Wednesday, May 13, 2015
Gonzo doesn't even begin to describe Mad Max: Fury Road. The fourth entry in the Mad Max series comes thirty years (!) after the last film, with the broken, post-apocalyptic highway patrolman formerly played by Mel Gibson now re-interpreted by Tom Hardy. And one of the things writer-director (and franchise mainstay) George Miller does with a better actor at the helm is give road warrior Max Rockatansky an inner life. Whereas Gibson's Max was filled with rage at the world of "fire and blood" that took his wife and child, Hardy's Max is literally mad. This Max tries to stay busy to keep the voices in his head at bay, voices belonging to those he has encountered in his travels through the desert that he failed to save. While Max's first inclination is to retreat into himself, Fury Road implies that the only thing that keeps his madness in check is his continuing to help others.
Fury Road gives him a ragtag group of women to aid. Think westerns here, not hard to do when one ponders the lineage leading from Sergio Leone's spaghetti westerns up through Miller's The Road Warrior. Wheezing war chief Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne, who played the first film's flamboyant villain, Toecutter) is another in a long line of bad guys afflicted by this world's pervasive radiation, barely kept together by a breathing apparatus, vacu-formed armor, and duct tape... well, I'm kidding about that last one. One of his greatest warriors, the mechanical-armed Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron), hijacks the war party she leads and turns it into a caravan escorting Joe's beautiful sex slaves (Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Riley Keough, and Zoe Kravitz among them) to freedom. Though Furiosa is every bit as lethal as Max, the point is made that neither is strong enough to take on the formidable Joe without the other's help.
So through a desert oozing brimstone and laden with sandstorms that will flay a man alive, Max and Furiosa drive a war rig to the "Green Place," a promised land where the women can be safe from unwanted male attention. Miller creates a circus-like atmosphere throughout, relentlessly pushing the limits of the frame by filling it with huge swarms of cars, trucks and muscle vehicles populated by men swinging on poles, hanging from wires, and walking on stilts, influenced by Immortan Joe's twisted, clown-like countenance. Joe's war party even has a car reserved for four men beating on war drums and one guy playing a flame-throwing guitar; Immortan Joe scores his own raids. A de-glammed Theron fits right in, grungy, her one arm a contraption made of scrap metal, her face fearsome when engine-oil-based war paint is applied. Fury Road is Furiosa's story more than anyone else's, with Hardy's Max offering more of an assist, and perhaps passing the baton. One can envision Miller buttoning up the long moribund Mad Max franchise with this spectacular coda and setting up Furiosa as the lead in a new spinoff series.
But then, why turn away from Hardy's inspired take on Max? His voice lowered a register to more closely match Gibson's, Hardy still manages to escape from under the long shadow of his predecessor by getting to the turmoil roiling within. Visions of children, the aged, and the helpless, keep intruding into his and the audience's consciousness, reminding us of the horror that pervades Max's candy-colored hellish landscape. The action sequences are among the most beautiful ever put on film, but they are terrible in their brutality, too. They are also a reflection of the seething insanity that courses through the soul of Fury Road's hero. This might be the last we see of Mad Max, but I sure hope it's not.