost his edge. Thankfully, this isn’t the case – every character in Fury Road is bursting with tumours and riddled with horrifying scars. If they still have three working limbs, they can count themselves lucky.
It’s unclear exactly how Fury Road fits into the wider Mad Max universe; the titular character is still haunted by the death of his wife and child, but that child is a lot older than the one who died in the first movie. What’s clear is that not a single good thing has happened in Australia in the 30 years since the last movie (Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, 1985).
A tyrant called Immortan Joe now controls the limited water supply and he’s not eager to share: “Do not become addicted to water,” is his advice. Joe, a carbuncled, decrepit monster played by original cast member Hugh Keays-Byrne, has a pretty neat solution to the H2O crisis, if your idea of “neat” is a room full of corpulent pregnant ladies hooked up to milking machines. He also has his very own harem of “wives” whose job is to bear his children (fronted by Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, they look like models attending the world’s worst casting session). The wives don’t like this set up, and with the help of Charlize Theron’s Furiosa, escape on a train-like 18-wheeler “war rig”.
The rest of the movie is essentially one long car chase across the unforgiving, sepia outback; thousands of inexplicably shaven young men, hopped up on spray-paint, drive fantastical cars at breakneck speed straight through the laws of physics. One vehicle creaks under the weight of dozens of amps, a guitarist chained atop them like a gruesome marionette playing what sounds like the strangled opening riff to a Deftones song. And the guitar spurts fire. Because that’s the kind of film this is. Max – played by a perpetually unimpressed Tom Hardy – is introduced to the chase as a “mobile blood-bank”, manacled to the front of a car while he’s slowly exsanguinated. Even in moments of relative peace, characters casually leap under moving vehicles to carry out routine maintenance; these guys are hardcore.
The effortlessly concise script elevates Fury Road above pure spectacle, never attempting to over-explain the mayhem that rages through the film like a tornado. Theron and Hardy do a brilliant job of conveying the despair of all humanity in the occasional eye contact they manage to catch in-between all the explosions and death and horror.
Visually there are elements of Zack Snyder’s 300 and the steampunk lunacy of David Lynch’s Dune, but for the most part Miller’s vision is big, bad and mad enough to ensure his masterpiece – and that’s what Fury Road is – is like nothing we’ve seen before.
First published in City A.M.