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Australia/USA 2015
Directed by
George Miller
120 minutes
Rated MA

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
2.5 stars

Mad Max: Fury Road

Synopsis: In a desert landscape of a dystopian future, two rebels, Max (Tom Hardy) and Furiosa (Charlize Theron) flee the wrath of a wicked warlord, Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne), in a giant petrol tanker.

Mad Max: Fury Road is easily the most-anticipated movie of the year.  The wait has been a long one, production originally having been intended to commence in 2010. This was waylaid by freak rainfalls around Broken Hill the planned site of filming and the whole shebang was relocated to Namibia. So the immediate question is going to be “was the wait worth it?”.

If Mad Max for you means the original 1979 Mel Gibson Mad Max with its pluckily Antipodean D-I-Y spirit, maybe. If you’re a fan of the two big budget Hollywood sequels, Mad Max 2 – Road Warrior (1981) and Mad Max Beyond The Thunderdome (1985), then, if the overwhelmingly enthusiastic critical response is anything to go by, probably so.

Mad Max: Fury Road is of a piece with the latter two films only with everything amped up to the maximum that modern movie-making technology will allow. The story, Max and Furiosa in a tanker being pursued by a myriad of bloodthirsty barbarians is pretty much a reworking of Mad Max 2 -  there’s more auto junkyard machinery and crazy vehicular stuntwork than you could poke a stick at, gussied-up comic-book villains and the Jodorowskian fixation with deformity and mutilation is ever-present. It's undeniably visually spectacular (it won six Oscars in the areas of production design, costumes, make-up and hair and so on) but the trouble is, that’s all it is.

The film starts with a hyperkinetic (literally as inexplicably the visuals are sped up) thunderous prologue which shows Max being captured and trying unsuccessfully to escape from the evil warlord’s mountain lair. Boom! – it's the opening title Mad Max: Fury Road. There’s a bit of scene-setting and we’re into the first big action sequence as Furiosa tries to outrun Joe’s henchmen who for some reason have Max strapped to the front of one of their war machines in a face mask made out of a garden fork.  After about 20 minutes of marvellously choreographed mayhem there‘s a bit of a respite as Max introduces himself to Furiosa who, hey ho, has five svelte and scantily clad young devotchkas on board her “war rig”.  They are Joe’s unfortunate harem and she is taking them back to her homeland, “a green place”, as she tells us. Then there’s another extended bout of hyperkinetic vehicular action as Joe himself comes in pursuit of the intractables. This goes on for about another 20 minutes with the bimbos gracefully arranged in the back seat of the rig. Then there’s another slightly longer pause for some sappy dialogue about going home and such like, Megan Gale turns up to add to the catwalk factor and we’re back to the sturm und drang with the exploding vehicles, crazy stunts and thundering drums. Unusually, even for an action film (at least in my limited experience) these sensational exertions account for about 90% of the film.

Given the sheer intensity and scale of the action one has to give credit to Miller; he hasn’t lost his ability to stage action although the director asserts that less than 10% is CGI clearly a lot of what we are seeing is generated by a horde of computer gnomes (and, more insistently, the dialogue is very noticeably post-production dubbed).  "But where is the Max Rockatansky of old in all this?" you may well ask.  The answer is, in a kind of Connery-to-Craig shift, virtually nowhere to be seen. For a start he’s almost constantly fighting off maniacs of one stripe or another and when he actually speaks Hardy plays him like some kind of knuckle-dragging primate not long accustomed to the gift of language. He keeps having flashbacks in which some young girl, presumably his daughter, appears to him but nothing comes of this and no further attempt is made to justify his existence which is taken as a given (you'd think by this time Max would have taken to meditating in a mountain cave but no, apparently he's still driving his Charger around waging his private war).

As we know Charlize Theron is pretty good at playing a tough chick and she is very tough here (the film really should have been called "Imperator Furiosa: Fury Road with Mad Max") but as most of what she is required to do presumably took place in front of a green screen her character hasn’t really much more personality than that of the phlegmatic Max. And why her facial make-up keeps changing is a mystery. Had no-one bothered to check for continuity? There is a lame sequel-suggesting “if-you-need-me-I’ll-be-there” ending with Max staring at Furiosa intensely from a distance and her giving him the clichéd understated nod of appreciation for his selfless labours but we can only hope it doesn’t happen. Two hours of their antics is more than enough.

Younger audiences and anyone who enjoys watching things being blown up will no doubt appreciate the monster trucks, the grotesqueries and the awesome destructiveness but if you’re not in those groups you might be struggling to justify the time spent on this technically impressive but seemingly pointless addition to the Mad Max corpus.




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