Mad Max: Fury Road
Director: George Miller
Starring: Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron, Hugh Keays-Byrne
The subtitle of this belated fourth instalment of the Mad Max franchise could very easily have been used to describe the film's production.
In the 30 years since the release of the third film, Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome, several factors conspired to prevent a new film from moving forward, including budgetary concerns and, of course, the very public fall from grace of its original star, Mel Gibson.
So, with the boost of the seemingly inspired casting of Tom Hardy in the title role, can this quintessentially 1980s franchise be brought kicking and screaming into a new cinematic era?
Set years after a near-apocalypse, in which civilisation has crumbled to the point where the survivors scavenge and fight for basic resources, Hardy’s Max finds himself unwillingly allied with Furiosa (Charlize Theron). She is on the run, along with several other women, from their tyrannical former captor, Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne), a maniac who wants to make them his “wives” and the mothers of his heirs. A chase begins across a vast wasteland, with Max the key to the women’s survival – and his own.
Neither a straightforward sequel nor a clean-slate reboot, the film simply drops Max into a perilous situation and floors the accelerator.
Original Mad Max director, George Miller, has taken full advantage of the advances in cinematic technology, creating a vivid and chaotic world that never lets up and does, as many have already pointed out, play out like one long, insane car chase – which, it turns out, is a very good thing.
The choreography and intricacy of the action scenes tell stories within stories. They are peppered with fierce violence, certainly, but it rarely feels gratuitous due to being so well crafted and entertaining.
Impossible images are thrown at you at breakneck speed, with composer JunkieXL's soundtrack providing an unforgiving but adrenalin-pumping accompaniment to the fireballs and twisted metal – it is also a promising calling card for his collaboration with Hans Zimmer on next year's Batman Vs Superman.
The madness of the visuals are countered with a rather straightforward plot – Max and his unlikely comrades must simply outrun the villains on their tail. Far from letting the film down, that single-mindedness creates a spectacle that every summer blockbuster should aspire to.
As a result, Fury Road feels at once nostalgic and completely revitalising. While the studio no doubt is "franchise minded", every effort seems to have been made to make this film as good as it could be, rather than simply laying the foundations for a parade of sequels. In a cinema landscape bottlenecked with intricately interweaving superhero "universes", that's something of a revelation.
For such a loud film, its protagonist remains pretty quiet throughout. Playing the role differently to Gibson, Hardy is more of a battle-hardened loner with a cynical outlook.
He nevertheless provides a compelling centre to the story, with an incredible screen presence that more than rewards his casting in such an iconic role.
He melds with a cast of manic but interesting co-stars revolving around Theron’s Furiosa, who could have easily carried the film on her own. As a tough and dominating presence, she is more than a supporting character – and plays a refreshingly uncompromising female role in a usually male-led genre.
The chasing legions – the “war boys”, led by the nightmarish Keays-Byrne (a veteran of the original films) – focus more on the macabre, adorned with clothing and apparatus that would not be out of place in a horror film. Nicholas Hoult’s character Nux provides a bridge between the two parties, further boosting his status as reliable support, playing a soldier whose loyalties become increasingly divided.
It's rare that a film, particularly a studio blockbuster, delivers so thoroughly on the promise of its hype – but Mad Max: Fury Road does just that.
Slotting its new cast perfectly into a world that has expanded without losing its low-fi, post-apocalyptic aura, Miller has delivered a thrilling film that, like the trilogy before it, stands out even in the most crowded of summers.
Moreover, it feels like the legendary director has refused to compromise on a vision he has waited more than a quarter of a century to fulfil. At least one sequel will almost certainly follow and, if it can recreate the same joyful chaos, that would be a very exciting prospect indeed.
• Mad Max: Fury Road is in cinemas now