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Mad Max: Fury Road

Following his recent Mad Max retrospective, Andrew Brooker returns to take a look at George Miller’s latest entry to the series. Spoiler: he bloody loves it.

by Andrew Brooker (@Brooker411)

mad max fury road“It’s a lovely day.”

It’s been 36 years since George Miller changed the face of action movies and defined the post-apocalyptic genre for decades to come with his original vision of the future, Mad Max.  It’s been 34 years since he made one of the most iconic action films to ever grace the cinema, paving the way for a sea of imitators that lasted more than three decades and it’s been 30 years since the slight misfire that was Beyond Thunderdome.  With the kind of pedigree the Mad Max franchise has, you could be forgiven for being a little skeptical at a reimagining of the title a few decades after the last one has been and gone.

Mad Max: Fury Road has had a turbulent time getting to us. Green lit 15 years ago once a script was completed and returning helmer George Miller was ready to shoot. Cast changes, a complete location shift from the Australian outback to the African desert and a huge delay to reshoot large portions of the film had us wondering if we would ever see the film.  Coming dangerously close to becoming the stuff of myth and legend, Fury Road seemed destined to find a permanent home in development hell, never to see the light of day.

Thankfully, today the world can see the film that nearly wasn’t. The film that looked like it had been canned more than once over the years and frankly, the film that everyone needs to see.

Now bear with me, because I’m going to start with a negative.  My one and only problem with Mad Max: Fury Road is that I simply don’t know what I can and can’t talk about. I usually base those decisions solely on what’s been shown in a film’s trailer but even the ads are a bit spoiler-ish and as such I avoided them all.  Every scene should be experienced unspoiled and fresh on that big screen without having ever seen it before.  On top of that, it’s a Mad Max film. These films have very little story to them and are instead all about the visuals and the feelings those visuals emote in its audience.  With that in mind, and I hope I’m allowed to do this, If you want to see the film unspoiled as I suggest, skip straight down to the last paragraph for my wrap-up and come back when you’ve seen the film. I promise there will be no spoilers, I will keep to what has been shown in the marketing for the most part, with an occasional bit added for context and elaboration, but I’ll be talking about a few details I was very appreciative of not knowing much about on my first viewing.

Still with me? Right.

Mad Max: Fury Road is essentially a reboot of the series that forgoes the world building of the first film. So instead of being a complete restart to the story, we first meet Max an unspecified amount of time after he’s lost his family to the brutal gangs that run amok across the post-nuclear wasteland of Australia. Having already spent years foraging for food and gas, The ever brilliant Tom Hardy takes on the title character, replacing Mel Gibson and making the role his own.  Hardy’s Max comes to us a broken shell, near feral, being chased across the sand by the ferocious War Boys, a savage tribe of warriors led by the terrifying Immortan Joe (brilliantly played by Hugh Keays-Byrne – the original Mad Max’s “Toecutter”). Within a minute of the opening shot, former cop Max Rockatansy’s iconic Pursuit Special is destroyed and Max is taken prisoner, branded and stuck in a cage in Joe’s Citadel, a fortress built into the rocks of the outback, and left to rot.

While this is happening, Joe’s best rig driver, Imperator Furiosa, played wonderfully by the amazing Charlize Theron, has taken a detour on a routine transport run prompting suspicions from the War Boys and their leader.  It quickly transpires that Furiosa has helped Immortan Joe’s wives escape their captivity, running from their lives of forced breeding for the self-appointed king and desperately searching for a safe place to continue their lives free of servitude. The War Boys give chase, and so begins the greatest 110 minute chase scene in the history of film.

For reasons best left alone for fear of ruining way too much, Max finds himself joining Imperator Furiosa on her war rig, fighting against King Joe and his tribe battling to get his prized harem back from the traitor that took them from him. Cutting a path through the wasteland in their heavily armoured tanker truck, Max and Furiosa find themselves in a frantic, constantly moving vehicular skirmish as the tribe calls for backup from the outlying gangs and tribes that hunt in the desert. As the numbers against them increase, the odds seem to get ever more hopeless for the road warriors who are in just as much danger from the road ahead of them as they are from the crazed animals in cars behind them.

