Expectation is a wonderful but all too often cruel mistress. The marketing strategy of any big film is based around it. They try to tease and tempt us beyond the point of wanting to see a film but needing to see it. Yet as we finally get comfy in our cinema seats, that little creeping fear takes over while the adverts and trailers roll. Will it live up to the hype? This pressure reaches exponential levels whenever a classic and beloved franchise is involved. 2015 has no shortage of nervously awaited arrivals: from Jurassic Park, Terminator, 007: Spectre, and of course, the mother of them all, Star Wars: The Force Awakens (may the force be with us all on that one). The sad truth is that there are times than not our expectations will not be met and ask ourselves why we even bothered to hope? But there those days, those lovely lovely days when they are, when everything we hoped about a highly-anticipated film comes true. That day is today and that time is now. Mad Max’s return from a 30-year hiatus is everything you could have possibly wanted and more. Strap in with a full tank and watch your imagination (and pretty much everything else) explode on screen.
In the harsh nuclear deviated wastelands of the future, resources are scarce. A nomadic survivor, Max (The Dark Knight Rises, Child 44), reluctantly ends up helping Furiosa (Charlize Theron – Monster, Prometheus) make a break for freedom from the War Boys gang and vicious Warlord Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne – Mad Max, Farscape), along with Joe’s five captive breeding stock brides.
Long departed franchise sequels may be proven financial successes but far from critical (Crystal Skull is still hard to forget). They face the difficult task of delivering a familiar yet updated product. This is the genius in Max’s madness. Fury Road is a very different monster to any of its predecessors, but still feels like a Mad Max film by following a formula that has only improved with age and experience. Longstanding director George Miller has lifted up the hood of his franchise and stripped it down to the bare iconic essentials: the post apocalyptic road warrior action, and revs it up into a visual masterpiece. This film makes the Fast & Furious franchise look like Scalextric commercial! It’s like he spent the last 3 decades dreaming up every lunatic idea imaginable before culminating them for a symphonic orgy of metallic mayhem. Heavy metal guitar flamethrowers, blind machine gun totting chargers, JCBs with mounted buzz saws, and even a Steampunk Darth Vader. The production design is ridiculously detailed in its imagination from the iconic junk built pursuit vehicles to the bizarre survival setups of various gangs. Yet like any Godlike figure, it takes as much pleasure in destroying the beauty as it does creating it, and this is where the film delivers. This is what separates it from its long returning rivals: the practical effects. Save one implausible (yet still-visually gorgeous) mid-hurricane/sandstorm sequence, there’s barely any CG in the action sequences. Vehicles crash, smash, burn, and perform several Ethan Hunt-level acrobatic maneuvers before our very eyes (it took over 450 hours of footage to capture it all). This firm reality framing completely dominates your focus, turning the several set pierces into jaw dropping and mesmerizing escapism. The sequences are always fast, frantic, and incredibly verified but never feel gratuitous as they’re constantly moving with the purpose of a journey. One brilliant early setup sees Max as a helpless passenger to events, strapped like a trophy on the front of a car. Even more surprising is how clean a lot of it is. There’s no shortage of violence but barely a moment or two you could classify as gore, giving the film a much broader appeal with parental flexibility around its 15 age rating.
The central casting was the film’s biggest chance for a spiked tire. How do you top the iconic portrayal of Mel Gibson in the role that launched his career? You don’t, you don’t fight a losing battle. You take the focus away from Max by giving the audience someone even better. That someone is Charlize Theron’s Furiosa. From the moment she comes on screen, you can’t take your eyes off her; She's an unrelenting badass that still feels humanised and vulnerable when required. She’s a metal-armed Linda Hamilton. She’s Commissar Yarrick with a B-cup. She’s this generations Ellen Ripley. This completely takes the pressure off Tom Hardy and even allows him minimal dialogue for many parts of the film in keeping with his metal trauma subplot (that’s right, max is actually mad). This completely differentiates his Max from Gibson’s to the point of negating comparison. That’s not to say he isn’t good. In fact, he’s absolutely great as he becomes the sterner fixed point holding up the rest of this brilliantly bonkers world. A world where vastly obese women are farmed for breast milk, a world where captured survivors become unwilling “blood bags” for radiation-infected gang members, and a world where nothing says cool like 3 kilos of metal hanging from your crotch. Said groin adornments are actually a mission statement for the whole film; if you’re going to do something, go all out, and fun with it. Despite roping in the odd heavier theme like slavery and environmentalism, this never stops being a fun and entertaining affair. This film is pure cinematic pleasure. It doesn’t tangle itself in over-explanation. It just does enough to let you fill in the blanks if you’re bothered about them while finding new ways to wrench your eyeballs from their sockets.
Tom Hardy recently signed on for three more sequel films should they make them, and it looks like the franchise is in safe hands with him. Though he’s not the chatty quip happy Max many will know, he superbly handles his more dramatic scenes of dealing with his tragic past filled with loss. He never feels anything but believable in the action scenes, and in many key moments, bravely tells his stunt double to sit it out. Charlize Theron may have won an Oscar for Monster, but this is the role she will be remembered for and deservedly so. She makes what could have been a gimmick orientated character into a full blown action heroine. Hugh Keays-Byrne may not be recognisable as the first film’s villain, Toecutter, but makes a thoroughly enjoyable sight almost camp as he growls and eyeballs his way through the film. Nicholas Hoult’s (Warm Bodies, X-Men Days of Future Past) redeeming War Boy Nux makes for great laughs in his enthusiastic adrenaline-junkie shenanigans. The gaggle of brides including Rosie Huntington-Whiteley (Transformers Dark of the Moon) and Zoë Kravitz (X Men First Class, Insurgent) come off a little whiny and annoying at times but are generally pleasant enough.
In a year of so many big sequels, reboots, and revivals, (2015 – Year of the Geekquel) there will undoubtedly be many disappointments, but at least we can count down on New Year’s Eve knowing that at least we got one overwhelming powerful win from Max and his madness. And all this from a man who’s last two directed films were the Happy Feet series! Age of Ultron’s mass CG affair may have been highly entertaining, but this is in another league. See it in 3D or IMAX if you can to get the full visual orgy of a man and a film franchise becoming the undisputed kings of the road.
Recommended for anyone with a pulse that isn’t still taking counseling following a car crash.
For more articles like this, take a look at our Fantasy & Science Fiction and Reviews page.