Benjamin is a former volunteer DJ at his local hospital radio station. He has been reviewing films online since 2004.
What's the Big Deal?
Mad Max: Fury Road is a sci-fi action movie released in 2015 and is the fourth instalment of the Mad Max series, the first in 30 years. Directed and co-written by series co-creator George Miller, the film sees Max caught up in the deadly pursuit of a fuel tanker across the post-apocalyptic wasteland by a crazed and vengeful warlord and his minions. The film sees Tom Hardy replace Mel Gibson in the title role and also stars Charlize Theron, Nicholas Hoult, Hugh Keays-Byrne and Rosie Huntingdon-Whiteley. The film was conceived back in 1987 but found itself stuck in development hell until 2007 when Miller reannounced the film as his next project after the release of Happy Feet. The film took more than $375 million worldwide— the most in the series so far—and was lauded by critics for its action scenes, direction and the performances of its lead cast. Receiving a staggering 10 nominations at that year's Academy Awards, the film won the most prizes on the night with six awards and has since been labelled one of the best action films of the 2010s, if not of all time.
What's It About?
The world has been laid to waste following a devastating atomic war with water and fuel becoming precious commodities. A long-suffering survivor, Max Rockatansky, has been surviving somehow out in the desert before he is captured by crazed men in their heavily modified vehicles. The War Boys take Max to the Citadel, an encampment with vast water reserves and a slave population loyal to their master, Immortan Joe. After a failed escape attempt, Max is turned into a 'blood bag' for a sick War Boy called Nux while Immortan Joe sends a heavily armoured fuel tanker and some goons to lead a raid on a nearby fuel depot. The party is led by Imperator Furiosa, one of Joe's most trusted lieutenants.
However, Furiosa has no intention of leading any sort of raid. Taking a detour and leading the party out into the desert, Joe realises that she has betrayed him and leads another party out to bring her back—especially when he realises what Furiosa has stolen. Still needed by Nux, Max is therefore strapped to the front of Nux's vehicle as they head off across the sand to stop them by any means necessary. But Max isn't too keen about the recipient of his involuntary blood donation...
What's to Like?
It's a testament to the power of the original trilogy that leather-clad bandits driving strange gas-guzzling vehicles over a desert wasteland has become synonymous with all things post-apocalyptic. As such, the world of Fury Road is both familiar and weirdly unique and yet, Miller still manages to make this film look incredible. From the assortment of oddball characters and their distinctive cars to the depth of the setting, the film is possibly the closest yet to that of Miller's original vision. What's even more impressive is that the entire thing looks like it was filmed on location and not cooked up on a computer screen somewhere. You can hear the rumble of thirsty V8 engines and feel the impact of every explosion or the heat of the desert on your skin when you watch this movie. It's refreshing to find a film that uses CG to enhance the footage rather than replace it altogether, giving the film an old-school vibe and authenticity we rarely see these days. This certainly helps make the film feel special and for that, Miller is to be commended.
Unusually for a Mad Max film, it's also refreshing to see a much-needed female perspective on a life after Armageddon. Theron's Furiosa makes an intriguing co-protagonist, one who doesn't answer all our questions but makes for an interesting choice of hero opposite Hardy's quiet man of action. Hoult delivers one of his best performances to date as the deranged Nux while series veteran Keays-Byrne (who played the villainous Toecutter in the very first Mad Max) steals every scene he's in as Immortan Joe, another baddie for the ages. The narrative is uncomplicated and easy to follow and the film's visuals offer a rich canvas for Miller to project his brand of mayhem onto. Where else can you see an insane rockstar playing a guitar-slash-flamethrower in front of a rolling wall of amplifiers?
- The film's editor is Margaret Sixel who happens to be George Miller's wife. Sixel had never edited an action film before and asked him why he chose her. "Because if a guy did it, it would look like every other action movie" he said. Despite having over 470 hours of footage to watch, which took three months, Sixel was rewarded with an Oscar for her work.
- The relationship between Miller and Hardy was reportedly rather a strained one as Hardy couldn't envision what Miller was trying to accomplish on set during the shoot. Hardy only realised the director's intentions after he saw the finished product and even apologised to Miller at the Cannes Film Festival press conference for the film. Theron has also admitted that she had often had no clue what was being shot and even asked Miller what the hell he was doing.
- The film's vehicles were designed by production designer Colin Gibson and all of them were fully functioning vehicles. Some of the 150 vehicles built for the film began construction way back in 2003 when plans to shoot the film in Namibia were halted due to security concerns. Only 88 vehicles survived the shoot although many were designed to be destroyed during the shoot.
