Tom Hardy is no stranger to the road. One of his most recent acting performances was in last year’s critically-acclaimed but scarcely seen Locke, where he quite literally spent the entirety of the movie behind the wheel of a car. Needless to say, that’s the only similarity between that performance and his performance in the highly-anticipated sequel Mad Max: Fury Road (opening today), where he takes over the mantle of Max Rockatansky, the titular role in Mad Max that made Mel Gibson famous when it was released in 1979. That film spawned two other sequels prior to Fury Road: 1981’s Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior (considered by many to be the best entry) and 1985’s Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome. This latest entry is once again directed by George Miller, who has helmed all of the previous Mad Max films. There is no one better to have steering the franchise, despite the fact that somewhere along the way during Fury Road, he starts spinning his wheels.
As you may have heard already, this chapter is an all-out blitz on the senses, a non-stop explosion (quite literally) of sight and sound that relentlessly pounds away at your every nerve. At the beginning of the film, we see that Max is still living in the barren futuristic dystopia that has become of our world (it’s more of an alternate reality than a distant future…an apocalyptic universe as imagined by someone in the late 1970s before technology ruled the world). He is also still battling demons from his past, certifiably living up to the “mad” portion of his moniker. It doesn’t take long for the film to speed up, and although it wouldn’t be accurate to say it never slows down, it sure feels like it doesn’t. Pauses in the action feel more like necessary gasps of fresh air, as opposed to moments of exposition or emotion-building. Soon after the action starts, Max is taken prisoner of some sort of villainous dictator known as Immortan Joe (played by Hugh Keays-Byrne, who interestingly enough, also played Max’s antagonist, Toecutter, in the original Max film). Joe’s colony, known as the Citadel, is sandwiched in a mountain ridge, where he rules over his citizens by controlling a vast supply of water…a resource that is a real rarity in this world.
Max is found to have a universal blood supply, and one of Joe’s albino soldiers, Nux (Nicholas Hoult), is fed Max’s blood via a connecting tube, in order to keep him nourished and alive. This, and other practices in Joe’s twisted camp hammers home the idea that even though we know him as “Mad” Max, that Max still seems like one of the most sane humans on the planet when compared to everyone else.
When one of Joe’s warriors, Furiosa (Charlize Theron), decides to mutiny, taking with her his wives (one of whom is very pregnant) and a tanker full of oil and water, Immortan Joe puts on a full-out mission of destroy and/or capture. Not to be left behind, Nux straps Max to the front of his vehicle, behind an iron mask to boot, and the pursuit begins.
Covering Tom Hardy in at first a large beard and then an iron mask, softens the blow that this Max is being played by a different actor. It may have been an intentional move, maybe not, but inevitably, every audience member who has seen the original films will have a moment while watching Fury Road where you will say to yourself, yeah, that’s not Mel Gibson. I found myself aware of this truth – to a distracting degree – throughout much of the film. While Tom Hardy is a capable Max and does a fine job, he is not Max. Not to me anyways. There are only a handful of characters probably ever, where re-casting is not acceptable. To me, Mad Max falls in that category.
From the moment the chase begins, it doesn’t let up, not for a moment. For all of the talk surrounding this film about the “lack of CGI,” I found the film to have quite it’s share of it. That being said, this is a technical masterpiece. Like, in every sense of the word. George Miller sure has grown as a filmmaker, especially if you watch the original Mad Max up against this one (I’m sure having a budget also didn’t hurt). The sound is unbelievable, the action breath-taking, each sequence better than the last. It’s easy to get caught up in it, and it does look and feel way more organic than most every action movie we see nowadays.
However, it’s not fully successful as a film. It does end up feeling a bit like recent super-hero movies, in the sense that for everything that is at stake, nothing is at stake. From the get-go, we know Max is the hero and Immortan Joe is his nemesis, and we know that the good guys will win in the end. This was not the case with the surprising emotional finish of the original chapter.
For those that crave it, this film will be the answer to every prayer you’ve ever had about what an action film should be. For others, you might become nauseous. About half-way through this one, each explosion or body part that hurled towards my eyes only added to my increasing numbness. Having one cup of coffee can perk you up, having an entire pot can make you insane. This experience definitely will jolt you awake, and then some. Watching Mad Max: Fury Road is like strapping a camera on a caffeinated monkey and attaching him to a deflating balloon. We whiz and whip through each sequence and it feels magical and exhilarating – like a roller coaster of sorts – until it’s over, and you find yourself walking away with a buzzy head-ache.
There are some deeper things going on – Max is trying to flee from his past, while Furiosa is trying to re-discover hers – but there is too much adrenaline at work for these themes to find any emotional attachment with what we see on screen. It might make you believe that it is ultimately a film about hope. But that’s a pretty transparent attempt at meaning. This movie is about nothing more than action, chaos, thrills, explosions, blood, stunts and speed. Let me re-iterate though, that in all of those fronts, this movie excels like few have before it.
I couldn’t help but think that a few well-placed shots, aimed at blowing out the tires on any of these tripped-out vehicles, would have made this a different movie. But with or without Gibson, this feels undeniably like a Mad Max film. Who knew that at age 70, George Miller was still capable of putting the petal to the metal with such force, and confidence. Mad Max: Fury Road could have possibly benefited from pumping the brakes a bit more here and there, but seeing what Miller ended up accomplishing is nothing to second-guess. Miller’s powerful vision of this fully-realized wasteland may make him more insane – insane and brilliant – than any of his fictional inhabitants.
Genre: Action, Adventure, Science Ficetion
Run Time: 2 hours, Rated R
Starring: Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron, Nicholas Hoult, Hugh Keays-Byrne, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley
Co-Written & Directed by George Miller (Mad Max, Mad Max: The Road Warrior, Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, Babe: Pig in the City, Happy Feet, Happy Feet Two, Lorenzo’s Oil, The Witches of Eastwick)
Opens locally on Friday, May 15, 2015 (check for show times).