Prior to Fury Road it had been a thirty year gap since the last (and for me slightly underwhelming) Mad Max entry Beyond Thunderdome, featuring none other than the magnificent queen of divas, Tina Turner.
Even with Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior (arguably the pinnacle of the franchise) I never quite connected with a concept I was very attracted to – one man and his dog, a troubled past, in a post-apocalyptic wasteland ruled by tyrant petrolheads.
Just to be clear on the camp I’m in: Fury Road was and is a masterpiece and a masterclass in rebooted contemporary classic 80’s action with bonkers characters, spectacular pratical effects and a fully-realised world. It’s like someone watched a bunch of Jayce and the Wheeled Warriors and Robot Wars, dropped some acid and decided to make all of the things he’d seen in a live action setting and have them actually crash. So as off the wall and frenetic as the action is, it feels weighty and perilous, because that’s how they filmed it. I suppose you could say it all actually happened!
If this was a modern-day Alien or Terminator sequel it’d be one that against all odds, worked. As it happens it’s a Mad Max sequel/reboot/lone adventure (director George Miller has never been precious with continuity) and guess what? It works.
The stunning trailer, with a lot of the Citadel based opening sequence thrown in amidst the gorgeous aquamarine blue, yellow and Fury Road’s every-shade-of-earth-and-red colour palette, looked too good to be true. And for some, it clearly was. Some of the most poorly constructed reviews labeled the full movie a four letter word, and the merely lacklustre simply commented that it was all a big car (truck?) chase. Which is of course partly true, but to call it out as such would be to do it a disservice. That’s not to say all of the “against” reviews are poorly constructed, only the ones that provided little to no argument (like arguing Mary Poppins is just a bunch of songs, to paraphrase Mark Kermode’s parody of a fan email review he’d been angry about!). Despite criticism from some, Fury Road actually won a wasteland’s worth of accolades.
I had the pleasure to first watch Fury Road in the cinema with my girlfriend, who somehow endured my excitement at pretty much everything that exploded onto the screen in Bath’s Odeon over the following two or so hours.
We are introduced to Max shortly before he is captured, shaved, and used as a mobile bloodbank for Nux, a dying War Boy out for his last hurrah who becomes one of the film’s unlikely heroes. Max is plagued by visions of people he couldn’t save, and his few murmored lines sound like he’s been supping on guzzolene (the slang name for petrol/gas in The Wasteland).
A lot has been said about the lack of Max in the movie, despite him being present in most scenes. Although he says relatively little, he does in fact have an arc, and while it is Furiosa’s film to some extent, a great deal could not have been achieved without him. Besides, Hardy gives a suitably twitchy, thirsty, cutthroat rendition as the newest incarnation of Max. He only really shows signs of compassion towards the end of the movie where his blood transfusion is saves Furiosa and in doing so, the Citadel and its oppressed people; at odds with the earlier transfusion used to fuel pre-awakened Nux and by extension the Immortan’s obsessions.
Furiosa: central female powerhouse and the film’s emotional heart springs to life like a grungy Ellen Ripley (or just Alien 3 era Ellen Ripley). She is both strong and vulnerable and more than a match for Max, with whom she forms an (almost) friendship. Among the cast of oddball characters we have the Wives – who furiosa has sworn to protect, the “Many Mothers” Aka the Vuvalini – who team up with Furiosa and Max, so it’s matriarchy versus patriarchy headed up by the merciless Immortan Joe. Immortan is one of the most visually arresting villains of recent times amidst what I consider a sea of monsterous let-downs; and for that alone, has become one of the most iconoic. Think Pan’s Labyrinth’s Pale Man with his eye-hands and twitchy shuffle; for every Pale Man and Immortan there are ten forgettable film abominations.
It would be rude not to mention the iconic vehicles in the same breath as the characters, as they are just that. The real star of the vehicular show is The War Rig and despite all of the rounds chucked at it, it fares far better than Max’s V8 Interceptor, which is totalled in the opening sequence. By the time the War Rig finally meets its maker when Nux rolls it – enabling Max and co. breathing space to escape the fleet – it has tranformed into a living thing; iconic like the Nostromo. the sight of the War Rig conjures memories of the first two Terminator films and most of the poignant scenes play out within or around it, and most of the action, too. On the flipside you have Immortan’s big wheeled “Big Foot” and later on his “Gigahorse”, constructed from fused-together cadillacs. There are a literal ton of cool and interesting vehicles and weapons and the best thing about it is that there’s little CG at play in the whole movie; so you’re seeing the work of master craftsmen, stuntmen and practical effects that are far more likely to stand the test of time than the latest Fast and Furious entry (think Jurassic Park, the Orcs and Goblins in Lord of The Rings and Ray Harryhausen’s skeletons). Some of the sequences will beat the breath out of you, pared perfectly with the film’s thundering score. The soundtrack cranks things up to eleventy-stupid with the introduction of the (literally) flaming guitar toting “Coma the Doof Warrior” and his backing drummers on a mobile tower of amps whose sole purpose is to pump up the troops for battle. Mad? Of course! True, you will need to suspend your disbelief with Fury Road but this happens from the opening frames, they don’t just hit you with bonkers concepts halfway through the film. And besides, that’s half the fun. The film would be a non-starter if everyone in it didn’t guzzle absolutely ridiculous amounts of fuel that probably wouldn’t be available after the apocalypse.
