‘What a lovely day!’ Is proclaimed by Nicholas Hoult’s character Nux. Mad Max Fury Road, is a film, that will divide everyone who sees it. For me it was an epic assault on the senses, for others the incessant action and violence may wear thin after the first act. Like another Aussie export Marmite, you will love or hate it.
Directed by the creator of the series George Miller, Fury Road is the first in the series not to star Mel Gibson as the titular character. Tom Hardy steps into the role and brings a more hardened, silent and brooding take on the character. In the context of the film series, this makes a lot of sense as Max has had to survive in the wasteland for an undetermined amount of time. Fury Road has Max, still battling with his internal demons at the murder of his family, stumbling upon a conflict involving a warlord and his wives. Some people may not even pick this up as the script is minimal.
Watching the film is a very visceral experience and Miller forgoes the normal scene-setting dialogue and exposition in lieu of imagery. Not once in the spectacular first act is the world state or background of the Warlord Immortan Joe explained. Despite this, through the visuals and scenes you can tell more than enough. There is a general shortage of all resources, water is a valuable commodity and as Immortan Joe controls the water supply, he has managed to raise himself to almost deity status. His followers consist of pale skinned war boys, such as Nux. These poor creatures have bleached white skin and suffer from radiation caused health issues. Nux in particular has two protruding tumours on his shoulder. The war boys follow Joe with a god-like devotion, willing to sacrifice themselves at his command in their pursuit of ‘Valhalla’.
You may wonder what this has to do with Max. Max has been captured by the war boys for his blood. As they are all suffering from cancer, they need fresh blood, Max was unlucky enough to be captured and is hooked up as Nux’s blood bag. Again none of this is spelt out for the watching audience and some may just glaze over these facts in the midst of the early action, women are milked like cows, children are trained as war boys and everyone else suffers from dehydration and starvation.
The story kicks into gear when Charlize Theron’s Furiosa takes off on a supply run for gasoline, the only commodity more necessary than water. Furiosa is Joe’s most trusted driver and the scene where she leaves as part of a convoy is very visually striking. We see the poor down-trodden masses who wait for Joe to release a tiny supply of water and we see the fanfare when the convoy leaves, all appears normal until she makes a deviation from the normal route. Joe runs downstairs and finds that all his ‘breeders’ have escaped. Joe has been imprisoning the best looking women to provide him with a supply of heirs. Realising Furiosa has taken them Joe sets the film in motion and the chase is on.
What follows can only be compared to previous cinema epics like Ben-Hurs’ chariot race, Saving Private Ryans’ beach landing and any other great action sequence you can name. The pace is non-stop and the brutality relentless, the vehicular combat scenes and special effects can overwhelm the audience, but when the motivation is simple, run and don’t get caught you shouldn’t lose sight of the objective. It is hard on one viewing to put down all the emotions that you see. Max is tied to the front of a vehicle, as Nux drives off in pursuit of Furiosa, so you are always concerned about the main character. Furiosa and her crew of war boys ramp the tension further, as they have no idea she has defected, they see the pursuing pack and think tat there is support coming, all the while Furiosa becomes more and more nervous, when the battle begins the screen is full of twisted metal, rival gangs and explosions. Fury Road is an apt title as the emotion of all the characters is etched on their faces, rather than their words.
The camera features many extreme close-ups of Max, Furiosa, Nux and Joe as they hurtle towards an approaching electrical storm. Furiosa knows it is their only chance of escape while the rest are concerned with her capture. Max on the other hand is only concentrating on survival. This one over-riding character trait, means that as a central character Max is inherently unlikable in this guise. Previous films had Max, very much as the victim who you root for. In this film his place is taken by Furiosa. She is the driving force of the film, noble, tough and with a just cause, she is the true Max of this film. Max himself just tags along for the journey. In an age where feminism and female characters are under the spotlight because of Black Widow in Avengers, the character of Furiosa is a stand-out. Theron, with shaven head and prosthetic robotic arm is the most brutal character in the film, her early exchange with Max determines their relationship for the remainder. His respect is earned and because of this the pair continue as equals.
Nux and the war boys in general are equally as well realised. From their introduction as pale skinned monsters we see how Nux softens as more time is spent away from his peers. Away from the brutal alpha-male society we learn more about the war boys and end up pitying them. The way they spray paint their mouths to look like Joe before they die shows the real evil in the film. Joe, played by Hugh Keays-Byrne is an interesting character. The actor played Toecutter, the main villain in the original Mad Max and while unlikely it is not impossible that they are the same person. Joe has clearly been horribly injured in the past, he wears Darth Vader-esque armour, that doubles as breathing equipment. We don’t get any evidence of his rise to power, or his motivation. He just seems to be the typical despot, that has carved out his own world akin to Colonel Kurtz without monologue or lofty ambitions. His appearance and actions set him up to be the main villain and despite lack of a back-story we have no need to know. Like Max, we have just stumbled into this part of the world.
It is this feeling of happening upon the conflict, that may annoy some viewers. Despite my gushing love of the film, I can sympathise with the reservations of others. The storyline is farcically simple and could be described as ‘you drive one way, then drive another’. The lack of attachment to the main character Max and it could be argued any character means people looking for a thoughtful drama are at the wrong film. The title Fury Road, is exactly what the film is. Without going any further into spoilers the action is brutal and overwhelming, meaning if you aren’t in the mood for an assault on the senses then you will not enjoy the film. I also feel that it needs to be seen on the big screen in 3d if possible. The 3d effects are among the best I have seen and really enhance the battle scenes.
I’d love to know which camp you fall into. Is this the purest, most distilled action film ever made or is it a special effects laden, soulless waste of your time?
I honestly didn’t make the connection between the spray paint and a desire to emulate Immortan Joe – but that makes complete sense. And you’re right, it does add an undercurrent of really insidious evil to a story that could have been simple and shallow without those little details like that.
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I saw another review say that they sprayed it to get high from the paint fumes as a secondary benefit. I didn’t take that from it.