Director George Miller has described his first Mad Max film in 30 years as a “western on wheels”, but that’s seriously underselling this turbo-charged reboot. It’s set in the same post-apocalyptic wasteland as the Australian’s classic 1979-1985 trilogy – an influence on everything from the Saw horror movies to Mötley Crüe’s 1980s stage costumes – but tells a completely different story to its predecessors.
Miller – whose last film was 2011 penguin animation Happy Feet Two – doesn’t waste time trying to connect Mad Max: Fury Road to the earlier films, in which Mel Gibson’s Max sought to restore order in a lawless dystopian society. Instead, he dives straight into a minimal plot. Tom Hardy takes over from Gibson as former highway patrolman “Mad” Max Rockatansky, starring opposite Charlize Theron as new character Imperator Furiosa, a rig-driving renegade who’s every bit Max’s equal.
Furiosa is an enigmatic heroine with a prosthetic left arm seeking unexplained “redemption”. Her mission is to drive a 78-foot vehicle called the “War Rig” across the desert to the Utopian “green place” to secure safety for her cargo, the five wives of tyrant King Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne, who played a different villain, Toecutter, in 1979’s original). After escaping from Immortan Joe’s brainwashed army, a sickly-looking clan called the War Boys that includes former Skins star Nicholas Hoult in his most manic role yet, Max joins Furiosa and the fleeing harem. “My world is reduced to a single instinct: survive,” he growls at the start.
This simple premise drives an over-inflated, super-sized chase movie, as Immortan Joe’s bloodthirsty men and their convoy of ludicrously pimped-up trucks, muscle cars and motorbikes pursue Furiosa’s War Rig. Dialogue is sporadic but noise is constant. Junkie XL, the Dutch producer behind 2001’s chart-topping remix of Elvis Presley’s ‘A Little Less Conversation’, supplies a suitably bombastic score, and for reasons never explained, one of the War Boys’ trucks houses a stack of amps and a masked guitarist blasting out massive metal riffs. Mad Max: Fury Road is simply that kind of film.
It’s also a film packed with epic action sequences including a screen-devouring sandstorm, shedloads of exploding automobiles and a craggy canyon collapsing onto a speeding 18-wheeler truck. This relentless onslaught of thrills, spills and burning grilles is made even memorable by the bleached out backdrop from Oscar-winning cinematographer John Seale The English Patient, who Miller tempted out of retirement to create the vibrant and sometimes freakish visuals. In one of the grizzlier scenes, Immortan Joe harvests breast milk from four massively overweight women in a sort of human dairy.
Everything about Mad Max:Fury Road is as ridiculous and thrilling as it sounds, but Miller’s film also has heart. The unspoken bond that gradually develops between Theron’s stoic Furiosa and Hardy’s buff, grunting Max is unexpectedly touching, and provides an emotionally satisfying conclusion to what is surely the most exhilarating film of 2015 so far.