As was the way all those years ago, Mad Max: Fury Road‘s genius isn’t so much in its story as it is in its design. Not one detail is missed and not one thing you’ll see is an accident. The cars have been meticulously built to be functional but look menacing.  From one tribes bug looking vehicles that have been covered in spikes to the huge truck that has only one purpose; to house every speaker known to man, four guys on drums and one guy playing an insane guitar that spits fire from its neck at random intervals. I kid you not, no matter how I describe it, you won’t believe it when you see it and you won’t be able to keep from laughing at it when it appears. It’s spectacularly stupid and hilariously brilliant. If any other film done that, you’d up and walk out of the theatre shaking your head in disgust, but George Miller has weaved a world so good, so colourful and so absolutely bonkers that a dude playing fiery guitar on a sand truck not only makes absolute sense, but it fits right in!

The vehicular carnage in Fury Road will be a yard stick for years to come. All action scenes will be compared to these for the next few years as the film turns everything up to eleven as it crushes, rips apart and blows up enough cars and trucks to fill a decent sized service station. The first big chase alone, the chase that introduces Furiosa and Max was a 20 minute spectacle that when it ended, when the screen was filled with light and silence, I discovered I’d been holding my breath and was literally on the edge of my seat. I was relieved it was over so I could relax, have a swig of my drink and take a couple of breaths.  Almost as soon as I had relaxed and my heart had returned to its normal rate, Mad Max: Fury Road pushes yet another adrenaline fuelled skirmish onto the screen and makes you sit in awe as Miller find more spectacularly twisted ways of destroying cars, trucks and people as Max, Furiosa and the Wives try to get to their destination in one piece.

Now don’t be fooled. This isn’t The Road Warrior and Max isn’t protecting a fragile group of people that don’t know how to defend themselves.  Here, Max is simply along for the ride and has found himself in the middle of an escape plan hatched and executed by Imperator Furiosa and the women she is helping escape. Almost surplus to requirements, Max has met a group that can be just as ferocious as he is and are just as determined to survive the harsh landscape on their own.  Charlize Theron does an amazing job of bringing Furiosa to the screen and in the illustrious tradition of Ellen Ripley and Sarah Connor before her, the deadly war rig driver stands proud as one of the greatest, strongest female characters ever to grace our screens.  Holding her own against the biggest and baddest of Immortan Joe’s army, Furiosa and the wives are more than capable of standing up for themselves and keeping themselves alive when the odds are seemingly against them.

Last generation, almost every action film was influenced, some more than others, by George Miller’s original Mad Max films.  The director had created the epitome of on-screen action and everybody needed to take their cues from him to be taken seriously.  Now, a new generation of films and filmmakers are coming. And every single one of them will be turning to Fury Road for guidance and inspiration.  Redefining a genre Miller himself created almost four decades ago, Mad Max: Fury Road is nothing short of a masterpiece. Amazingly filmed, beautifully visceral combat; stunning visuals and an amazing score all added to the near flawless acting and the direction that makes you want to get up and cheer throughout the film; they all combine to make one of the best cinematic experiences I’ve had in quite some time.  I can’t recommend this film enough.  It is, in a word, perfect.

Mad Max: A Retrospective

Ahead of next week’s release of Mad Max: Fury Road, we’re taking a retrospective look back over George Miller’s original trilogy of post-apocalyptic action films.

by Andrew Brooker (@Brooker411)

mad maxI’m scared, Fif. You know why? It’s that rat circus out there. I’m beginning to enjoy it.

Back in 1979, George Miller exploded onto the scene with low budget action film Mad Max. Having only previously made a short with his buddy, Mad Max producer Byron Kennedy, Miller brought a vision of the future to the screen rarely seen before. Wrapped in a real life fear with an unmistakable prediction for our future, Max’s world was one of chaos. A world shaped by the population’s relentless desire to keep their vehicles running on the increasingly rare petrol that we took for granted before the oil wells dried.

Casting a then unknown Mel Gibson, a man with only one theatrical film credit at the time (and honestly, do you remember the Australian “thriller” Summer City? Rated a spectacular 4/10 on IMDB? Me neither) with no money, a star no one had heard of and with nothing to lose, George Miller put his heart and soul into a film that, if it had gone badly, could have ended his film making career before it had even had a chance to splutter into life.

