At the start of Mad Max: Fury Road, Tom Hardy delivers an internal monologue expositing who he is and his purpose in life. You had better enjoy his monologue while it lasts. He barely says anything throughout the remainder of the movie.
Shortly afterwards, we are treated to a car chase sequence in the desert, which, while far more enthralling than anything in the Fast and Furious movies, is ultimately made pointless by the fact that we know so little about those involved, or indeed, why the chase is even taking place, that it’s hard to care about the outcome.
But that’s the biggest problem. For a film called Mad Max: Fury Road, the titular hero has little to do except hit things, grunt, hit things some more, and occasionally, if he is lucky, speak. If you were hoping that Fury Road would build on Max as a character, and try to get inside the mentality of someone who lost his family and has been scavenging alone in the desert for many years, then you’ll be disappointed. We leave the film knowing as little about Max as we knew going in. Why should we care about someone of whom we know so little? Will it really have any emotional impact on us if he were to be killed in the next scene? As a central protagonist Max is unfortunately made redundant.
Much more of a well-rounded character, however, is Charlize Theron’s Imperator Furiosa. Forget about Max, this is her story. As a woman willing to risk and lose everything in her pursuit of the ‘Green Place’, a mystical promised land where there is nothing but peace and tranquility, she ends up being a far more fleshed out and believable character then Max. Along the way, Max and Furiosa are pursued by Immortan Joe a villain of such one-dimensional evilness that he literally wears a sinister mask to show how evil he is. Was the purpose of giving everyone names that reflect their personality and define who they are because the characters were meant to be caricatures of what we believe they should be like?
If Mad Max: Fury Road doesn’t quite work as a character driven piece, then it sure as well works as a means to showcase the unique word that it inhibits. This is a post apocalyptic wasteland like you’ve never seen it before. Everything feels fresh and innovative, in the same way that Star Wars re-invented the tired outer space setting. No expense is spared in the level of detail that went into crafting the unique aspects of the world. We see men with tubes inserted into them to drain their fluids to compromise for the water shortage, we see how each vehicles would have evolved in a place where every resource, including food, is scare. We see being forced to live in seclusion has almost physically turned people into a separate subspecies of humanity, complete with grey skin and black spots for eyes. Hell, they even went as far as to create a religion for the world. “I will live, I will die, I will live again”. Indeed. This isn’t a world that you would want to live in, but it’s certainly one that you want to see more of.
Up to this point, Mad Max has never really been much of a franchise. Aside from the three films, we’ve never had books or other storytelling medium really flash out the world in the way that other franchises have, so this is the first we’ve seen of the post apocalyptic wasteland of Mad Max since 1984’s Beyond Thunderdome. Clearly what we see in Fury Road is the result of thirty-one years on pent-up ideas finally being realised onscreen. And being a reboot rather than share continuity with the previous three films, meaning that they could start afresh rather than be burdened by what did or didn’t happen before.
It’s just unfortunate that they seem to have created the characters around the world rather than vice versa. Yes, the world is unique and feels alive, but apart from Furiosa, the people in it don’t.
It would be safe to assume that this is the film that George Miller would have made thirty-six years ago if he had access to modern VFX and an unlimited budget. Indeed, Fury Road does not appear to be a film directed by someone who is now seventy. Young he may not be, but his abundance of energy is clearly in no short supply.
Forget the constant delays. Forget the much publicised on set-problems. Forget Mel Gibson going completely insane and having a public meltdown which could have damaged the film’s image. Whilst not perfect, Mad Max: Fury Road is still a welcome return to a franchise that has been MIA for far to long. And if there is indeed more to come (Hardy is signed on for two more films) then we could well have the next big thing on our hands. Let’s just hope that we don’t have to wait 31 years this time.