The joke after seeing the recent Furious 7 was this: at the end of the movie you don’t walk out of the theatre, you stagger. At the end of Mad Max Fury Road you don’t exactly stagger because you can’t; you’ll need a stretcher.
Mad Max Fury Road, the fourth in a series from Australia and director George Miller that started in 1979 with a young Mel Gibson in the lead, is a two hour, non-stop adrenaline rush that only occasionally fades to black. The fades are in order for everyone to either catch their breath or check the ringing in their ears from the full-throttle volume. And for good measure, try to check your pulse when it’s over; you won’t be able to count that fast.
Even though it’s taken thirty years for another Max movie to collide with the screen, this is not a remake or even a reboot in the traditional sense, it’s a continuation; it’s part four. And if the whole thing is new to you, don’t worry; previous knowledge is not required. You can hop on-board the speeding train, strap in, take off and still enjoy the ride, though enjoy might be the wrong word – let’s say, you experience the ride.
In order to bring any newbies up to date, there’s a brief introduction to set the scene, but like all other moments of dialog throughout, there’s an economy of words. “My world is fire and blood,” growls ex-cop Max (Tom Hardy) after telling us something about an apocalypse that has ruined the world. Exactly what caused the devastation is never covered, and the film doesn’t really care. All we need to know is that the Earth is now a desert wasteland populated by lawless marauding gangs given free range to do exactly what they want to whomever they want. It’s like The Purge that never stops. “I’m a man reduced to a single instinct,” Max’s voice-over continues. “Survive.” And then we’re off.
Buried among the continuous mayhem, car wrecks, head-on collisions, machete fights, capitations, body-rips, and gun blasts, there’s a plot. A shaven headed Furiosa (Charlize Theron) has gone rogue. She’s supposed to be driving a massive tanker across the Aussie desert wasteland from the Citadel, an area ruled by a murderous dictator, to Gastown. Instead, she veers off the beaten path and heads east. The reason? She’s hiding five young women, all wives to the repulsive dictator who wants to populate the new world in his image. Understandably, the young girls want none of that. Like a western on wheels, they hop onboard the speeding tanker and get out of Dodge as fast as they can.
When Max meets up with the women in the middle of nowhere they’re watering each other down with a hose by the side of the parked tanker. For the ex-cop, it’s like accidentally stumbling upon a Sports Illustrated photo shoot, the Australian desert edition. With his help, Furiosa, the five women and Max immediately put the pedal to the metal while a convoy of psychopathic nutcases on wheels relentlessly pursue. Amusingly, one of those vehicles carries a heavy metal guitarist with a fire-breathing guitar, plus a cluster of drummers banging away throughout. Not only do you hear the continuous, pulsating sounds of war-like kettle drums backing an electric fuzz guitar on the soundtrack, you get see who’s playing the instruments. The dictator of Citadel obviously likes to include his own musical accompaniment when he’s on the chase.
The stunts are undeniably outstanding – even the Fast and Furious franchise might appear pedestrian compared to Max – and so is the sight of a monstrous, electrically charged dust storm whose massive, billowing clouds pour over Max and his pursuers like a giant, land based tidal wave. It’s a breathtaking sequence, let down somewhat by the obvious use of CGI as vehicles explode and bodies are flung all over the place, looking like flies avoiding a swatter.
Curiously, by the end of the film, it’s not Tom Hardy’s Max you’ll remember, even though he fits snugly into Mel Gibson’s boots from the get-go, it’s Charlize Theron. Not only does she have the majority of dialog, she appears to have a lot more to do, and she does it extremely well, managing to appear both tough and vulnerable, vengeful and sympathetic, all at once, though why her character would have an American accent while everyone around her, including Max, has an Australian one is never questioned.
When it comes to accents, Mad Max has an interesting history. Movie buffs may remember that when the ’79 original was first released, even though it was a hit around the world, American audiences never warmed to it. Part of the problem was the issue of accents. American distributors felt certain that stateside audiences would have problems with Aussie dialects, so the whole soundtrack was wiped, even Mel Gibson’s voice, replaced by American voice-overs. The end result was laughably awful, and the film – at least, in America – flopped. How ironic then that thirty-six years later, when he speaks, which isn’t that often, but when he does, English actor Tom Hardy affects an Australian accent. Even though the rest of the world market won’t care, for the American marquee value, Theron is the token yank, which is even more ironic when you realize that her first language is not English but Afrikaans; she moved from South Africa in her late teens and adopted an impressive American accent once in America.
To be frank, you need to be on the same page as the film or for you it’s over within the first few minutes. There’s no other forum than the big screen where such a production could be presented, but that doesn’t make it good cinema, either. Character development and setups be damned, this is not really a film, it’s a full-speed ahead, in-your-face, thrill ride that takes place in a nightmare where the sanest character is someone called Mad. “It was hard to tell who was crazy,” Max states in that brief opening. “Me, or everyone else.” Trust me, it’s everyone else.
MPAA Rating: R Length: 120 non-stop Minutes Overall Rating: 7 (out of 10)