The Movie Waffler New Release Review - <i>MAD MAX: FURY ROAD</i> | The Movie Waffler

New Release Review - MAD MAX: FURY ROAD

Belated fourth installment in George Miller's post-apocalyptic action series.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: George Miller

Starring: Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron, Nicholas Hoult, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Zoe Kravitz

"An AC/DC concert on wheels, Mad Max: Fury Road may not live up to the first part of its title (the title character barely registers and is far from mad, though was he ever really?), but it's certainly a furious road trip, one a certain other vehicular based blockbuster franchise would do well to study."

The patch on the back of that raggedy denim jacket you wore in the mid-80s is brought to glorious life in George Miller's fourth visit to the post-apocalyptic environs of his cult franchise. An AC/DC concert on wheels, Mad Max: Fury Road may not live up to the first part of its title (the title character barely registers and is far from mad, though was he ever really?), but it's certainly a furious road trip, one a certain other vehicular based blockbuster franchise would do well to study.
Tom Hardy steps somewhat unconvincingly into the desert boots vacated by persona non grata Mel Gibson to take on the role of the road warrior himself, Max Rockatansky. When we first meet him he's dilly dallying on a rock while his voiceover narration fills in the backstory for those new to the franchise (thankfully this is the only instance of narration in an otherwise language-light romp). Max's tardiness leads him to be captured by bandits and brought to 'the citadel', a Temple of Doom style oasis ruled over by Immortan Joe (played by no less than Hugh Keays-Byrne, the original movie's 'Toecutter'). There he becomes a human blood bank, hooked up by a tube to Nux (Nicholas Hoult), a member of an albino tribe called the 'War Boys'. When Furiosa (Charlize Theron) attempts to escape from Joe's clutches with his five wives (who seem to be modelled on the Spice Girls; there's a ginger one, a black one, a babyish one etc) in tow, Max seizes the opportunity to flee himself, but his conscience over-rules his survival instincts and he agrees to aid Furiosa in escorting the girls to a fertile land known as 'the green place'.
Miller is part of a generation of filmmakers that perfected the art of the action sequence. In the '80s, directors like Miller, Kevin Reynolds and John McTiernan discovered a formula for conveying action in a coherent yet thrilling fashion. Their house of cards was sadly blown away by the big bad wolf Michael Bay in the mid-90s, replaced with a style of incoherent quick cuts. Viewers were fed a line that this was a more 'immersive' style, but all it really constitutes is an unconvincing way for visually illiterate filmmakers to disguise their shortcomings. In recent years a new generation of filmmakers like Gareths Edwards and Evans have led a revival of the classic style they grew up with, but Mad Max: Fury Road shows that the old masters, or at least Miller, can't be beat. The action set-pieces of Miller's return are the equal of anything from that golden era.
Miller presents us with a series of sequences that must have appeared complicated on paper, but his economical approach and mastery of geography makes everything simple to follow. By the time of the first bravura set-piece, which features no less than five different groups of participants, Miller has made us familiar with the layout of his wasteland in a way Michael Bay and his peers never could. We're always aware of exactly where our protagonists are in relation to their antagonists, and in which direction the various threats lie. The 180 degrees rule, which states that the camera must never cross an imaginary line to avoid geographical confusion, is rigidly adhered to - the action always flows in the same direction. This allows us to turn our brains off and engage with the action on an emotional level, a privilege we've been scantly afforded by action cinema of the previous two decades.
As impressively mounted as Fury Road's action is, the set-pieces do suffer from a lack of variation; each sequence is essentially an update of the climax of The Road Warrior, and fatigue does creep in by the movie's final act. There's only so many times you can watch an oil tanker run over a dune buggy.
While it doesn't affect the quality of the movie, the representation of Max will disappoint fans of the franchise. He's more Timid Tom than Mad Max here; it's Theron's Furiosa who is the movie's real lead, with Max relegated to a hanger-on, literally in many cases. Max doesn't contribute a whole lot here, and is more of a hindrance than a help at times, his initial stubbornness slowing down Furiosa's escape and allowing the villains to gain ground. He also seems to allow himself to be captured in the movie's opening by hanging around on a rock while his captors approach. Movies like Big Trouble in Little China and Iron Man 3 have relegated their 'heroes' to sidekick status to great comic effect, but that's not the case here. It seems that in attempting to create a feminist action movie (Furiosa is joined for the climax by a gang of ass-kicking women in their sixties), Miller simply couldn't find much for his iconic character to do. Hoult has equal screen time, and contributes as much to the narrative, as Hardy. The last actor to overshadow Hardy to the degree of Theron and Hoult was Patrick Stewart in Star Trek: Nemesis; maybe Hardy should avoid bald co-stars! Hardy's accent doesn't help either, replacing Gibson's Aussie drawl with a more posh British brogue that seems anachronistic in this tough wasteland.
Mad Max: Fury Road is probably best enjoyed one set-piece at a time; blend them together and their impact is diluted. That said, we're well beyond Thunderdome, and it's a welcome comeback by a master of the action genre. It's Miller time!