Fury Road’s plot is pretty straightforward, but also fairly emotionally charged where it needs to be, and weighty for the genre. It is told mostly through visuals, action and dialogue, but rarely through lengthy exposition or pregnant pauses. Not everything needs to be explained, and sometimes you only catch glimpses of things that help build the world (creepy Stilt-Walkers FTW). Following Max’s capture after being run off the road by War Boys, Furiosa takes the War Rig on a supply run from The Citadel to Gastown. The Citadel is ruled by tyrannical warlord Immortan Joe, who controls the water -“Do not, my friends, become addicted to water. It will take hold of you, and you will resent its absence!”- he also keeps pregnant women to produce milk and multiple wives in an attempt to produce a perfect son and heir. All of the Immortan’s War Boys deify him as he claims to be immortal and promises them Valhalla for their servitude. During the supply run, Furiosa breaks from the convoy, heading to “the Green Place” with immortan’s wives hidden in the belly of the war rig. As a knee jerk reaction Immortan and his fleet go to intercept Furiosa and claim back the wives, when Max is strapped to the front of Nux’s car to pump him full of life. A spectacular storm helps liberate Max and when the chase regains momentum, the Immortan’s forces are bolstered by the arrival of the ruler of Gastown: The People Eater and the Bulletfarm’s Bullet Farmer. the realisation that The Green Place is in fact just more desert causes Furiosa to reasses her options and instead they head back home with her army of women. Managing to finally overthrow Immortan, the survivors (comprising the Wives – the older generation are all cut down, and so symbolically pass the battern) return to The Citadel with Furiosa leading them as a hero of the people.
Since watching Fury Road for the first time I became literally obsessed with it. Easily the most obsessed I’ve been since watching movies over and over as a teenager and during my twenties. I immersed myself in the decided lack of Fury Road books and merchandise. It was a monumental day when I bought a copy of “The Art of Mad Max: Fury Road” in Bath, a fantastic coffee table tome detailing Miller’s proposed second trilogy and the fact there are two more full scripts floating around; he and his team have been working on ideas and concepts for years. This all figures when you begin to absorb the detailed, feature-rich world of Fury Road, which certainly feels like something that has had a lot of time dedicated to it, and that could very easily continue into sequel territory, if just thematically. “The Art of…” feels like it adds something besides extrenious fluff for diehards only which could add fuel to the fire for the “there’s no story” contingent, but sod them! The text and concepts also reveal much more of the minor character’s backstories; take Doof for example – it would’ve been odd to delve into his past in the movie, but it’s interesting to read about him.
Of course it’s a crime there’s no Furiosa, Max or Immortan figures on my shelf, but there are plenty of neat fan made t-shirts, pins, and whatnot should you so desire them.
Also worth a mention are the comic books, which give a bit of insight into the histories of Furiosa and Immortan Joe (among others), but not enough to make them revelatory or even particularly enjoyable. A personal favourite is “Inspired Artists”. This hardback book offers artists interpretations of their favourite scenes from Fury Road and is pretty fantastic, my old misgiving being that some of the artwork is hidden by the book’s binding.
Finally there’s the Mad Max video game which isn’t incredible, but rather good fun all the same. It’s let down by repetition and for me, the fact you can’t clamber around on moving convoys or any of the stuff that makes the film so darned epic. Also if it’d been a game of the movie, rather than a game with a few nods to the movie, it may have expanded on the canon in a vital and awesome way. Still, you get to harpoon cars and pull War Boys off cars, upgrade your Interceptor and blow a whole host of shit up. Things could be a lot worse.
It’s a sad thing that George Miller and Warner Brothers have had their dispute. Given the time it took to make the last entry and his age, we may never see another sequel. Until an inevitable reboot down the line by some other director, of course -no doubt when the world in the movie feels a lot less fantastical- but if that has to be, what a note to end on. It’s an 8 out of 6 from me.
To be clear I ruddy hate loud noise (exception: some gigs) and vehicles outside of movies, especially motorbikes (people in our area seem to know how to turn on the engine but not actually ride them). Plus the world is properly dying and these obnoxious people are not helping!