Between Beyond Thunderdome and The Road Warrior lies “Fury Road”
There’s a reason why Mad Max: Fury Road feels like it should be a much better film than it is, especially in a subpar summer blockbuster season like 2015 is showing so far. In an era of overproduced, slick summer blockbusters involving men (and women) in tights with superpowers that have copied the Michael Bay formula for $200 million film-making, itself cribbed from Tony Scott’s Top Gun, Fury Road is a raw and gritty action film that doesn’t have any pretensions or desire to build for the future. This isn’t a film that has to necessarily build for future franchise films, thus it has the ability to go where the story takes it and not where the franchise has already foretold. It’s the perk of George Miller getting one shot to revive the Mad Max franchise instead of being just another film in a grander cinematic universe.
Simple premise. “Mad” Max Rockatansky (Tom Hardy, replacing an aging and anti-Semitic Mel Gibson) is still wandering the outback of Australia after the fall of mankind. He is “The Road Warrior,” after all, and he’s still haunted by the deaths of his wife and child from the first film. Captured by Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne), tyrannical head of his own little post apocalyptic empire, Max winds up involved in inner-family politics. Teaming with Furiosa (Charlize Theron) out of necessity, he joins her to get five of Joe’s “wives” to a promised land from her youth. It’s a two hour chase as an uneasy alliance between Max and Furiosa to get away from Joe’s massive army in the rear, including Joe’s own death metal band playing whenever the chase is on.
Admittedly that might be the film’s most interesting oddity. I can’t recall a film where the main villain made sure to bring his own chase music to the proceedings.
The film feels different than anything else, which is why it feels like such a revelation in recent cinematic history. It’s the same thing that made The Raid and its equally terrible sequel feel like they were better than they actually were. By amping up the carnage, toning down the CGI and slickness while adding a healthy mix of “no one is safe, not even the main character” Mad Max: Fury Road is such a breath of fresh air that a number of insanely huge flaws are being overlooked because it’s so radically different in tone, style and look.
It’s the film’s strength, how radically different it looks and feels. Fury Road is the sort of action film that was made 30 years ago in tone and violence, of course, and George Miller has no qualms with making the sort of film he wanted to. With a reboot of sorts, as Tom Hardy takes over the title role, it’s curious that the film doesn’t have anything shoe horned into it like a forced romance, et al. This is the film Miller wanted to make, that’s for sure, and in an era where everything is nice and sanitized this is a violent, grimy world that’ll make you want to take a shower when you’re done. Miller has no qualm killing off prominent characters, including the usual sacred cows of women and children, and eschews heavy CGI for plenty of practical effects. Throw in Namibia doubling as the post Apocalyptic Australian Outback and this is a film that looks the part as well.
Unfortunately people often confuse different with good and for all how different the film looks we shouldn’t confuse it with brilliance anytime soon. Miller relies on a lot of the same terrible things other directors have been crucified for in the past, from an overabundance on shaky came and awkward close ups of people screaming to big action sequences that can be profoundly confusing to follow, enough to make some of the film’s bigger moments falling flat.
Throwing out the film’s lack of much of a story, which actually works because the film follows the old Terminator style action formula of being a series of chase sequences connected to one another, the film’s main problem is that in replacing Mel Gibson they’ve found someone who looks the part but doesn’t have the same gravitas that Gibson does. Hardy’s credible in the role but he’s not an actor able to carry a film like this. His attempt at Gibson’s famed stoicism comes off as bored, mainly, and there’s a reason why he’s a supporting character in his own film. Hardy the actor is best when he’s not front and center, carrying the heavy load, in big ensemble pieces like Fury Road ultimately is.
Director: George Miller Writer: George Miller, Brendan McCarthy and Nick Lathouris Notable Cast: Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron, Nicholas Hoult, Hugh Keays-Byrne, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Zoe Kravitz, Riley Keough, Abbey Lee, Courtney Eaton