George Miller’s long awaited regeneration of his first, most memorable creation, Mad Max, exceeds all expectations. This blissfully deranged, post-apocalyptic fever dream, fuelled by its grotesque, outlandish imagery, uncompromising weirdness and the sledgehammer-effective accompaniment of Tom Holkenborg’s score, almost allows you to imagine the birth of a new form of action film. The kinetic, adrenaline-pumping set-pieces – which make up most of the film – are shot with a freshness of perspective that seems almost impossible to achieve in today’s made-by-committee, for-the-masses, movie-as-fast-food-consumption climate.
When the pestilent, warlord ruler of the Citadel, Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne), sends his Imperator, Furiosa (Charlize Theron) on a mission to obtain gas, she decides to rebel, settling on an alternate plan that sees her fleeing with Joe’s beautiful array of ‘breeders’ in the hopes of transporting them across the desert to her original home, the Green Place. With the adoption of a fleeing Max Rockatansky (Tom Hardy), earlier snared by Joe’s minions and used as a human bloodbank for Lux (Nicolas Hoult) – who also becomes an ally – she sets out against formidable odds and wave after wave of relentless pursuers.
The combat in Fury Road is brutal, exhilarating and gut-wrenching. Once the screws are turned – and Miller wastes very little time in setting his charges in motion – there’s barely a moment to breathe. The scope of the chases and the ensuing battles, across endless sandblasted terrain, is awe-inspiring and though the actors necessarily play second fiddle to the stuntwork, there are no weak links. The hard-nosed, taciturn stoicism of Hardy works a treat for Max, even if, peculiarly, he ends up closer to a sidekick of sorts in his own film. Theron’s imposing physicality and equally believable masculine qualities are channelled to great effect, meaning there are no credibility issues in her sharing the action duties with Max and the others. Keays-Byrne and Hoult are given great small moments in which to shine, whilst John Howard, Angus Sampson and numerous others all make tiny but telling contributions to Miller’s carnivalesque gathering of freakshow attractions.
Miller, now 70, has been inspired by the scale of his imagination and like too few he’s simply had the audacity to run with it – to utterly trust his vision and insist it hold true to the end. The result is something remarkable, and bearing not a whiff of studio interference that might have seen the director coerced into reining in the excesses of his demented fictional world. The story may not be the film’s strongest suit, and indeed, chunks of dialogue become incomprehensibly camouflaged beneath the relentless sonic assault of music and rampaging engine sound effects. But the basic narrative arc is clear enough and for once these matters fade into insignificance against the backdrop of a spectacle so remarkably assured, transportive and mind-blowingly entertaining. Mad Max: Fury Road (2015), with all its swooping John Seale aerial perspectives, militant nihilism, cavalcade of diseased, warped mutations and ecological sub-themes earns the right to be labelled something close to an instant action classic; at the very least it’s a new watermark against which future genre directors can grade themselves.