Now this was the late seventies. A time long before just the hint of a film idea had studios clambering to find room on their lots to film a trilogy, or more. A time before people would be walking out of the cinema already talking about a sequel and a time before franchises were churned out into multiplexes no matter how successful, or unsuccessful, they were. So when you see that Mad Max spawned a trilogy in a time where trilogy meant Star Wars and The Godfather, NOT the Alvin and the Chipmunks or the bloody Transformers, you know it was something special.

On what amounts to a shoestring budget, George Miller created a dystopian world to simultaneously amaze and depress us. And with Miller returning to the desert soon with Mad Max: Fury Road, now seems as good a time as any to revisit the trilogy that launched Gibson to superstardom and gave Miller a directorial career that spans more than 35 years. I wanted the franchise fresh in my mind ready for the fourth instalment, I wanted to return to the world I first visited as a kid and most importantly, I wanted to see if the trilogy still held up today as one of the greats and it isn’t, as so many things are nowadays, simply being held together with fond, rose-tinted nostalgia.

1] Mad Max (1979)

Budget: $350,000

Gross: $8,750,000

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 91%

Law and order is beginning to collapse as fuel, the worlds most replied upon resource, becomes it’s most precious. Set “a few years from now”, Mad Max is the story of Mel Gibson’s Max Rockatansky. Policeman, and top pursuit driver for Australia’s Highway Patrol, the MFP.

The thing that makes Mad Max stand out amongst a lot of other films, is that at less than 90 minutes, it wastes very little time on action scenes and set-pieces that it doesn’t need. Opting instead to spend the majority of its run time building the world and letting the audience become a part of it. After a spectacular 10 minute car chase, ok, not The French Connection or Ronin kind of spectacular, but it was pretty great, the film spends an hour with very little going on as it elects to instead flesh out its characters and tell the story that Miller wants– no, needs to tell.

You see, Mad Max‘s concept came from an international crisis just a few years earlier. For many and varied political reasons the Arab nations that control the vast majority of oil in the world declared an embargo against the U.S. and their allies in a show of strength against them. Knowing they couldn’t combat them in a traditional, military sense, these nations hit the Americans where it hurt the most. Their wallets. By cutting off the main supply of oil, the import cost for the U.S. went through the roof and made the price of a barrel of oil nigh on unbearable. Anyways…

This was the basis for Mad Max; a world where fuel is a rarity and people will do anything to get heir hands on more. A world that grows ever more dark and violent as gangs carve their way through the country and terrify the general population. The gangs and the Main Force Patrol clash on the roads, bringing mayhem and destruction with them and only offering a passing glance to the safety of the people anywhere near these vehicular skirmishes.

Maxs madness comes when his friends and his family are caught in the crossfire of this long running war. Maniacal gang leader “Toecutter” (played by the terrifyingly brilliant Hugh Keays-Byrne) and his band of ultra-violent misfits gradually feel the wrath of a man who tried very hard to do the right thing by his family, his friends and the law and instead becomes the thing he feared the most. One of them. In an effort to be the good guy, Max had to become the thing he has spent his life trying to protect others from and to make sure that no one else has to go through what he has, he must do the despicable and wipe these animals off the face of the earth.

Max spends the last 20 minutes or so systematically pulling apart Toecutter’s gang in some fun and imaginative ways. Taking all of his rage out on the bikers that ruined his life, making sure they can’t do it to anyone else, Rockatansky becomes wrath incarnate as the final, maybe the film’s most famous, scene comes to an end and the credits roll we all take a breath and know we’ve just watched something special.

Made on a modest $350,000, Mad Max made millions of dollars back and not only rocketed its star and its director straight into the limelight, but made a sequel an all-but-guaranteed thing.

2] Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior (1981)

Budget: $4,000,000

Gross: $23,667,907

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 100%

The turnaround from the first Mad Max making a tremendous profit to us getting a sequel wasn’t long at all. Only a couple of years after we saw Max become a one man army, we are reunited with the “Road Warrior” as he lives a lone wolf kind of life, moving across the ruined countryside searching for his next meal or his car’s next fill-up. One man alone has become one man and his dog as the world goes from a slightly recognisable dystopia to a full-on, no more law left post-apocalyptic wasteland. And with a bigger budget and some studio confidence, George Miller spent a lot of time and attention (along with his production crew, of course) crafting a world that not only looked menacing and hopeless, but one that also become the benchmark for post-apocalyptic settings for years to come. Influencing media across all forms. You can see Mad Max 2‘s DNA still seeping through as recently as films like Book of Eli and even in video games like Rage.

