"I think we like stories like that (Westerns – Ed.) because there's less clutter
in them. I know that's a big attraction for me. Having said that, the first
Mad Maxes were triggered by the oil crisis. Oil was the Macguffin. Now we
have humans at the centre. There's human cargo in the five wives. You've
got the notion that people, in many ways, are commodities."
Director George Miller*
In the early 80s a sequel appeared that, Godfather II-like, put its predecessor if not in the shade then certainly to one side. There's a valid argument that the original Mad Max is a low budget police chase movie, executed with a visual flair that was rare in cinema at that time. With an enlarged budget for the sequel, director Miller decided to extrapolate a future world based on the awful promise of the first film. There's hardly any oil and very little gasoline. In short, it was the removal of civilisation and the rebirth of man as beast, survival at the basest level. In my opinion (never to be trusted but hey,) Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior is one of the most 'complete' and satisfying action films ever made. I said so here. In fact, in that review I have declared my love for the 1982 classic and am prepared tomorrow to have that love tested. It's an odd synchronicity that one of my partner's favourite films (the original Far From The Madding Crowd based incidentally on a novel by Tom (!) Hardy) was recently remade and we saw that last night and thoroughly enjoyed it. But then how could I not enjoy it? Two words; Carey and Mulligan. So tomorrow I make the step bolstered by the avalanche of positive and almost hysterical reviews from those lucky few who've been allowed early access to the movie that might finally grant the other Tom Hardy a few laurels. Well, as much as I like Hardy, I'm more interested in what director George Miller's up to and by all accounts it is spectacular. Leathers on, V8 Interceptor purring... Turbo mode engaged...
Emerging from the cinema, the one thing I really, really wanted to do but definitely shouldn't have done was get behind the wheel of a car... I got home without claiming any lives but Jesus it was close. If I were pushed into a two-word review, it would be 'cinematic amphetamine'. Fury Road is so wonderfully over the top, it's scaled two Everests before you can breathe out. It does a K2 for breakfast, with a Snowdon on the side. George Miller, bless his insanely rapidly beating heart, has reinvigorated the action genre by essentially letting his explosive imagination replay his finest moment (no, not Happy Feet) imagining what he could do, ramping it up exponentially and here's the kicker. He hasn't embraced and been seduced by CG, not one byte. He's artfully used it as a tool when no physical, on camera stunt was possible without significant loss of life. Yes, the sand storms are obviously digitally created but by the time you see them, you don't care. Everything in this literal 'cars crash' of a movie feels like the real thing – just as it should. We should too, as an audience, never care (let me finish) how the film was made. It's there on screen for us to dive into and by the time it'd finished I was brushing imaginary sand off my clothes and desperate to experience the white line nightmare. In my neck of the woods, it's more of a white haired reverie but hey, I can dream. In the spirit of the movie itself, I'm writing this review accompanied by Tom Holkenborg (aka Junkie XL)'s stunning score. Imagine an orchestra with a choir of fifteen steel factories and let's not forget the drums... It beats you down, thrusts you up and smashes your synapses into smithereens. Go Tom!
The story... Are you kidding me? There are twenty-six cues in Holkenborg's score. They all have suitably identifying names. Exactly at the midway, track thirteen, is called 'The Chase'. Really? This movie is a chase almost from start to finish and it's a testament to Miller's talent that there's not a false or repetitive note in the entire two-hour running time. And there is some narrative and character meat embedded in these extraordinary fireworks. Max (Hardy) is a loner surviving in a desolate desert. His voiceover (using more words than his dialogue in the movie combined) tells us that gasoline is still the primary trading item (screw water) and no sooner does Max gobble down a two headed mutant lizard (a lovely visual way to say 'post-nuclear') is he pursued by white painted men ('war boys'). His car is brought to a spectacular stop visually echoing the end of the 2nd act of The Road Warrior. Max is now a 'blood bag', a forced donor, a prisoner of the war boys, and of one in particular, Nux (an almost unrecognizable Nicholas Hoult, the boy from About A Boy and the young Beast from the X Men prequel series). Suffering from radiation sickness, he's been brainwashed by his leader to believe in the afterlife (and a return to life). He's essentially a potential martyr and a direct correlation with today's suicide bomber. His leader is Immorten Joe, a disfigured and horrific creation played by Hugh Keays-Byrne (a lovely nod to the original Mad Max in which he played the Toecutter). He is the controller of the water supply high up in his penthouse cliff where he keeps those that can bear him children. And this is where Fury Road starts to get interesting. We've seen how well Miller can stage action scenes – only Paul (Bourne) Greengrass is up with him on that rarified stratum when it comes to decent budget vehicular carnage) but now, something infinitely more interesting takes to the fore; the human body, specifically the female body, as a commodity. The villain has an understandable goal. He wants an heir and one of his generals is making insane and near suicidal efforts to see that he never gets one...
