When it comes to Mad Max, I’m more of a Thunderdome guy than a Road Warrior guy.
That’s blasphemy to many, indeed, though I certainly don’t diminish the importance of Part II to global genre cinema. Thunderdome, in fact, could not exist without it (allegations of theft homage from Russell Hoban’s Riddley Walker notwithstanding). But as much as I dig Humungus and Wez, Thunderdome has Aunty Entity, Master Blaster, Savannah Nix, Scrooloos, Jedediah the Pilot and Jed Jr., Ironbar Bassey and more, all of them developed, unique characters in a world whose visual scope has been expanded beyond anything Mad Max viewers in 1979 could have dreamed. (It’s also possible that the added depth is a result of Miller mostly directing the action parts, and having codirector George Ogilvie do much of the rest.)
Fury Road gives its players equally evocative monikers – Toast the Knowing, Cheedo the Fragile, Rictus Erectus and The Splendid Angharad are among the GWAR-like new names for fans to devour (in a bit that would make the late Oderus Urungus proud, there’s even a guitar player who looks like a Hellraiser Cenobite and spurts flame ejaculations from his instrument). But it doesn’t have time to slow down and reveal their characters at any great length – the entire movie is one big, long, vehicle chase through the desert (you really don’t have to worry much about spoilers, because that literally is 99% of the entire plot). If you’re a Road Warrior guy, Valhalla awaits. If you’re me? You’ll still have a lot of fun…while hoping a potential sequel delivers more world-building than can be obtained behind the wheel of a truck.
The Mad Max movies have always had somewhat loose continuity, which can in part be explained by the fact that the previous sequels are narrated by peripheral characters who may have unreliable memories. In the original, things were simply set in a world where crime was outpacing the cops, the second was after an unspecified war for resources, and only the third specifically mentions fallout and radiation. Fury Road, which replaces Mel Gibson with Tom Hardy, gives us nuclear blast footage upfront to let you know it is that kind of apocalypse, and periodically haunts Max with visions of dead people, who might be his family, or some of the people he tried to help in previous films. Unlike the Man With (Almost) No Name figure Max became before, this returns our main character to having a very specific backstory – even if it’s one we’re not fully told – and restores his “Rockatansky” surname. It’s also not narrated by anyone else, so we must assume this story is the true one.
After his signature Interceptor is run deep into the dirt by bandits, Max awakens in the fiefdom of Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne, who played the Toecutter in the original Mad Max), a despot something of a cross between Dune’s Baron Harkonnen and “Eddie,” the all-purpose fashion zombie from all the Iron Maiden album covers. Served by an army of pale-skinned, mutant “War Boys” and feared by the radiation-stricken locals to whom he cruelly rations out the supply of fresh water he has found deep underground, Joe saves the last beautiful women on earth to be his personal breeding stock. But when Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron, basically playing a grown-up Tank Girl), who’s been sent to trade with a nearby oil-drilling town, absconds with his harem instead, Joe gets pissed and pursues.
Max is dragged into it all when young War Boy Nux (Nicholas Hoult) uses him as blood transfusion fodder, and ties him to the hood of his car in an extremely ironic Bane mask while still hooked up to the IV, all so Nux can singlehandedly retrieve the traitors and die a hero (the War Boys appear to have borrowed heavily from Vikings in their spiritual lives). As usual, Max just wants to escape alive and be left alone, but is forced into a situation where he has to stand with the good guys (or, in this case, women). Amusingly enough, the plot is not dissimilar to that of the ’80s Road Warrior ripoff Hell Comes to Frogtown, where Rowdy Roddy Piper’s Sam Hell saved the world’s last fertile ladies from mutant amphibians.
It all comes back around…though unlike Sam Hell, Nu-Max would rather see his female allies carrying weapons than children. Mel Gibson may no longer be here, but the affinity for self-flagellation and sacrifice remains part of his breakthrough character. As does a sort-of Australian accent – Hardy appears to be trying for a Gibson impersonation even as a bit of Welsh seems to slip out at times. Perhaps it’s for the best he doesn’t say much.
Director George Miller has made a big deal about everything being real, and not relying on CG. This is much appreciated when it comes to the way cars crash and overturn, but not a completely credible claim – if Immortan Joe’s steampunk world isn’t significantly digitally enhanced, I’ll believe it when I see the Blu-ray extras and not before. Somewhat more disappointing, however, is Miller giving in to the temptation to shoot fistfights in that current Fast/Furious style that looks like a mix of undercranking and drop-frame. (Despite my recent criticism of Avengers 2, I give it and other Marvel movies major props for showing most fights in real-time without any stuttery affectations.) Miller doesn’t mess around with his car chases, but his former leading man should have reminded him that you don’t want to skimp on showing pain and suffering during person-to-person brawls.
I’d love to tell you how the 3D is, as some scenes are quite clearly made with it in mind, but none of the advance screenings for press were in 3D, supposedly because Miller prefers it seen in 2D. Then again, at a recent Q&A in Los Angeles, Miller also opined that he’d rather you saw it in black and white, an option Warner Bros. is not indulging. However, since it does have color, he has amped it up, wanting to stress a visual departure from the now-standard desaturated apocalypse look. I hope that when I do see it in 3D – and the fact that I want to tells you it’s a worthwhile task – I’ll find he has had a similar philosophy there. Since the movie exists primarily as sensation cranked up to 10, I’m thinking and hoping 3D Imax will blast it to 11, where it belongs.
Fury Road is meant to kick ass, and your buttocks will feel sufficiently bruised, no question. My own personal taste in Max is that he have less backstory and as many adventures off the road as on, but I can’t begrudge his creator for going in another direction that is loved by more. Plus, with Max still out there somewhere, again…there is always hope.
Luke Y. Thompson has been writing professionally about movies and pop-culture since 1999, and has also been an actor in some extremely cheap culty and horror movies you will probably never hear much about (he is nonetheless mostly proud of them, as he met his wife on one). As editor of The Robot's Voice since 2012, he can take the blame for the majority of the site's content, all of which he creates because he loves you very, very much. (Although he loves nachos more. Sorry.)
Prior to TRV, Luke wrote for publications that include the New Times LA, Los Angeles CityBeat, E! Online, OC Weekly, Geekweek, GeekChicDaily, The L.A. Times, The Village Voice, LA Weekly, and Nerdist