- When the project was originally being planned, Mel Gibson was due to reprise his role as Max but due to scheduling conflicts and delays, it never happened. Gibson did meet with Hardy later to discuss the role and gave the British actor his blessing. He also attended the premier of the film at Cannes and even sat next to Miller in the theatre.
What's Not to Like?
It's surprisingly hard to think of any real issues with the film itself. It makes no excuses about being an all-out, balls-to-the-wall action film so you can't criticise it for not having any real narrative depth - so I won't. I will say that I wasn't a huge fan of Hardy in the central role—yes, I know Max isn't the most charismatic of parts but Hardy feels much more adept in the action scenes than at providing any sort of character development. As such, the film feels more focused on Furiosa's story with Max merely along for the ride. This isn't a problem, of course, but it's been so long since we've spent any time with Max and I would have liked a catch-up, find out how he has survived in the wasteland all by himself.
Other than that, the film fails to address what has long been narrative inconsistencies within the Mad Max setting. Why is fuel apparently readily available but water isn't? Who is the mysterious young girl haunting Max's dreams and visions? The answers are out there if you're prepared to look for them but the film's reluctance to explain anything—even character names are rarely spoken—is occasionally frustrating to viewers unprepared to dive into obscure comic-book lore. Other than these incredibly minor complaints, this is just the sort of noisy and explosive action outing that fans will have been craving for so long. It's the perfect blockbuster to switch your brain off to and just savour the amazing spectacle.
Should I Watch It?
If you're an action fan then you owe it to yourself to watch this film which offers up a contemporary and visually stunning update of the series despite the absence of its former leading man. This is every bit a Mad Max film, full of snorting vehicular madness and off-beat characters engaging in pointless and nasty violence. But in this era of ultra-smooth, CG-flavoured, clones of The Matrix, Fury Road has an odd sense of tradition behind it that makes it feel authentic and gritty in a way that many modern films can only dream of.
Great For: action lovers, petrol-heads, Australian audiences, reviving interest in the original trilogy
Not So Great For: environmentalists, intellectuals, anyone unfamiliar with the series so far
What Else Should I Watch?
The fact of the matter, perhaps unfortunately, is that the original films suddenly look much more amateurish by comparison. In fact, the first Mad Max was already out of sync with the rest of the franchise which didn't feature a nuclear-scorched wasteland at all. However, the film does offer a grim vision of the future with Mel Gibson's cop slowly losing his mind after a series of tragedies amid a battle with a brutal motorcycle gang. Uniquely in the series, the film wears its indie background on its sleeve and makes little attempt to disguise its low budget but the film makes the most of Gibson's performance and vehicular action to make it worth watching. However, it was the sequel that propelled the series into the mainstream - Mad Max 2 (also known as The Road Warrior) brought in the desert landscapes, pseudo-S&M costumes, wacky vehicles and characters that wouldn't look out of place in a professional wrestling ring. The film became a cult classic and remains hugely influential, even more so than the third film Beyond Thunderdome which is one of the biggest films of the Eighties.
Judging by the amount of material dealing with the world post-apocalypse, it would appear that the end of the world is far from the end of cinematic representation. There are as many films about the end of civilisation as there are ways for society to collapse from alien invasion (A Quiet Place), dragons (Reign Of Fire), infertility (Children Of Men), global pandemics (The Omega Man) and of course, zombies (28 Days Later). Sometimes, the film doesn't even tell us what caused our supposed extinction - The Road merely follows a man and his young son traversing what is left of the US in a grey, bleak film that will leave you both depressed and uplifted at the same time. Perhaps the most famous post-apocalypse film has enjoyed another revival of interest thanks to recent films - the original Planet Of The Apes made use of pioneering makeup techniques at the time and became the launchpad for an entire series. To date, it has been followed by eight movies (the most recent being War For The Planet Of The Apes in 2017), two TV series, a comic adaptation and a documentary. And in a surprise to literally nobody, the series has been snapped up by Disney and plans for yet another film are in motion.
The Splendid Angharad
Toast The Knowing
George Miller, Brendan McCarthy & Nick Lathouris
Release Date (UK)
14th May, 2015
Action, Adventure, Sci-Fi
Best Film Editing, Best Costume Design, Best Makeup & Hairstyling, Best Sound Mixing, Best Sound Editing, Best Production Design
Academy Award Nominations
Best Film, Best Director, Best Cinematography, Best Visual Effects
© 2021 Benjamin Cox