In a stark desert landscape where humanity is broken, two rebels just might be able to restore order: Max, a man of action and of few words, and Furiosa, a woman of action who is looking to make it back to her childhood homeland.
Running Time: 2hrs
MPAA Rating: R
You have never seen anything quite like Mad Max: Fury Road. Jaw-droppingly beautiful when it isn’t horrifyingly ugly, this is a literal vision of hell-on-wheels and features some of the most astonishing action ever committed to film. Lit by scarlet fireballs and peopled by irradiated mutants, the world of Mad Max is not for the faint of heart, but it’s heart-pounding, visceral stuff.
The story, such as it is, sees Max Rockatansky (Tom Hardy) imprisoned in the Citadel, an oasis in the wilderness fed by a deep aquifer and ruled with an iron fist by Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne). This despot is worshipped as a god by his followers, but when the warrior Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) steals his imprisoned wives (including Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Zoe Kravitz and Riley Keough) Joe sets off in pursuit. Max reluctantly teams up with the fugitives and a chase through the desert ensues, with Immortan Joe determined to recover his breeding stock.
In truth, it hardly matters why anything here is happening. This is such a hell-scape that motivation is obvious and characters hardly relevant. While a few actors do a lot with very little – Nicholas Hoult’s demented young War Boy Nux is especially good, and Huntington-Whiteley is surprisingly splendid as Splendid – even the nominal leads are only loosely sketched beyond their extraordinary names. Hardy’s Max probably says fewer than 500 words in total, and his conversations with Furiosa (the true lead, judging by impact and screen time) are chiefly composed of glances or grimaces.
The chase is the thing, and here director George Miller and his cinematographer John Searles excel. You’re left in awe of shots of dust clouds, never mind the bloody fireballs that suddenly light them or the mutant terrors who loom from the swirl. The desert locations – Namibia filling in for the Outback after record rainfall turned the Australian desert green – are stunning in their emptiness, only the heat haze providing a backdrop for the long struggle to escape. At one point, when night turns the desert blue, you hope that our heroes have passed into a sort of purgatory, but bent figures walking on sticks like something from a Hieronymus Bosch painting soon put paid to any such notions of true escape.
The bad guy here is the sort of ruler who rolls out alongside a huge truck composed entirely of amplifiers, drummers, and a blind guitarist wielding an axe that is also an actual axe and incidentally a flamethrower. His hunting party is like a post-apocalyptic heavy metal concept album, a nightmarish blend of rock opera and Viking raiding party, belching out greasy smoke in its wake. Their ill-bred hybrid machines can’t be described as mere “cars”; they’re true monster trucks, spiked and souped up and guzzling whatever resources this devastated world has left. Jeremy Clarkson would love them.
But Miller is after more than mere vehicular chaos. Soon the face-painted, scarred War Boys are flipping from one vehicle to another like precarious pole-vaulters, hurling grenade-tipped spears and dodging fireballs like modern commuters dodge buggies. Max and Furiosa have only an armoured tanker and a handful of bullets against overwhelming odds – and yet you wouldn’t bet against them. It’s brutal and bloody, but by god it’s a breathtaking fight.