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Film Review | Mad Max: Fury Road

Its evangelists and converts have probably driven you sick with their songs of praise already, but trust us when we say that George Miller's return to the Max Max universe - granted, sans Mel Gibson - is the rollicking blockbuster event of the year, and probably a game-changer.

teodor_reljic
Teodor Reljic
28 May 2015, 8:29am
Fury squared: Tom Hardy and Charlize Theron negotiate a hostile post-apocalyptic landscape in this highly anticipated franchise reboot
Fury squared: Tom Hardy and Charlize Theron negotiate a hostile post-apocalyptic landscape in this highly anticipated franchise reboot
To say that George Miller's post-apocalyptic western trilogy of Mad Max films – starring a young Mel Gibson and released between 1979 and 1985 – remain influential is an understatement to topple all others, as they presented an Australian re-wiring of the dystopian landscape from a neon-infused urban sprawl to desert wasteland, using the unique spread of the Antipodean desert to accentuate the uncompromising grit that lend the story its drama and horror.

Of course in today's cinematic landscape this kind of strong brand recognition can’t remain on the shelves for very long, keen as studios and film moguls are to capitalise on safe properties that will rally fans both fresh and nostalgic.

But returning to the story that made his name, Miller – now with an Oscar under his belt, for Happy Feet (2006), of all things – performs a sly hattrick over his new competition, updating the material in a way that will appeal to new audiences but that doesn't throw the baby out with the bathwater... far from it.

In an apocalyptic wasteland at the furthest reaches of the planet, populated by crazed pockets of fringe humanity, two mavericks struggle to establish a semblance of order.

 

On the one hand there is Furiosa (Charlize Theron), a communal rebel leader convinced that crossing the desert and back to her childhood abode is the only way forward. On the other hand there’s Max (Tom Hardy), a stowaway seeking solace after the death of his wife and child. But with the Frankenstenian tyrant Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne) hot on their trail, they have their work cut out for them.

Internet outrage is something Miller may not have had to contend with back in the 80s when the first Mad Max trilogy was unleashed, and ahead of Fury Road, he was regaled with a particularly noxious version of it. Rampant Keyboard Misogynists - or as they like to call themselves, ‘Men’s Rights Activists’ – expressed enraged umbrage at the fact that Theron’s Furiosa was in fact the bona fide protagonist of the piece, and not the titular Mad Max.

But barring the fact that Max was never exactly the front-and-centre alpha male of the story even in the original trilogy, the argument that the film is smuggling ‘feminist propaganda’ into a testosterone-infused action blockbuster cannot really stand as a legit piece of criticism for various reasons.

Firstly, Furiosa’s quest – the carting away of forcibly impregnated ‘brides’ from a self-crowned barbarian king to a promised all-female utopia – only counts as ‘feminist propaganda’ if you’re a psychopath. Secondly, its very structure is exactly right for the kind of high-octane chase that underpins the film.

And even though some have described its plot as being insubstantial – ‘wafer-thin’ was bandied around a lot in reviews – far from being lacking, the Fury Road is the perfect canvas on which Miller can splay out a wonderfully grotesque and inventive series of action set pieces that, for all their variety, never distract from the story.

This serves as an important reminder: despite often serving as the by-word for post-apocalyptic grittiness, the Mad Max franchise always came with its fair share of flamboyance.

Even the character names bear this out – ‘Rictus Erectus’, ‘The Splendid Angharad’, ‘Cheedo the Fragile’ – but the set pieces and minute details will be what you remember: Immortan’s convoy coming complete with a flotilla of drummers and an red-onesie sporting guitarist (whose two-pronged hammer occasionally spits flame); one of the brides’ vagina dentata cod piece; albino soldiers promoted in the ranks by a jet of silver spray to the mouth…

Rather than the uninterrupted – and mind-numbing – feature-length action scene we got in the last Hobbit film, what we have instead is an accumulation of imaginative detail and a kinetic narrative that tells its story through the set pieces, rather than alongside or despite of them.

Compare this, too, to the bitty and fragmented Marvel Studios fare – with Age of Ultron punctuating its CG-heavy action with hip one-liners in a sad attempt to stay afloat – and you’ll get an idea as to why this is head and shoulders above the competition. If this is an action blockbuster, it’s an action blockbuster of the Asian kung fu kind, where action sequences aren’t there to bulldoze plot and dialogue away, but serve as a bona fide storytelling technique in their own right.

Don’t let Keyboard Misogynists fool you. This is a story for all of mankind. A petrol-caked, desert-crossing odyssey of crazy. 

teodor_reljic
Teodor Reljic is MaltaToday's culture editor and film critic. He joined t...
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