Were it not for a knowledge of his earlier career work, then pitching a post-apocalyptic action movie directed by the man who brought us the cute and cuddly Happy Feet would no doubt have gained a titter or two before being unanimously met with the ‘rejection’ stamp.
Luckily for George Miller, the over 30-year hiatus from his original Mad Max creation has been kind on the memory banks and the man who made a world-wide superstar of Mel Gibson was given the green-light to try and re-invent his ‘punk-western’ for the modern age.
With Mad Max: Fury Road Miller revisits his story of an enigmatic drifter attempting to survive in a world governed by lawlessness and in which society as we know it has degraded beyond all recognition. Brit Tom Hardy steps into Gibson’s old leathers as the titular Max Rockastansky in what is his first major leading role in a big-budget Hollywood event film. Fresh off the critical and commercial successes of the likes of Bronson, Warriorand The Dark Knight Rises there is a certain pressure upon Hardy’s broad shoulders to prove that he can not only carry a major release himself but also provide a modern take on a film that for decades after it’s release had the most positive box-office-to-budget-ratio in history.
As many producers and directors have found out, revisiting old classics can more often than not do more damage than good so there is great risk being taken by more than just the movie’s star - with Miller in particular hoping to avoid the double-edged sword of not only providing a blockbuster that needs to stand out in the same year as major releases from both the Star Wars and Avengers franchises - both as close to a sure-fire hit as Hollywood could possibly offer - but also has the added worry of potentially damaging his original legacy by providing a flop.
Sometimes risks pay-off and with what is an absolutely astounding, break-neck, adrenalin-fuelled, runaway-train of a movie - Miller has smashed any doubts whatsoever that reboots never work. Playing out like one gigantic car chase, Fury Road is packed full of some of the most awe-inspiring action set-pieces that have been committed to celluloid in many a year. Moving forwards this should be seen as the template that all future action movies are judged against, so much so that categorising this purely as an ‘action film’ doesn’t seem to do it justice in the slightest - from it’s opening sequence that appears as something more like a theme park experience than a trip to the local cinema - this is almost like ‘action+1’ and will leave you breathless by the films conclusion.
The majority of action films are sometimes criticised for not providing enough excitement and that any ‘action’ contained within them is merely used to punctuate the plot rather than drive it. Fury Road takes this formula, rotates it 360 degrees and smashes it back at us with a dizzying, non-stop display of ordered-chaos that quite frankly leaves any slower scenes as a bit of relief allowing us to catch our breath. This is like taking a defibrillator to the heart whilst listening to the complete works of the chemical brothers and guzzling gallons of energy drinks - it’s what an action film should be all about and quite often never achieves.
Amazingly, for a film that could quite easily sell-itself on it’s set-pieces alone there has been a pain-staking attention to detail in the creation of the world inhabited by these characters. Millers vision of a scorched, desolate future-scape is presented to us with some of the most sumptuous, sun-bleached cinematography that has ever been created. This is a testament to one man’s stunning vision - and is but another major tick in Fury Roads box.
Whilst the influences for Millers world are obvious - Dune, Game of Thrones, the originalMax trilogy, numerous old-time biblical epics and the days of Ancient Rome all seem to play some part at one stage or another - this still manages to be a beautifully unique landscape that somehow balances a heady mix of splendour and degradation. For every grotesque, deformed inhabitant we encounter there is a moment of contrasting beauty - usually with the almost angelic, nymph-like ‘five wives’ who’s kidnapping sets about the movies major chain of events.
Much like the original Star Wars trilogy before it Miller has created a battered future with retro-futuristic technology that feels like a world that has been ‘lived-in’ rather than imagined and this only adds to its authenticity. In addition to this the creativity that has gone into the costumes, vehicles and people of this populace is mesmerising - Miller has managed to pull off the almost impossible task of fashioning a domain that is both astoundingly original and comfortingly familiar in equal measure. If ever a case needed to be made for how CGI and modern technologies could be used to enhance a previous release then this is it - the world created here by Miller offers a fabulous insight into a vivid imagination that it was impossible to realise during the time of the originals release.
With all this in mind it would have been easy for Miller to allow the thrilling action and sumptuous visuals to paper over any narrative cracks that the film may have in either plot or character. Yet surprisingly there is a some-what intelligent plot underpinning all the spectacular visual flair. Numerous themes ranging from pagan ritualism right through to selective breeding can be found if you look hard enough aswell as the exploration of such philosophical concepts as hope and redemption.
There is even time to riff on the use of religion as a tool to aid dictatorships - and the implications of doing so in order to create unjust wars and produce mass oppression -whilst also casting a glance at the subject of modern suicide-bomb fanaticism (“I live, I die, I live again”) all exceedingly impressive in a film that doesn’t really need the added depth but throws it into the mix anyway.
The acting plaudits are just about snaffled by Charlize Theron in what is a gutsy, yet at times fragile, performance as the skin-headed rebel Furiosa and whilst other standouts include Hugh Keays-Byrne’s despotic Immortan Joe and an almost unrecognisable Nicholas Hoult as the conflicted Nux this is not the type of film that is going to reward you for a nuanced acting display. Even someone with the undoubted talent and screen-presence of Hardy is somewhat lost here amongst the jaw-dropping action and the amazing visual creations that are ubiquitous and plentyful. This is no slight on any of the movies cast but the film itself is more than enough to satisfy and it would be a thankless task to attempt to outshine anything that has leaked from Millers imagination.
Any negatives aimed at Fury Road - and believe me there aren’t many - would probably centre around the over the top nature of it all; but to highlight this would be to completely miss the point. This is a film that embraces it’s chaotic craziness and uses it to weave a rich tapestry that is nothing but a non-stop thrill-ride. This is a stunning, almost maniacal vision, a triumph from start to finish and without doubt one of the most engrossing, immersive action films of recent years. Not a single minute of it’s run-time is wasted and every second is packed with pure adrenaline and exhilarating action.
Fury Road is a remarkable cocktail that will no-doubt be the first of a new power-franchise in Hollywood and is a testament to both the vision and creativity of it’s director. “You know, hope is a mistake” proclaims Max in one of the films more sombre moments - in creating Fury Road mistakes are something that Miller seems to have eradicated entirely.