If Mad Max was the story of a man losing his humanity, Mad Max 2, sometimes subtitled “The Road Warrior” is the story of how that same jaded soul finds a reason to dig deep and find some compassion as the film takes a page or two from almost every western ever made and has Mel Gibson’s leading man protecting a settlement from leather and rubber clad marauders intent on stealing supplies.

The bad guys definitely get to see the majority of the film’s increased production value. There is a notable change in the aesthetic of anything that isn’t a good guy. Cars aren’t just cars, they are all heavily modified death machines with a Death Race look about them with gang members all leather-clad and using old tyres to make those awesome 80’s shoulder pads. The film’s critically acclaimed costume design begins with lead baddie, “The Humungus”, a terrifying individual who wears a hockey mask, an uncomfortable looking pair of pants and a bizarre S&M harness and it pretty much ends with his lieutenant, Wez. Wez is a mohawked psychopath who terrifies the populace in arseless chaps! Ok, so maybe it’s not the greatest costume design ever, but for its time it’s a spectacular vision of the near future and more than 30 years later it still holds up as one of the best original post-apocalyptic films ever made.

Widely lauded as the best of the trilogy, Mad Max 2 still holds a 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and has a thoroughly well deserved cult status amongst film lovers across the world. An amazing sequel that turns the original’s formula on its head by switching tension building drama for telling it’s story through its action sequences. If Road Warrior has a flaw, it’s that one of the greatest action films ever made somehow spawned…

3] Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome (1985)

Budget: $12,000,000

Gross: $36,230,219

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 82%

The problem with Mad Max 3 isn’t that it’s bad. It kind of is, but that’s not its biggest issue. Beyond Thunderdome‘s main issues come from the fact that it simply tried too damn hard. It tried to be bigger and better than Road Warrior and not only falls short, it stumbles almost immediately and never quite picks itself up.

Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome can only really be described as silly. Its premise is a good one but it’s poorly executed. The idea that 25 years after the events of the second film society would have learned to build themselves into little communities that have learn to NOT kill each other is a great one. Power struggles and the fight for the fuel that must have surely run out by now should add nothing but tension but it just plays out as daft. Ok, so they worked out how to get fuel into their film and added a pig crap methane factory thing that produces the energy for the Tina Turner controlled “Bartertown”, but it doesn’t explain how a dude that lives in a little area in the desert that’s surprisingly reminiscent of the house Luke Skywalker lives in on Tatooine has a plane that never runs out of fuel.

Even the film’s titular battle arena disappoints. Thunderdome is a giant cage, built to house two people who fight to the death. But it comes off as ridiculous when the men are attached to giant elastic ropes and forced to bounce around the giant birdcage like a pair of rubbish Cirque Du Soleil performers who have had one too many alco-pops!

Everything from production to story has gone down the tubes! Costumes have gone from looking like they were actually scavenged by the people wearing them to looking far too clean and precisely cut (I’m of course forgetting the buttless trousers) and the story forgoes the brutality of its predecessors and instead somehow turns into a slightly more violent version of Hook, right down to the silly looking Lost Boys.

Mad Max 3 falls into the same pit as so many third instalments. It tries way too hard to prove itself relevant and simply falls flat. If Mad Max 2 is the film that all the post-apocalyptic movies since have tried to be, Beyond Thunderdome is the film they have tried hard not to be compared to. Not only is it the poorest of the trilogy, it’s easily the one to have fared the worst against the test of time.

And that can only leave us with…

4] Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)

Budget: $150,000,000

Gross: –

Rotten Tomatoes Score: –

30 years since the last film and 15 years since the movie was officially green lit by Warner Brothers, George Miller returns to the wasteland with Mad Max: Fury Road. Tom Hardy will be taking the title role, joined by Charlize Theron as we return to the desolate world that has been influencing Hollywood for almost four decades.
Only time will tell if Miller and his new star can relight the fire that Thunderdome kicked sand all over.

Fury Road will be released in UK cinemas on 14th May 2015. Brooker will be back to review it for the site soon after, and you’ll be able to hear our podcast review some days later.