Mad Max: Fury Road

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Review © Jane Freebury

Finding a space on screens crowded with cataclysm and ultra-violent action, in an industry that waits for no one, the new Mad Max has had a thing or two to deal with. Substituting Tom Hardy for its former star was also needed, as digital enhancement doesn’t work on reputations. For now at least, however, Max has had the last word.

Fury Road is a terrific achievement in imaginative kinetic screen action, and still the work of the original creative. Director George Miller was pushing 70 during production. Expect nothing nuanced about the human condition, but a deliriously wild ride through demon hordes that spill from the recesses of our nightmare unconscious onto vast desert plains, in a compelling, ultimately exhilarating dystopic vision.

Miller is in commanding form. Yes, a few support actors were unconvincing, and more work could have gone into the script. However, the mayhem that begins with a crazy brave act of insubordination – when Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) kidnaps the overlord’s wives, including one with child – has tremendous drive, and is decisively and positively concluded. Something unusual these days.

Wickedness is hard to disguise in Fury Road. In this adult fairy tale it is manifest in ghastly disfigurement and grotesquerie like the pustules sported by Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne) and his followers. Everyone in the Citadel, bloated or emaciated, is at death’s door. Repudiating the cult, however, positive human attributes return.

In this fourth instalment, thirty years on from the last, Miller has moved with the times by posing a credible alternative protagonist. A one-armed, tough as nails female road warrior who can man a giant rig. Emerging with indomitable spirit from a lair of evil, Theron’s Furiosa is an exhilarating protagonist. Allowing her to step in while Max (Hardy) hobbles around handcuffed, a garden rake or something muffling his words, makes the exchange of baton possible. At least until Max can get his act together and when he does, his physicality is commanding.

Fury Road is Furiosa’s story, while Max (no doubt a ‘man with no name’ hommage to Eastwood) helps out in a riff on the westerner who arrives in town, sets things right, only to disappear over the horizon, or melt into the crowd as he does here.

The stunning visuals are the work of veteran Australian cinematographer John Seale, whose extensive portfolio includes Witness, and The English Patient. From wide-screen grandeur to disconcerting close-up, beautiful and bizarre in equal measure, the film looks great.

The stunts are also a triumph. Miller was right to sense that interest in CGI has waned somewhat and that audiences would appreciate a return to action that at least looks raw and real.

The result is a consummate stunt-driven actioner, pared-back to its elements and gloriously cinematic, mindless yet serious, that works, big time.

4 Stars