Imperator Furiosa (even the character names are beautifully insane) is taking a war truck to collect some fuel from Gas Town. She (see what I did there?) is played with a steely determination and a prosthetic CG left arm by a stunning Charlize Theron (stunning as in acting ability... her looks are played down and even actually oiled down in this role). She has a secret cargo and needs to get to her hometown knowing the wrath of Joe and his war boys will bear down on her like hell's own flaming rain of fire. War boy Nux is convinced that in chasing down the renegade he will go to Valhalla and mix with the dead heroes until he is born again. He needs his blood bag (Max) and so strapped to the stripped down chase vehicle, Max can only throw his head away from exploding debris as the chase gets ugly. Hardy is not exactly in charge of the narrative at this point. Not only is he chained up, he is wearing a mask that made me wince every time I saw it – sharp metal so close to his eyes. Ouch. I'm not even going to describe any of the action because it has to be seen but once seen it will be believed. Is there something in the cinematic air, something reacting to the computer generated unreality? Are we seeing the start of a backlash?
The poster for the new Mission Impossible has Cruise holding on to the side of a fat military aircraft as it takes off... The filmmakers (and presumably the world's most ardent Scientologist) have gone to great pains to assure the world that Cruise did this rather unnecessary stunt for real. OK, he's a brave man. Well done, Tom. But given what can be achieved today with total realism, it seems to me it was done for real so the marketing department could say just that. It doesn't matter that 90% of the resulting movie is probably CG faked in some way. “Tom did this stunt for real! C'mon see the movie!” Despite Tom's heroics, George Miller seems to be alone reclaiming cinema as a physical craft, an art comprised of the gestalt of brave men and women risking life and limb to tell stories, to entertain. Are we not entertained? Well, no it seems if we all just say “Oh, it's CG...” and do not appreciate the plasma, perspiration and brine that went into bringing this stuff to the screen. With the exception of the sand storm and subsequent tornado, there wasn't a moment where I was convinced I wasn't watching living and breathing human beings – just as it should be.
The movie is full of glorious references (oh, so subtle) to the Maxes before it. It also features some tiny character moments that just make you smile inside. The movie ticks all the action boxes, adds a few and ticks those and then creates boxes you never thought you'd ever see ticked and ticks them in thick, red felt pen. Whatever your taste in movies, if you are not astounded by the craft that went into this film, you must live in a cramped wooden box beneath many cubic feet of earth and perhaps don't get out much. To fans of The Road Warrior, we bring you binoculars and to the right, a telescope. I noticed but did not note at the time at least another five lovely nods to the best film in the trilogy. Among the mayhem, character still manages to punch through. Hardy's Max is laconic, desperate and suspicious. While Gibson may have been even more cynical, but still effortlessly cool, Hardy's survivalist is less trusting but once a trust is earned... A pregnant Rosie Huntington-Whiteley (playing 'The Splendid Angharad') manages to shield her rescuer from the bad guy's weapons. For this Max glances back from the cab and gives her the tiniest thumbs up in cinema history. It's a small but terrific moment, one that has no real resonance in the trailer. There, it isn't earned. Then there's Max, torn up and still chained to an unconscious Nux, rounding the corner of Furiosa's rig seeing five beautiful woman in white flowing clothing bathing from the output of a water hose. It's an image you do not expect to see (and that's saying something in this movie) and its brief serenity and playfulness are so shocking, I almost burst out laughing. I did laugh out loud once in the film and it's to my shame and the film's credit that I can't recall what it was that prompted the laughter. I'll be going again once my son returns from his travels. This movie's made for him. There is a moment when Max gets a chance to live up to his descriptive moniker and as he moves off to stop one particular vehicle catching up to him and the women. Miller has the absolute balls just to see this scene from the women's point of view. In other words, we see Max leave and eventually return, blood spattered (someone else's) and loaded with newly gained weapons. I just stared open mouthed at the balls of that decision. Yes, we could have followed Max and had a grand 'Max attacks car' scene but the movie didn't need it. In fact as a 'non scene', this was one of my favourite moments in the entire film – what I didn't get to see. How ballsy is that?
The grading of the film must be remarked upon. If Miller was given a chance to say a single word of direction to those people colour grading his wondrous road movie, 'neon' may well have been that word. You must have gleaned from the trailers that the daytime colour is lurid, vivid and punches out of the screen like a crafted yellow end fluorescent light. At night, everyone's a very nice shade of blue except if there's a light or fire burning. I have just finished editing a film set in the Namibian desert where a lot of Fury Road was shot. I swear I recognised some places Max and his entourage had visited. Given the care the filmmakers of the film I worked on took to make sure the pristine environment was not disturbed too much by the tracks of a single filming vehicle, it's a bit alarming to have thirty souped-up cars and trucks tear through the desert and wonder what that somewhat larger crew left behind.
Though surprised by the critical outpouring of adoration for this film, I can understand where it comes from. Miller is distorting the franchise and blockbuster model and he's succeeded in creating something unique. For that he should be roundly applauded. If you're a Rockatansky fan (if you don't know who Rockatansky is then probably not), then go and have your head mashed to a pulp by the stunning action and imagery on offer. If you're not, go anyway and become one...