Whilst any film that opens with Tom Hardy shirtless, gagged and bound is easily the most appealing way to spend a Tuesday night, Mad Max: Fury Road isn’t just any film. It is, without doubt, one of the best action films I’ve ever seen. Watching it is nothing short of an adrenaline rush. With its fiery orange palette and searing musical score, this is how the notorious summer blockbuster should be made.
Max (Tom Hardy) is a man of bulging muscles and limited conversation. He lives in a dystopian desert settlement under the rule of the tyrannous Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne) and his ghoulish army of grotesques. Max soon finds himself thrust into an exhilarating cat and mouse chase between the villainous ruler and his wife, Imperator Furiosa (a distinctly on form Charlize Theron) as she sets free five of his imprisoned wives – known as breeders – leaving a trail of chaos and destruction in her wake.
The action in the film is relentless. As a viewer you are under constant assault from striking visuals and thunderous sound. The arid desert landscape means that the action is often swallowed up in huge clouds of blinding dust. This lends itself perfectly to the idea of the chase; not knowing where the next threat will emerge from. The stunts are absolutely breath-taking: trucks being flipped, fires ripping through tanks, men leaping between vehicles … this film is a stunning riposte to the CGI laden blockbusters that regurgitate themselves every year. It’s very hard to believe that these two hours of thrilling, unflinching action comes from the director that also brought us Babe: Pig in the City.
The menacing, operatic score is distinctly Wagnerian in style. Imagine my surprise when I realised it was composed by Junkie XL … yeah, the Elvis remix guy. It’s dark, over-the-top and compelling. Entirely appropriate for a film that also possesses these qualities.
The film is driven by a haunting blend of slavery and the grotesque. Chastity belts, chains, muzzles, cages and a host of malnourished workers fill the Citadel under the violent rule of Immortan Joe. He oversees an overworked and desperate populace whilst enjoying water and fresh greenery for himself. The make up is particularly striking in creating the army of War Boys. Their face and bodies are blanched white and crudely scored with markings, scars and sores. Their features are distorted, exaggerated and unsettling. The idea of the grotesque is also very prominent – obese women are milked like cows, the populace are missing limbs and teeth, the men in charge are repulsively fat whilst the villain himself has a body covered in angry weals.
Much has been made of the strong feminist message the film conveys. Immortan Joe sees women as nothing more than objects to breed with; Furiosa delivers empowerment and strength. Despite the titular hero, this is very much a female driven narrative. After all, there would be no chase without them. Max, at times, seems almost an afterthought. He is just short of mute for most of the film. He’s not a perfect, strapping hero. A point that is made clear on several occasions when he relies on Furiosa for help. She is a survivor; determined. Besides the older females the fugitives encounter beyond the mountains, I would argue that Theron’s character – down to the buzz cut – is perhaps the most obvious example of ‘the strong woman’. By comparison, the five wives she has set free are very thin, very beautiful and wearing very little. Hmmm. Theron puts in an unusually watchable performance. She is defiant, cold and practical. I couldn’t take my eyes off her, which I have genuinely never encountered with Theron before. Providing a neat contrast is the cute, soft-hearted Nux (Nicholas Hoult). He may well start out as a War Boy, but it soon becomes clear that he yearns for genuine love, compassion and human touch.
The scale of the final chase is breath-taking. Miller throws everything you can imagine in to the mix. It is dramatic and theatrical, especially in terms of Immortan Joe. Name me any other villain to tail along his own theme music, complete with four percussionists and a flame-throwing death metal guitarist. It’s slightly mental, in an entirely good way. The War Boys are feral and animalistic; crawling all over monster trucks and tanks, growling like dogs. They pounce between vehicles, clawing and hissing at Furiosa with no fear of injury or death. For them, the chance to die for their leader is almost too great to miss. The stunts are incredible. The image of four cars in pursuit, with men swinging through the air from enormous, winding poles that stem from each of the cars is stunning. It builds the sense of chaos and menace from the ground up. Each car is souped up, bursting with spikes, flame-throwers or weaponry. There is so much going on it seems impossible to take it all in. But the violent pandemonium only leaves you thirsting for more. And, of course, the women give as good as they get. I can’t imagine my gran standing astride an oil tanker, wielding a shotgun, but Miller can. And does. It’s wonderful.
Usually, I tire of repeated explosions but this kept me hooked until the very final chase. I was practically driving my seat in the cinema as I willed the women on in their quest for freedom. This is exactly the type of action film that I love. The plot is coherent, the villain credible, the hero isn’t untouchable and there is no unnecessary doe-eyed love interest. It’s not a reboot, sequel or prequel. It’s just pure, unadulterated fucking chaos. And I loved every minute of it. What a lovely film.
P.S. On a slightly unrelated note, when next frequenting your local multiplex, ask for sweet and salted popcorn mixed in the one bag. You won’t regret it.