The sound and the fury: George Miller’s Mad Max: Fury Road
The thing about George Miller’s original Mad Max film that made it a cut above the rest was, well, George Miller. A symphony of movement and space, the film established Miller as a cinematic force cloaked beneath a miniscule budget. Of course we all are familiar with the great financial and cultural legacy of that film (and the sequels that followed), but what is most undersung perhaps is the contributions Miller made to the action genre. His was a vision of great certainty as he calculated and developed every frame as if they were a work of art in and of themselves, slowly piecing them together into a patchwork of manic glee and heart-stopping thrills. This development has now come full circle with Mad Max: Fury Road, a film that initially was met with hesitation and has now been embraced by almost all factions of the cinema-going community as masterful, exhilarating and progressive. They aren’t wrong.
Mad Max: Fury Road is as much a meat and potatoes action film as its predecessors, well, with the exception of the kids in Beyond Thunderdome. In fact, logistically it might be even a simpler experience as it’s essentially built out of a single car chase sequence (which also constitutes the backbone of Mad Max). Instead of Mad Mel Gibson’s quiet stare, we are greeted with Tom Hardy’s sheepish snarl and he’s a worthy if slightly lacklustre replacement. Hardy might be one of Hollywood’s most overrated assets, but within the construct of Fury Road he works as adequately as he should, which is fine because Fury Road isn’t even really about him or his struggles.
As with previous incarnations, Fury Road takes place in a post-apocalyptic wasteland (perhaps the post-apocalyptic wasteland), a landscape littered with desperate souls looking for salvation and survival. Miller’s vision of a dystopian future has always been exhilarating to see come to life – with his toxic combination of casting, costume and “performance” all colliding into a single, hyper-detailed reality – but Fury Road is his most demented and breathtaking vision yet. As the film begins we are witness to an amplified version of Bartertown from Beyond Thunderdome, a society fashioned out of abuse of power and control of resources. It seems that Toecutter, the original gang member from Mad Max, has adopted messianic properties in his travels and now reigns supreme as Immortan Joe, a terrifying dictatorial figure who controls the scarce resources of water and fuel and rations them out to his immense group of loyal followers in the most demeaning of manners.
On top of this Miller has also introduced a religious entity to his world-building as Immortan Joe, along with his resource control, maintains his vice grip over his people through fear of religious prosecution and promise of enlightened ascension. It’s a warped vision of contemporary times, a display of power through fear and control. Remove the masks and make-up and perhaps you might see some familiar faces from our own world. After being introduced to Max, who is initially kidnapped and imprisoned in this horrific place, we are then introduced to Furosia (Charlize Theron) a woman whose duty it is to drive a giant War Rig to collect gasoline for the city to utilise. All is not well in the ranks of Immortan Joe, however, and in an effort to topple his irrational and destructive tower of power (literally), Furosia takes the truck off course. Soon we find out why: she’s carrying on board five of Immortan Joe’s “wives”, and she’s intent on setting them free. This is the crux of the film, the foundation upon which George Miller builds one of the most manic, gonzo blockbusters in recent history and solidifies his position as one of the great Hollywood artists of our time.
The most fascinating thing about Fury Road isn’t so much its action set pieces and incredible stunt work (although all of that is utterly indescribable), it’s actually its existence at all that is most intriguing. In a climate of tent-pole cinema that constantly aims its crosshairs at the lowest common denominator, rewarding audiences with gratuitous sexual and mental exploitation, Fury Road somehow manages to insert progressive values and a sense of grace into the familiar equation. The fact that Miller makes his film appear to us in this form so effortlessly is what is so impressive, as if to wave his finger in the faces of suits who tighten their lenses around focus groups and marketing techniques. Mad Max: Fury Road proves to us that we can make big budget explosive cinema that comes accompanied with a pulse of the heart and the mind.
Theron and her collective of imprisoned women are the heart and soul of Fury Road, a fact that becomes more available to us as the film progresses. Unlike Hardy, Theron is one of Hollywood’s greatest assets, and here her chameleon-like abilities are utilised perfectly. When was the last time that you saw an action film with a group of women at its core, let alone a group of women so perfectly balanced and represented? Fury Road presents us with an abundance of images of desolation and hopelessness and then contorts that vision into one of survival. Despite witnessing the torture both on and off screen (what ungodly things must these women have endured before these onscreen moments?), women come out on top, and triumphantly so. How these ideals have evaded our screens for so long is the great tragedy that Fury Road presents us with, and yet, as the credits roll, you realise that Miller has set a template for a future that should have arisen in the past. There is hope yet still.
Mad Max: Fury Road is a film that is brimming with the cosmic wonder of cinema, a platform upon which we project our dreams and visions for the future. Life and love are the fuel of this film, and their restorative powers are plentiful and abundant. Miller’s camera captures the calamity in all degrees; it is the God’s eye of the post-apocalypse as it zips around its ephemeral destruction with glee. It goes without saying that the experience of the film itself is visceral and sublime, equivalent to that rare, delightful feeling of wind rushing through your hair as you ride upon a motorcycle. Sure it isn’t totally perfect, but goddamn if it doesn’t try to be. And for that, it’s Hollywood’s greatest success in a very long time.