We often attach the phrase “big action movie” to the qualifier “dumb,” but when it comes to seeing this Big Action Movie, you should check your expectations at the door, because it’s nowhere near as dumb as you might think.
Coming thirty years after the previous instalment, Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, the new Mad Max: Fury Road sees the return of George Miller to the same post-apocalyptic world that made the original trilogy so iconic. Replacing Mel Gibson as the stoic Max Rockatansky is English actor Tom Hardy who has proven himself to be somewhat of an acting chameleon and here even adopts a pretty convincing Aussie accent.
When the movie begins, Max is on the run, unclean, unshaven, more than a little feral. He is quickly taken prisoner by the peons of King Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne), who controls the land because he controls the water supply. It’s actually pretty ingenious that we learn all of this in a few minutes, with Miller and co. finding the fastest way to thrust the audience into the action with minimal exposition.
Max finds himself strapped to a car, muzzled with a steel device, with his blood being gradually stolen to feed the life of one of Immortan Joe’s irradiated, cancer-stricken drivers, played by British actor Nicholas Hoult, who many viewers will remember from zombie romance Warm Bodies (or as the weedy kid in About a Boy). After surviving a traumatic accident, Max meets up with Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) who is attempting to steal away Joe’s “prize breeders” (a group of comely young women who have been kept as sex slaves) to what they refer to as “the green place.”
The action is exactly what it was in the first Mad Max films - high speed chases on enormous rocket-powered rigs decked out with spikes and explosive spears. It may sound dull, but watching this succession of chases was the most tense I’ve been while watching a movie since I saw Sandra Bullock hurtling through space in Gravity.
It’s loud and full of explosions, but it’s shot in such a steady, controlled way that you never lose track of what’s happening. There’s something almost cartoonish about the action that is actually rather endearing when you get used to it.
The film still bears the same punk-influenced aesthetic that defined its predecessors and betrays its late-70s origins. In some ways it’s a little dated - we could all do without the peon whose job, it seems, is to play a fire-spouting electric guitar in front of a huge mobile stack of amplifiers - but in other ways it's actually very charming, as is the pervasive Aussie-ness of the whole thing. Melbourne model Abbey Lee Kershaw as one of the escapees in particular gets some of the funniest lines, delivered with her clipped Australian brogue.
Speaking of those "runaway brides", it may seem like a classic damsels in distress story, but they are far fiercer than they seem to be at first. Later on, the group meets up with a kind of gang of post-apocalyptic Spice Girls, pushing Girl Power without condescension and bringing the film’s final act to a rousing climax. The cargo is precious, but the film adds layers of urgency when it quickly reveals that no one is untouchable.
As far as action movies go, this is a pretty damn good one. The actors, particularly Charlize Theron as the bereaved Furiosa, shine in the quieter moments, and the technical aspects of the film are amazing in the action sequences. Some of the effects look a little bit hokey (particularly when seeing the film in 2D rather than the intended 3D) and Max himself comes across as a bit too enigmatic, but overall Mad Max: Fury Road is a well-made, absolutely gripping piece of action cinema that deserves its place alongside its iconic predecessors.
Mad Max: Fury Road is in cinemas now.