Post Apocalyptic stories have been a go to film genre for me since the glory days of the 1970s. I guess since “Planet of the Apes” ultimately counts in this category, technically I have been hooked since 1968. I really loved stories about a group of survivors, struggling against the environment and other treacherous obstacles in a world that has changed dramatically. “Damnation Alley” , a not very good film, featured a cool vehicle with a rotating set of triangular wheel axles. “A Boy and His Dog”, mined sex and loneliness and survivors in ragged clothes and armed to the teeth for it’s entertainment value. None of those movies prepared me for the experience of first seeing “The Road Warrior” in the summer of 1982. In the rest of the world it was “Mad Max 2”, but here in the States, it was a stand alone film that introduced a new film maker to a much bigger audience. Action movies have not been the same since.
Just as in 1985, when my most anticipated Summer Film was a sequel to the “The Road Warrior”, 2015 brings on a sense of deja’ vu. “Fury Road” has taken a long route to get here, but it has arrived with the kind of force that you would expect. This is a take no prisoners action flick that grabs you with a strong stunt sequence in the first two minutes, followed by a foot chase and combat fighting within five minutes, and in about ten minutes the rest of the chase begins. This is a chase film that goes on for two hours and has maybe three segments when the chase pauses, not for long, just enough to get some exposition in and then back on the road. There are some new gruesome twists on the survivor story. Factory farming will be seen in a whole new light next time you open a bottle of milk. The future is a depressing place if you are not in control of the power, and Max our titular hero is close to powerless at the start of this story.
The vultures that preyed on the weak in “The Road Warrior” and created a twisted economic system in “Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome”, have evolved into a extended family cult of malignant children of the deformed patriarch of Immortan Joe. For reasons that become obvious early on, a set of women flee his power and Max becomes part of the exodus by accident. The father figure god is unwilling to give up his possessions and so begins an elaborate pursuit by super charged dune buggies, modified big rigs, and and hundreds of Warrior Boys, convinced that their death will result into admission to Valhalla at the feet of their demi-god father. The two previous films in this series, thirty and thirty-three years old, spent most of their time building up to the climactic chase. This movie is all chase and it sustains the chase through a series of set pieces, plot twists and brilliant design that will keep you hanging on from the moment it begins. Plot is thin but the action is thick and the visualization is visionary. Renegade clans in the outer desert are encased in vehicles that resemble porcupines. The washed out white skin of the Warrior boys make them appear to be an army of spooks, descending on the pursued from all angles. The grimacing regulator that Immortan Joe wears becomes a death mask that follows the heroes from their nightmares to the waking world. There are spectacular crashes and innovative weapons and a disturbing cult of death that brings them all together. Imperator Furiosa, Charlize Theron, seems appropriately named. She is without humor, and determined to save her group of women. Her strategy is to run and keep running and anything that tries to slow her down needs to be mowed down. The war carriage she drives is a moving fortress that is vulnerable to attack only by having overwhelming forces swarm the wagon. Even then, it turns out that she has a secret weapon she herself did not know about, Max.
I have nothing negative to say about Tom Hardy. I think he was well cast and fits the character like a glove. The two criticisms I have of the film do center around Max however, so Hardy may end up a little worse for wear based on my assessment. As great as I think Hardy might be, he does not have the visual charisma that Mel Gibson radiated off the screen in 1982. If you have not seen those earlier Mad Max films with Gibson, I suggest you wait to do so until after you see this and then the comparison that inevitably ensues will not be nagging you through out the film. The character Max is supposed to be cryptic, but as written here, he feels impenetrable and we can’t quite commit to him as we might want to. Maybe having to play a second leading role with his face covered by a mask for larger parts of the film is the thing that holds back my full endorsement. Nicholas Hoult on the other hand is surprisingly compelling as a Warrior Boy in the right spot at the right time. His character had more dimension in the nearly characterless plot than anyone else. Hardy is stoic, Theron is fierce but young Mr. Hoult gets to play despair, joy, confusion and be disgustingly winsome at times.
The action and explosions and fights are choreographed wit a frenetic pace that stays involving for long periods at a time. Director George Miller invented this kind of Apocalyptic mayhem with the original Mad Max, now he has a budget and enough time to see this vision play out in the grandest scale possible. I am now willing to cancel his debit to me for the irritation that “Happy Feet” brought to me. There is enough credit on his ledger from this film to balance out any more dancing penguins that happen along.