Things have changed for Mad Max, and evidently, given that it has been a whole thirty years since Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome rounded off director George Miller’s original trio of movies, things have had to.
Mad Max: Fury Road, the fourth installment in the series, features Tom Hardy as Max Rockatansky, an incarnation for a new generation, succeeding Mel Gibson in the role but still staying true to Max’s character as a tough, hardened, yet mostly silent and unassuming protagonist. Hardy undoubtedly excels under this MO, as he has always been an actor capable of telling a story not merely verbally, but physically as well—as his performances in The Dark Knight Rises and Bronson show. Likewise, Hardy’s Max succeeds in being characteristically laconic with his lines and more of a physical storyteller. This can be taken as symptomatic of the fact that Fury Road’s great strength, like its predecessors, admittedly lies not in its script, but in its action.
Indeed, you might be excused for believing Fury Road contains more crashes, gunfire, and explosions than actual words. Charlize Theron plays the role of Imperator Furiosa, a servant of the cult leader Immortan Joe, who goes rogue, the ramifications of which provide the film with its plot. Theron’s character, who arguably overshadows Max himself (although this is perhaps unsurprising given Max’s economical use of words) has received praise for the feminist agency which she seems to emphasis. Whether or not Fury Road is centrally concerned with feminism, and whether we can consider it a fundamentally feminist film, is ultimately up for debate. Nevertheless Theron’s Furiosa forms a rewarding interplay with Hardy’s Max, and the two characters form an entertaining centre for the movie’s drama.
Moments of quiet are few and far between in this film, denoting a significant change from the originals. While they were much more concerned with a concerted building towards explosive crescendos and final conclusions, between which Gibson was allowed longer periods of respite, for Fury Road the high-octane chase scenes constitute the norm. The film runs for 120 minutes, and for the overwhelming bulk of this we view Max and Furiosa, with the Five Wives, fleeing on a War Rig truck from Immortan Joe and his followers, with almost relentless amounts of smash-mouth action thrown into the mix. In doing this, Fury Road does sacrifice some of the subtlety of its predecessors’ storylines—best characterised by Road Warrior—and this may be somewhat of a turn-off for fans of the franchise who are more familiar with Miller’s earlier style of directing.
However, Miller’s decision is a conscious one, not merely driven by superficial Hollywood designs on over-indulging the audience nor by a Michael Bay-esque fascination with gratuitous explosions which have plagued many recent blockbuster action movies. Fury Road’s wild action functions as the movie’s basis rather than its height of tension. Action is its foundation, and one which I would argue fittingly underpins the post-apocalyptic setting of Mad Max with a fiery, hard-hitting purity—possibly in a more effective style than that of its prequels.
The action rarely ceases, as the film progresses the more seems to ratchet up its ruthless speed, volume, and elaborate chase scenes and it cannot be denied that Fury Road eschews some of the more subtle elements of past Mad Max titles in order to make room for this. However, as substitute it promises the audience a compelling cinematic experience with even more grisly intensity, dystopian harshness, and breakneck speed. Fury Road delivers on this promise in abundance and with unrelenting enthusiasm. The film is not without problems, and I must admit at first viewing the gratuitous amount of action scenes seem to verge on being excessive, detrimental to its pacing, and in danger of over-saturating the film. In this Miller has made alterations to his earlier filmmaking philosophy, and this ultimately gives Mad Max a slightly different direction and identity, despite the familiar surroundings of vast desert landscapes and manic car chases. Indeed, it can be argued this change of pacing, where speed and action are king, creates a film which is much more true to the idea of Mad Max. Every single long-time fan of the franchise may not find this change to their liking, but ultimately I believe it is one Miller handles carefully and effectively, while making sure not to completely forsake what made the original films so entertaining.
Overall, Mad Max: Fury Road can still easily claim to be one of the best mainstream action movies of recent times, and in this alone it is worth the watch for new and old Mad Max fans alike.