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Mad Max: Fury Road

As I continue to try and remember and rewrite the reviews that I lost here's a new one. Though I'm very aware that this isn't likely to please the masses. And trust me, no-one is more surprised than I am. Despite not being a big fan of the franchise I thought this was going to change all that. I went into the cinema all set to hand out a 5-star fanboy ramble. But it just didn't happen.


Year of release

Directed by
George Miller

Written by
George Miller
Brendan McCarthy
Nico Lathouris

Tom Hardy
Charlize Theron
Nicholas Hoult
Hugh Keays-Byrne
Rosie Huntington-Whiteley

Mad Max: Fury Road

Plot - Following a nuclear war, the world has become a deserted wasteland and civilisation has collapsed into a state of chaos. Making his way through this chaos is Max Rockatansky (Hardy), a wandering loner just trying to survive the best he can. Along the way he runs into trouble when a gang known as the War Boys chase and capture him. The War Boys are the servants of Immortan Joe (Keays-Byrne), a tyrannical man who controls the population by keeping a stranglehold on the supply of water and oil. Initially held as a donor to replenish injured War Boys, Max eventually finds himself trapped in the middle of an epic chase. This occurs when Imperator Furiosa (Theron) steals Immortan Joe's five wives; women selected for breeding, and attempts to smuggle them to safety. Used as a 'bloodbag' for an injured War Boy named Nux (Hoult), Max soon finds himself right at the front of the pursuit to capture her and return the wives.

A quick google search has just informed me that the most common cause of hearing loss is presbyacusis; which is basically just a fancy way of saying aging. Well when it comes time to tally the figures for 2015 I think there will be a bit of an abberation with the results. Taking the no.1 spot will surely be 'went to see Mad Max: Fury Road at the cinema' for this is one loud, cacophinous assault on the senses, particularly on the ears. I felt like this was a film I had to see on the big screen; to see it in any form would be a waste. Having now seen it I think I may actually prefer to watch it in the comfort of my own home. Perhaps in comfortable surroundings and on a smaller screen it won't come across as quite a pulverising onslaught.

Now the Mad Max films have never been overly abundant when it comes to story and depth of character. Even by the standards of the original trilogy however this is one sparse, barebones enterprise. The story is a very simplistic, A to B adventure which actually turns around and starts heading back towards A at one point. While the characters are so thinly-sketched they're damn near emaciated. It seems a little odd to me that Michael Bay has received so much crap over the years for making films that are written off as loud, hollow and completing lacking in anything resembling a story or characterisation. And yet when George Miller does it with Fury Road it's hailed as a masterpiece. Now I'm not going to go as far to say that this film is inferior to the typical work churned out by Bay but the large disparity in reaction just seems a little strange. There were one or two twisted, lurid details though that I did like; the kind of thing that made me think of the films of Paul Verhoeven. The most memorable instance of this I think would have to be the harem of obese women having their breasts pumped for milk.

Taking over the iconic role of 'Mad' Max Rockatansky is Tom Hardy who steps in for the outgoing Mel Gibson. Now I am a really big fan of Hardy and thought that his casting sounded like a stroke of genius. When I watch his performances I often get quite a 70s vibe from them. The 70s was a great decade for tough badasses and he reminds me of individuals such as Clint Eastwood, Charles Bronson and Bruce Lee. Those actors may not have had huge range but they had an incredible screen presence. Now Hardy is certainly a more talented performer than those men but I do think that he shares that sort of strength and presence. So if anyone was going to take this character who barely says a word, and turn them into a compelling personality I thought it would be him. And yet it just didn't really happen. In contrast to just about everything else I've seen him in he struggled to make any kind of impact on me. Though much of that is certainly down to Miller's script which damn near turns Max into a mute and relegates him to a supporting character. It's hard to care about a character who has so little to say or do. And the fact he spends a substantial amount of time behind a mask that obscures his face and his facial reactions certainly doesn't help in establishing a connection. And on the rare occasions where Max is actually entrusted with some dialogue I found Hardy's voice quite strange and distracting. I'm not sure whether it was the accent or the gruff register of his voice but it just struck me as odd, or on occasion just plain indecipherable. Hardy is asked to do little more than glower and communicate in grunts, and as surprising as it was to me I just didn't feel he was able to pull off the strong and silent thing as well as his predecessor Gibson was.

