I doubt any asylum on Earth could subdue this whooping whirlwind of a movie. Just inhaling it’s hallucinogenic exhaust fumes made me want to commandeer the nearest monster truck and embark on a futile rampage down the M25. If any modern actioneer is worthy of being called divinely deranged, Mad Max: Fury Road is it.
Little needs to be known of the streamlined set up, other than that the daring Imperator Furiosa is escorting five women, former concubines of the grotesque warlord Immortan Joe, to the fabled land mentioned in whispers as “The Green Place”. She believes saving these women will be her one-way route to redemption, an elusive destination Max is also searching for. So naturally he decides to hitch a ride.
Immortan Joe and his cult of War Boys give pursuit, and considering both the warlord’s desperation to reclaim his “property” and the seemingly inexhaustible firepower he freely disposes of, survival seems an ambitious goal indeed. And unlike many blockbusters which are mostly aimed at seven year olds, Fury Road doesn’t shy away from the consequent roadkill.
But veteran director George Miller has always been more interested in the trauma of the soul than of the body. Even his barnstorming debut, the original Mad Max, was more haunting for its portrayal of mental decay than the inventive feats of violence. When we are first reunited with that Road Warrior , it’s probably a stretch to even call him a man, the way he barks and splutters like an oily pit bull. Tom Hardy still cuts an imposing figure, but the bloodied sand has buried his humanity. Hardy’s gradual excavation of the character’s humanity is one of the film’s most compelling features.
It is a credit to Hardy’s performance that he isn’t completely upstaged by one of the most thunderous chase sequences in the history of cinema. Filmed in the Nambian desert without a green screen safety net, Miller crafts some astounding images, and has the good sense to hold the shot and let us savour their beauty. Dirt bikes leap up sand dunes like petrol powered pumas and one scene which shows a waterfall suddenly gushing from a mountain reminded me of illustrations of biblical miracles. Of course, all of this spectacle is dwarfed by Charlize Theron’s emotionally-pulverising performance as Furiosa- you simply can’t take your eyes off her. She is valiant, hardy, and instantaneously iconic. The cosplays will be magnificent. Perhaps she will convince some studio executives that a successful female led film is not a novelty, but a sign of the modern times.
Because of Theron’s prominence and agency, the film has been both lauded and derided for being feminist. I believe that term does the film a disservice. Watch the opening credits. Tom Hardy’s name is placed in the bottom right and Theron’s in the top left. Depending on how you read the title card, both actors have received top billing. Fury Road values its duo of action heroes equally and that is not merely feminism, but common sense.
Junkie XL’s score acts like a turbocharger to what is already a rather raucous affair. The composer’s soundscapes are just as volatile as the nuclear desert, seamlessly shifting gears from sonic rumbles to mournful melodies. If scores are judged on how well they complement the images they accompany, than Junkie is a shoe-in for next year’s Oscar ceremony.
Fury Road cheerfully bulldozes every boundary we have come to associate with summer movies. Miller did not and has not made his film overly violent or profane to achieve that. Instead, he focused on crafting a film which would grab us on an experiential level, where flabby talk gives way to heartfelt action.The result is unforgettable.