As any film buff will understand, even if they won’t admit it, there’s a certain sense of pulling yourself out of a modern point of view that’s required when looking at films regarded as cinematic classics. Everything from acting styles to achievements in cinematography that are revolutionary at one point can look quaint when compared to something newer. George Miller’s series of Mad Max films qualify, to a degree. While well-crafted films with a surprising amount of action over plot, Mad Max, The Road Warrior and Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome all were so influential on action cinema, they can’t help but look a tiny bit tame when compared to the action films dominating screens today.
And yet, all the new hotshots lack a certain spark Miller brought to the screen. So leave it to the 70-year-old writer/director, who’s spent the last few decades working on live action and animated children’s films, to return to the series that began his career three decades after the final film in that initial series and once again show every wannabe action director how it’s done. Like a boss.
From the frugally-budgeted Mad Max to increasingly expensive sequels The Road Warrior and Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, Miller increased the scale of action with each film, as well as the sense of dystopia. With a budget easily dwarfing the cumulative totals of those previous three films, Mad Max: Fury Road brings the franchise roaring into the 21st century. What’s more, rather than turning the new film into something more akin to standard studio fare than the Aussie indie spirit of the previous films, Miller takes his huge budget and pours it into the practical effects, complete with insane stunt work and stunning pyrotechnics. With technology at a far more advanced level than it was over 30 years ago, Miller takes advantage of everything to create something that’s true to the spirit of Mad Max, while still fresh and exciting.
Fans of the franchise or newcomers with no previous experience with Mad Max should find themselves on equal footing heading into the film. The series has never held a strong sense of continuity to begin with, and the jump forward in years here results in only one returning cast member – of sorts (more on that momentarily). Stepping into the role that launched Mel Gibson to fame (long before he became Mad Mel), Tom Hardy brings a barely contained ferocity to the character that more closely resembles madness than any of Gibson’s turns. He’s also, for large stretches of the film, not the film’s primary focus. That role instead belongs to Charlize Theron’s Imperator Furiosa, giving a ferocious performance on par with Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley.
The film finds Furiosa smuggling the “property” of villain Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne, who played lead villain Toecutter in the original Mad Max) – five women who make up a harem of breeders for Joe – away for greener pastures. The Mad Max films have rarely used a plot as a primary focus, but what’s interesting about Fury Road is that its primary plot pits imprisoned women against a man who regards all women as property, and the mindless “War Boys” who follow Joe’s every command in anticipation of a glorious death. No wonder the so-called Men’s Rights Activists are worried: one of the most badass film franchises in history is calling them out.
Whether Fury Road is the start to a new series of Mad Max films, or ends up being a one-shot return from Miller, it’s hard to argue with the results of his return. This isn’t The Phantom Menace, and George Lucas isn’t out to ruin the beloved films of your childhood. Fury Road is a gloriously dark return to nearly non-stop action, punctuated by plainly stated philosophical points. It’s a master of the genre showing everyone how it’s done. What an accomplishment.