Relentless, sometimes drearily so, but ultimately impressively spectacular. I wouldn’t recommend watching this in 3D as it turns the beginning into a huge mess – what’s meant to be a frantic and high octane intro to the film just looks like it’s playing in fast forward with overly jerky camera action despite the impressive stunts on display, as we are introduced to main character Max Rockatansky (Tom Hardy) just as he is being introduced to his captors for the immediate future.
This is the fourth time director and writer George Miller (he was joined by Brendan McCarthy and Nico Lathouris for the screenplay) has brought Max to life onscreen, the previous three ventures being with Mel Gibson in ‘Mad Max’ (79), ‘Mad Max 2 : The Road Warrior’ (81) and ‘Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome’ (85), and it’s a series that not only made historic returns at the box office and became a cornerstone of the Australian cinematic boom at the time, but also one that begins in a future dystopia that isn’t visually too removed from our own modern experience and then it heads steadily downward into increasingly archaic and savage distortions of humanity, with disparate tribes living rough in the remaining desert lands of civilisation: all scarce essentials tightly controlled and contested for by gasoline craving heavily armed tribes. This latest instalment continues that downward trajectory and takes it to the nth level with a production scale that is simply mammoth and a central character who’s sanity is constantly prayed upon by his own haunted memories, standing very much as the metaphysical portal to the living hell that surrounds him.
The personal element with Max’s backstory is overplayed and it kind of drags, especially since many will already know what happened from the original film, and although it could anchor a degree of canonical lineage the Max onscreen here is very much a rejuvenation of the character rather than the original a little further down the line from ‘Beyond Thunderdome’. Similarly, it’s the simpler things that detract from the film – the writing in non-action scenarios often feels weak, such as central characters trusting one another too quickly for example, and so too with the direction in these quieter, relatively speaking, moments. The vast majority of the film focuses on a road chase and here the scale of the production is immediately apparent, and indeed it must have been a complete nightmare to film but these sections have been pulled off extremely well, to the extent that they must be a shoe-in for the Oscars, but again it becomes difficult to engage with the same thing happening repeatedly and there is no real grounding for the audience with the characters, as Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa and Nicholas Hoult as Nux join the central fray along with Rosie Huntington-Whiteley as The Splendid Angharad in her second role since ‘Transformers : Dark of the Moon’ (11).
All the actors very much look the part and Hoult and Hardy do really well, although there remains something a little too refined and soft about Theron for the setting, but where the film shines is when Max hatches his plan for the finale. You very much share in the other characters’ initial reaction to the idea as although in theory it sounds fine, the execution they have planned sounds more than a little foolhardy – but my goodness do they make a proper go of displaying it on film, and it’s this that really lifts the movie back out of the humdrum desolation it was heading into.
As a bit of an aside, at one point in the film they come across a lone tree in the wilderness, the first they’ve seen, and they end up using it as a harness and uprooting the thing – it’s possible, albeit extremely unlikely, that this could be a nod in the direction of the Arbre du Tenere, a tree which was thought to be one of the most isolated living things on Earth standing in the middle of the desert in Niger as the only one for hundreds of miles in any direction and as such it was used by nomads as a waymarker for centuries. Standing, that is, until a reputedly drunk Libyan truck driver accidentally ploughed it over one day. It must be quite an impressive claim to fame to hit the only obstacle that exists within a several hundred mile radius. It’s in a museum now.