The fourth instalment of George Miller’s punky post-apocalyptic ‘Mad Max’ saga feels like a tornado tearing through a tea party. In an age of weightless movie spectacles, here’s a movie that feels like it was made by kidnapping $150 million of studio money, fleeing with it to the Namibian desert, and sending footage back to Hollywood like the amputated body parts of a ransomed hostage.
It’s been 30 years since we last watched Mel Gibson’s Max Rockatansky drift into the horizon in ‘Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome’, but the Road Warrior hasn’t aged a day. He’s been transformed from a reluctantly charismatic Gibson into a terse Tom Hardy. Yet much has changed in the wasteland that Max wanders. While previous episodes were set amid the rubble of a ruined world, the colourful hyper-saturated landscapes of this new movie locate the story closer to the dawn of a new civilization than the twilight of an old one.
Things begin inside the mountain stronghold ruled by Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne), an inbred monster who lords over a society that guzzles its citizens like fuel. Women are drained for their breast milk, girls are farmed for their wombs, and men like Max are used as vehicle ornaments called ‘bloodbags’. Unsurprisingly, Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron), Joe’s one-armed lieutenant, is ready for a change. When she drives off with his prized concubines, the warlord unleashes a suicidal eight-cylinder army on their trail. Pretty much the entire film is a screaming death race down Fury Road.
Marrying the biting frenzy of Terry Gilliam’s film universe with the explosive grandeur of James Cameron, Miller cooks up some exhilaratingly sustained action. But the key to this symphony of twisted metal is how the film never forgets that violence is a sort of madness. Miller’s world is a raw portrait of man at his most primitive, and the oppression of women has long been a recurring motif. With Theron’s Furiosa behind the wheel, though, ‘Fury Road’ steers this macho franchise in a brilliant new direction, forging a mythical portrait about the need for female rule in a world where men need to be saved from themselves.
That’s why Max is an enduring hero: he knows when to drive off into the sunset. This time, he leaves a generation of blockbuster cinema choking on his dust.