Matthew Turner delivers his verdict on jaw-dropping action epic Mad Max: Fury Road – the long awaited fourth instalment in the iconic thriller series.
It’s been 30 years since Australian director George Miller (now a sprightly 70) last made a Mad Max movie, but this new instalment, somewhere between a reboot and a belated sequel, has most assuredly been worth the wait. Featuring stunning set design, great characters, an utterly bonkers world-view and more mind-blowing action sequences than an entire franchise’s worth of Fast And Furious movies, this is a phenomenally entertaining thrill-ride that’s unlike anything else you’ll see all year. Hell, it’s unlike anything else you’ll see all decade.
Set in a post-apocalyptic desert where the remaining water supply is controlled by monstrous, god-like warlord Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne, who played Toecutter in the original Mad Max), the film stars Tom Hardy as loner Max Rockatansky, who’s haunted by the deaths of his wife and child. When rebel imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) liberates five of Joe’s scantily-clad “prized breeders” (including Rosie Huntington-Whiteley as The Splendid Angharad and Zoe Kravitz as Toast the Knowing) and takes off into the desert in a pimped-out battle truck called the War Rig, Max finds himself along for the ride, helping Furiosa and her precious cargo fend off hordes of pursuing War Boys and various other blood-thirsty desert tribes.
Barring a short set-up sequence, Miller effectively stages the entire film as a nail-biting, non-stop car chase that’s crammed with brilliantly staged, jaw-droppingly spectacular action set-pieces. That this never once seems repetitive or samey is a testament to the film’s constant levels of invention and to Miller’s masterful direction. Indeed, the action sequences are almost operatic in nature, exploding with eye-poppingly beautiful imagery and backed with Junkie XL’s suitably pulse-pounding score.
The production design is nothing short of extraordinary, from the rusting, weaponised vehicles (one spiked car is a clear nod to the VW in Peter Weir’s The Cars That Ate Paris, a car that always looked like it belonged in Mad Max anyway) to the Gilliam-esque workings of Joe’s cliff-top Citadel, to the throngs of grotesques that make up the supporting characters. The weaponry is also impressive, with the War Boys hurling explosive spears or using giant car-attached poles to swing over their enemies’ vehicles and drop in little grenades.
Hardy is terrific as the haunted, wounded Max discovering something worth living for in his rescue misson and there’s strong support from Nicholas Hoult as enthusiastic War Boy Nux, whose ambition is to achieve a glorious death in battle. However, the film belongs to Theron, who creates an instantly iconic character as shaven-headed, one-armed Furiosa, an action heroine worthy of a place alongside Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley. Indeed, she’s essentially the film’s lead, as indicated by a telling, pleasingly empowering moment when Max defers to her crack-shot ability with a rifle. (Also, her distinctive war-paint is sure to be a big hit on the cos-play circuit come Comic-Con time).
One of the best things about the film is the way it ploughs a giant battle truck straight through all the expected clichés, not just in terms of its unconventional structure, but also in terms of character expectations – it’s fair to say that there are moments that you definitely won’t see coming, while the female characters are just as kick-ass as Max himself and get their fare share of the action.
In short, this is a brilliantly orchestrated, riotously entertaining action thriller that demands to be seen on the big screen. Highly recommended.