********* 8 out of 10 *********
Director: George Miller
Actors: Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron, Nicholas Hoult
A post-apocalyptic dystopian world. How many times we have already been provided this grim picture by Hollywood! When law and order breaks down. Where humanity is but a notion, as each man fights for his own survival and his alone. The chaos and the darkness that it brings on our planet. We know it all too well by now. Director George Miller himself had painted his vision of such a future back in 1979, in a low budget movie called Mad Max. But after so many years, when George Miller has returned to his Mad Max franchise, and given us another dystopian future to worry about, he has still managed to make his film stand out in this genre – with its simplicity. There is no grand explanation as to why the human system broke down, there is no attempt made to bring out each detail on how the new savage society works; instead, there is a straightforward chase through deserted lands, a long and arduous chase which is laden with unadulterated action, excitement and edge-of-the-seat thrill, that makes Mad Max: Fury Road one of the best films of the year so far.
Mad Max: Fury Road begins with a shot of the distant future where the lands are barren and society as we know has collapsed. Max (Tom Hardy), a former cop, is chased and captured by a group called the War Boys. Around the same time, the tyrannical leader of War Boys, Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne), sends out a team to collect gasoline, commanded by Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron). But when Furiosa goes off route, Immortan Joe realises that she has stolen something precious to him, and thereon begins a high octane chase by the War Boys to grab hold of Furiosa and her vehicle, in which Max finds himself unwillingly dragged into.
George Miller had been working on the possibility of a fourth Mad Max movie for a long time, always to hit one roadblock after another. He’s finally managed to get Mad Max: Fury Road onto the big screen, and it has been well worth the wait. George Miller and his co-writers, Nick Lathouris (who had played a part in the original Mad Max as an actor) and Brendan McCarthy, have put in place a straightforward story that is packed with action from the word go. I loved the fact that rather than gradually build up the pace in the movie, they kept it pulsating from the very beginning. The post-apocalyptic world is thrown in our faces without any time wasted to explain the reasons behind it — more like, this is how the world is now, just accept it! The characters and their history comes forth during the movie, as and when it fits with the purpose of the story; and if it doesn’t, then the screenplay has chosen to ignore it.
George Miller has absolutely excelled in his directorial duties. His last R-rated film was way back in 1987 (The Witches of Eastwick), and since then he has worked on children’s films like Babe: Pig in the City and Happy Feet, so one can be forgiven for wondering as to how well would Miller do in the violent world of Mad Max. All the doubts are dispelled when you see what he has created here. The movie is not only about some wild men chasing a big truck, but there are allusions to the world we may actually be entering into, one where young men are thrilled with the idea of serving their leader in search for a passage to Heaven (referred to as Valhalla in the movie). Maybe we are in that world already. The strong feminist theme with Charlize Theron playing a savior of kind is also brilliantly brought into the script (Miller even consulted Vagina Monologues author Eve Ensler while working on the female roles). And then there is the vibrant colors that Miller opted for, along with the ridiculous but colourful outfits of the gangsters, which is quite the opposite of the washed-out colouring that a dsytopian world is pictured so frequently. The cinematography by Jon Seale is another bright point of the movie, which coupled with the incredible stunt scenes during the fights, makes it difficult to avert your eyes from the screen for even a second. Add to that the rock music by Junkie XL which makes the heart thud all the way, and I can think of very little that has not been done to perfection in this movie.
Tough action movies need actors that have a great screen presence, who can look you in the eye and make you shudder. I was never expecting Charlize Theron to be part of that group. But she is the leading star of Mad Max: Fury Road, a calm warrior with a prosthetic arm, that does not flinch when shooting down her pursuers. She strikes a wonderful balance in the role of Furiosa as a no-nonsense fighter who still has a human side within her which has not been broken by whatever that has broken the world around her. With that shaved look and war-paint on her eyes, Charlize Theron drives this movie forward with intensity, and shows once again, why she is a leading actress in Hollywood right now.
Tom Hardy has taken over the role of Mad Max from Mel Gibson. While he has to play second fiddle at times to Charlize Theron, he does no disservice at all to the role that got Gibson recognised in Hollywood. Tom Hardy has a commanding personality, and he lets that side of him take over in the movie, being sparse with his words. During the course of the chase, Tom Hardy and Charlize Theron strike a wordless partnership, a pact that they will look after each other’s back, and this pairing gives this movie life, a heart in a heartless world. The fact that this camaraderie does not have to be spelled out, and is yet is so evident and full of feelings, is another indication of the quality of lead actors that George Miller had on board.
A surprise package in this movie is young Nicolas Hoult, who plays one of the War Boys eager to chase and hunt down Furiosa. It’s a wonderful performance by Hoult, displaying the youthful exuberance and the extreme fanaticism of a misled man, which brings more spark to the chase. Hugh Keays-Byrne, who also featured in 1979’s Mad Max, plays a tough and creepy antagonist with authority. The supporting cast also shines in the film, and one in particular, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley shows that she can put in her amount of effort in a role when asked.
We have had a string of highly entertaining movies in the past couple of months that have taken action sequences to another level. Furious 7 and Avengers: Age of Ultron followed now by Mad Max: Fury Road. These movies have been helmed by imaginative directors that have had the means and capability to bring their imagination to the big screen. In doing so, they have spoiled us as well, for our expectations are only going to soar. Where does the Mad Max series go from here, we do not know. George Miller at the age of 70 has delivered one of his best career films, and I don’t think he would be looking to call it quits anytime soon. If there is a sequel though, Miller would be tested by his own high standards. The bar would have to be raised again, if Mad Max returns.