Film Trivia Snippets The jacket that Tom Hardy wears throughout the film is the exact same one that was worn by Mel Gibson during the original trilogy, though it is now heavily worn. /// George Miller himself has admitted that the film's storyboards were completed even before work had begun on the screenplay. The reason behind that was because Miller envisioned the film as a continuous chase, with little dialogue and focusing on the visuals. The storyboard was made with the collaboration of five artists and had a total of about 3,500 panels. /// Tom Hardy actually had lunch with Mel Gibson to discuss him taking over the iconic role of Max Rockatansky. Gibson told him that he was fine with it and gave Hardy his blessing. /// The flame-shooting guitarist in Immortan Joe's crew is Australian artist/musician Sean Hape, better known as Iota. In an interview he revealed that the guitar weighed an incredible 132 pounds, and that it shot real gas-powered flames which he controlled using the whammy bar. /// The editor of Fury Road, Margaret Sixel, is actually George Miller's wife. When she asked her husband why he thought she should do it as she had never edited an action film before, Miller replied, "Because if a guy did it, it would look like every other action movie." /// George Miller enlisted a somewhat surprising ally when it came to creating the film. He consulsted with writer and staunch feminist Eve Ensler (creator of The Vagina Monologues) to help enhance the portrayal of the film's female characters.
I commented above that Max feels very much like a supporting character. That's because it is the character of Imperator Furiosa, played by Charlize Theron, who is pushed very much to the forefront. Inhabiting a character that in large part feels basically like the female variant of Max, Theron does deliver a strong turn as the tough-as-nails badass. Based on this performance I wouldn't be surprise to see Marvel and DC engage in a mad scramble to try and bring her into their respective superhero stables. Again however there is not a great deal of depth to her character that should make us care about her. She talks of redemption at one point but we never learn what exactly she is attempted to be redeemed for. As the antagonist of Max and Furiosa we have the monstrous Immortan Joe who is played by Hugh Keays-Byrne, returning to the franchise after portraying the first film's main villian all the way back in 1979. Now I am no big fan of that original outing for Max, but by far my favourite element of it is Keays-Byrne's turn as the crazed leader of motorcycle gang, The Acolytes. Wild-eyed and bursting with a feral charisma he is absolutely magnetic. Unfortunately I found that he wasn't able to replicate that kind of impact, once again suffering as a result of the script not giving him the material to work with.

So neither of our two heroes, or our villain, really connected with me. As strange as it may sound, and I certainly would't have predicted it beforehand, but the character I did wind up connecting with and caring about the most was actually Nicholas Hoult's Nux. This is despite the fact that the character is a crazed, bloodthirsty psycho. However unlike just about everyone else he actually has an arc of some description and we actually learn a thing or two about him. It's not much but compared to everyone else it's a deluge of characterisation and ensured that not only did I like Nux, but I actually sympathised with him. Again this is all despite the fact that he's a psychotic albino trying to kill our heroes. The reason being is that we discover he has been mislead with grand deceptions into serving Joe. When he learns the truth he is crestfallen and I felt sympathy for him. Whether it's intentional or not on Miller's behalf, I found it impossible not to see a connection between the War Boys and Islamic State. Just as with Isis, we see that Immortan Joe is in the business of recruiting and brainwashing young children into doing his dirty work. He has coerced them into doing his bidding with falsehoods of him being a god and how that if they die in his employ they will enter the afterlife of Valhalla. I also just found Nux to be the most entertaining character of the entire film with Hoult doing a nice job bringing him to life. I actually rewatched About a Boy not too long ago and it was great fun, if a little baffling, to try and get my mind around the fact that this was that same little boy all grown up.

In the world of the action movie their exists a phrase known as 'action fatigue' (also known as 'battle fatigue') that describes the sensation of becoming exhausted by action overkill. Well Fury Road may be just about the greatest ever exponent of that phrase. We get a brief prologue in which a voiceover by Max reintroduces us to the post-apocalyptic world of Mad Max, and then we're off and running. A minute in and Max is being chased down by a horde of vehicles; and the film basically doesn't stop for the next two hours. It could maybe have pulled it off with a running time of 90 minutes, but at two hours I felt it became a bit of a slog. Now the action is staged and realised terrifically throughout, I can't deny that. Miller does an incredible job choreographing it all and some of the stuntwork is just mind-boggling. For a long time I've felt that the Academy Awards should have a category that honours stunts and stuntmen and this film is just another example why.

I just found it all extremely repetitive however. Films that are heavy on action usually include a great deal of variety in their sequences. So you'll get a foot chase, a car chase, then a big shootout, maybe a boat chase, some hand-to-hand combat and then if you're Guardians of the Galaxy, a dance-off! However with Fury Road it's just wave after wave of vehicular carnage and guns. As I said, when just judged on their own merits they are realised in spectacular fashion. When you just lump them all together into one two-hour event however I just found it quite exhausting and perhaps, dare I say it, a little boring. Additionally, action films will typically deliver their sequences in a series of different locations. Fury Road's sequences all unfold on the same sparse desert however, again limiting the sense of variation and freshness. The film intermission may have followed the likes of silent movies, the double feature, black-and-white cinema and cinemascope into obsolescence but even at just two hours, I think I may well have welcomed its return during Fury Road just to get a little break.

