Director George Miller’s original Mad Max, that came out in 1979, was a cinematic marvel in its own right, simply on the basis of what it aspired to be within the confines of its limited means. Made on a micro-mini budget, it had the car chases and crashes of a big-budget actioner, and probably one of the first action films to be set in a dystopian, post-apocalyptic world, a genre that churns out a couple of mediocre films every week in today’s times.
After spawning a commercially successful trilogy at the time, Miller is back 30 years later with Fury Road, his own attempt to contribute to the ongoing action films trend by harkening back to the franchise that started it all: Mad Max.
Fury Road borrows some of the better elements of the original trilogy, like it’s earthy and gritty tone and the concept of a world having reached the end of civilization and supply of natural resources like water and fuel. It has much the same feeling of crazy, weird adventure that came with the previous films. The format remains consistent too, with Max running into a new clan/group of outlawed thugs who love chasing people around in their modified vehicles.
Where it excels and rises above the past entries is in terms of a much more connected and coherent plot, and a few tinkerings with the character of Max himself. Gone is the Max Rockatansky who conversed through full length sentences and wisecracks. Instead, you mostly get bewildered or stony glares with one-word utterances (and a slightly awkward narration in the beginning) as a means of getting inside his head and reading his thoughts.
Also gone is the idea of keeping Max in the forefront of all the action, with other characters and storylines just revolving around his nomadic movements. In Fury Road, the action is much more spread out among a myriad of characters, most of all the killer driver of the oil rig Furiosa, and a demented looking, demented acting, allegiance-shifting Nux. There’s also a high-degree of world building and back stories, something that was severely lacking in the slightly one-note previous films.
But the fact of the matter is, you don’t really care about any of this stuff. You don’t really care that Max isn’t really the Max we’ve come to know thus far. We don’t really care whether any of the other characters hold our attention or not. Because the one department where Fury Road steps up it’s game exponentially is the gorgeous, oh-so-gorgeous action. George Miller, having created and lived with this world since the past 36 years, makes a seamless return to the deserts in the Australian outbacks, and clearly seems to have adjusted to the modern era of explosions and gory thrills. The car chases remain Miller’s staple go-to form of thrills, albeit at a scale he could’ve never imagined 30 years ago.
Miller, a newcomer at the time, is now a veteran and assured filmmaker in his own right, and it shows in both his conception and his execution. The action still remains very random, with colored flares blowing up in the sky and dust storms setting cars on a reddish fire. But it manages to achieve a level of visual extravagance and nerve wracking that you never got to see in the previous trilogy or in today’s superhero films. Cars have spokes jutting out of them, soldiers throw innocent-looking poles at vehicles that blow up in huge explosions, and amidst all the action, you have a stage-like truck on which a weirdly-dressed artist (?) seems to be performing live rock music (to boost the morale of the troops?).
Of course, with bigger budgets come bigger thrills and a grander vision, and with that come greater responsibilities. Right from the intricate writing to the complicated and eye-popping visual effects to the careful planning that went into creating the look of every vehicle and character (ghostly white men with lips having a threadlike pattern (!)), each and every aspect comes together perfectly to create the whacky, bizarre and eccentric world that Max survives in.
The biggest star of the film is surprisingly not Miller, but his cinematographer John Seale, who probably does his career-best work in bringing out the beauty of the rough terrains of the desert. His camera work is in keeping with the freaky, mysterious and oddball feel of the film. Considering how chaotic car chases are in general and how busy the car chases are in Fury Road, Seale does a hell of a job in keeping the clarity of each action, at the same time making each frame look like Picasso’s masterpiece. He is complemented well by Margaret Sixel’s efficient editing in the action sequences.
Miller also makes some interesting but eventually correct casting decisions with Fury Road. Choosing Tom Hardy to play the Max that was embodied earlier by Mel Gibson would’ve been a poor decision, but Hardy fits really well into the part of the all-new, brooding, hardly-speaking, ultra-serious Max. There’s probably no one better at not speaking and no one with a more sullen personality than Hardy and he proves that yet again. Charlize Theron’s role of Furiosa is one which is easy to imagine quite a few other actresses pulling off well, but Theron is given the chance and she grabs it with both hands. She especially plays out her character’s lower, more emotional moments very well and looks nothing like the charmingly gorgeous woman that she is.
For the character of Nux, it’s hard to imagine anybody but Nicholas Hoult doing it justice. From the build to the general eccentric boyishness to Nux puts it right within Hoult’s wheelhouse, who pulls it off with effortless ease. Hugh Keays-Byrne, who was also the antagonist in the first Mad Max, plays a completely different character this time around, that of Immortan Joe. Even though he doesn’t get much scope in terms of performance, it’s his character’s look that is completely bonkers, ghastly white with a teeth-shaped oxygen mask and a see-through plastic armor.
Any doubts you might’ve had about the return of the Mad Max franchise after 30 years are put to rest within the first few minutes itself. Thereon, Fury Road makes for a thrillingly nightmarish ride through the dust, and easily the best one in the series. George Miller proves that it’s easy to beat the odds and pull off something as strange and outlandish, with complete faith and adherence to your vision. Miller is said to have at least a new trilogy in mind for the future. What a lovely day, indeed.