It’s not a Mad Max movie without rusting hulks of screeching metal pounding down a desert highway, a nutcase grinning behind the wheel. Fury Road packs in more horsepower than the first three films put together, with no less than four rolling armies of radioactive crazies on the trail of our taciturn hero (Tom Hardy) as he hurtles headlong in a spiked black “war rig” (think a Mack truck with more firepower). Pedal-to-the-metal action was never more ferocious.
As in the earlier movies, Max doesn’t have an awful lot to say. Which happily leaves the driver’s side door wide open for Charlize Theron, who takes on the star-of-the-show mantle with aplomb. As the traitorous Furiosa, who rebels against her brutal overlords to save a truckload of innocent concubines, she displays Sigourney Weaver-like levels of grit, determination and sheer intensity.
We expected noise. We expected mayhem. We didn’t expect quite so much beauty. In the hands of director George Miller and legendary Australian cinematographer John Seale (The Mosquito Coast, The English Patient), Fury Road is both gritty and gorgeous, the action scenes simultaneously pin-sharp and insanely fast-paced. Imagine being beaten over the head with a rolled-up Hieronymus Bosch masterpiece for two hours.
Hang on, didn’t we do this one already? Yes, but it’s worth saying twice. The cars are incredible. We can only imagine how many junkyards Miller and his team must have trawled to source the hundreds of classic junkers used in the film. Or how long it took the production designers to slice each one of them to bits and resolder them in a dizzying variety of weird and disturbing shapes. Movie buffs will note a number of automotive in-jokes, notably these spiked beetles, a throwback to Peter Weir’s glorious 1974 Aussie whatsit The Cars That Ate Paris.
Yes, Fury Road is largely built around practical special effects: stunts, pile-ups and dust-flying skids. But in the modern filmmaking landscape, you can’t avoid computer effects altogether, and George Miller’s film is a masterclass in how to use them well—just check out Charlize's totally convincing missing arm, above. Oh, and the two-headed chameleon in the opening moments is a scene-stealer, too.
What is it about Antipodean filmmakers and their obsession with nuts-and-bolts details? Just as Peter Jackson crammed his Lord of the Rings movies with hand-forged swords and immaculately crafted costumes, so Miller makes sure that every single prop you see on screen in Fury Road—the clothes, the boots, the tattoos, the weapons, even a memorable stack of electric guitar amplifiers—feels solid and functional, a believable relic of a bygone world.
Okay, here we go again. But we really can’t get over it: These cars are nuts. Just look at the detail in Furiosa’s war rig (pictured above). Look at the dust in the cracks, the pumping pistons and the whirring fan belts. That goes for every one of the hundreds of vehicles employed in the movie, from the tiniest dune buggy and desert bike to the vast caterpillar-track behemoth driven by psychotic oil-king the People Eater. And when they smash, they really smash. So if you see the film in 3-D, expect to spend half your time ducking shards of flying shrapnel.
Just the names of these leather-clad freaks are enough to make us very happy indeed. The People Eater. The Bullet Farmer. Rictus Erectus. Corpus Colossus. And above them all, Immortan Joe, the unholy emperor of this wild frontier. With his flowing white locks, pustulating skin-sores and transparent body armour, he looks like Dune's Baron Harkonnen on a night out at the local extreme fetish club.
Given that it is stunning, desolate and (we assume) pretty cheap, it’s a wonder that more movies aren’t shot in the southern African nation of Namibia. Fury Road is the last we can remember since Richard Stanley’s similarly bleak and beautiful Dust Devil back in 1992. Here, the country’s endless deserts are transformed into an unholy but somehow gorgeous post-apocalyptic wasteland crammed with mutant mountain-cities, shimmering oil refineries and festering, unquiet swamps.
Fine, you knew it was coming. But we went there anyway. We really can’t get over how awesome these cars are. Whether they’re speeding up alongside a truck so that white-painted baddies can go leapfrogging from one to the other, rolling and shattering in the desert dust or exploding into hundreds of oil-stained splinters, the sheer volume and originality of the machines on offer make this a gearhead’s wet dream.