Film Trivia Snippets - There is a fan theory doing the rounds that the Max in this film is not the same Max as played by Mel Gibson. The theory goes that Hardy's Max is actually the Feral Kid from Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior. Max doesn't speak very much throughout the film, and actually communicates in the form of grunts on a number of occasions just like the Feral Kid. This Max also has a music box that resembles the one that Max gave to the Feral Kid in The Road Warrior. /// When the war rig breaks down during the end of the film, the sound it makes is the same sound as the Millennium Falcon during its break down in The Empire Strikes Back. /// The original plan for this movie was that it would act as a sequel to 1979's Mad Max, but also act as a prequel to The Road Warrior. It is believed that Immortan Joe would have been the Toe Cutter, who survived the accident in Mad Max but was badly injured, resulting in his body being battered and broken. Also, Rictus Erectus was supposed to survive the accident at the end of the film, with a broken neck and some burns, and he would have become Lord Humungous in The Road Warrior. /// Over 80% of the effects seen in the film are real practical effects, stunts, make-up and sets. CGI was used sparingly mainly to enhance the Namibian landscape, remove stunt rigging and for Charlize Theron's left hand which in the film is a prosthetic arm. /// The film has been in development for a long time. Heath Ledger was actually considered for the role of Max before his untimely death in 2008 while Jeremy Renner actively campaigned for the role.
Despite Miller's direction of the action sequences and the astonishing efforts of the stuntmen, I think that the MVP award for Fury Road may have to go to the film's production design teams. The only question left is which particular team deserves the gold medal. Is it perhaps the make-up and costume departments who bring to life all manner of outlandish, larger-than-life characters? The pinnacle in this respect would have to be Immortan Joe. While he be lacking in terms of being a fully formed character, there is nothing lacking about his look. Between his bleached skin, his mane of platinum blonde hair, his insane cxygen mask, his clear plastic armour (complete with medals) and codpiece he has to be one of the most visually striking and memorable villains in recent memory. The scarred, tumour-ridden War Boys are also very effective. Or should the bragging rights for to those responsible for designing and creating the cavalcade of vehicles that populate and stalk the deserted wastelands of this world? They are absolutely insane creations, though it's clear that practicality certainly isn't important to these guys. They are exceptionally elaborate, over-the-top modes of transportation adorned with all manner of demonic trinkets, spikes and weaponry. There are some wonderful, truly deranged designs of makeshift and cannibalised machines that have clearly combined whatever remains they had lying about. I think my favourite example of this was perhaps that which belonged to the bullet farmer; the body of a 1970s car mounted onto a tank.

Throughout the original trilogy it was clear that George Miller had an epic vision for his world. What was also clear is that he didn't always have the budget to realise those ambitions. Well that certainly wasn't the case here. Somehow, despite a 30-year absence from the big screen, Miller was able to convince the bigwigs at Warner Bros. to bankroll him to the tune of $150 million. Such financial backing has allowed Miller to tell a story on a scale that dwarfs his previous attempts. And he showcases this right from the off with images of Immortan's Joe imposting lair (The Citadel) and the sea of humanity that has gathered at its base. The film remains visually strong throughout thanks to how it incorporates the CGI and thanks to the cinematography of John Seale. The film is painted with a very vibrant colour palette, certainly where post-apocalyptic films are concerned. The scenes set during the daytime have a bright, golden, sun-baked appearance while the scenes set at night occur against a backdrop of icy blueness that is both beautiful and rather eerie. There's also a sequence that takes place during a sand/electrical storm that is quite breathtaking to behold. I imagine the look of this world has also evolved in the intervening 30 years. The original trilogy, particularly the sequels, have a very 80s, hair metal vibe to them whereas this one goes for something a bit more grungy and steampunk.

Now I'm aware that this review may read quite strangely to a number of you. For a film with such a low rating I seem to have packed my review with lots of compliments. And throughout the film I kept thinking to myself that I should be loving this, but it just didn't happen. Now Fury Road is definitely a film I'll be revisiting at some point in the future and hopefully it will work for me on that occasion. Fingers crossed I just wasn't in the right mood/mindset for it, something that does happen quite frequently these days.

Conclusion - As can be seen from my review there is a great deal to admire about Mad Max: Fury Road and commend it for. It is visually strong, the execution of the action sequences and the work of the stuntmen is extraordinary, while the work of its production and art design departments is exemplary. That doesn't matter a great deal however when you struggle to actually care about what's going on. And unfortunately that was the case for me. Whether it was down to the scant plot, the thinly-sketched characters or the never-ending assault of carnage the film just always kept me at arm's length. Perhaps I've just become too accustomed to the Marvel brand of action blockbusters but I just missed the connection I form to those films thanks to their warmth, heart and humour.