30 years after the last Mad Max movie was released, Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, we are treated to a new installment to the violent franchise. What’s most surprising is that the director of all the previous installments returns and gives us a Mad Max that not only builds on the previous movies, but feels totally fresh at the same time. Despite its qualities I never cared that much for the original Mad Max, but the two sequels were landmark movies that created an apocalyptic vision of the future which became the template for a lot of other movies dealing with a similar setting. As with all sequels/reboots of long dormant franchises the question is: can Mad Max: Fury Road live up to the expectations created by nostalgia or is it too little, too late?
The world of Mad Max has always been a weird one. Ever since The Road Warrior we have gotten used to the idea that in a dystopian future people dress up very flamboyantly, to say the least. Movies like Waterworld and Escape From Absolom used Mad Max to create their own world with similar traits. Why they dressed up like that was never truly revealed, but Mad Max: Fury Road gives us a look behind the curtain.
Max, now played by Tom Hardy since Mel Gibson is both too old and too controversial to play a convincing hero, still roams the wastelands on his own. When we meet him he’s out in the desert with his trusty Interceptor when he gets ambushed. He’s taken back as a prisoner and used as a potential blood and organ donor in a location named the Citadel. The Citadel is run by a man named Immortan Joe, who’s has some sort of weird breathing apparatus making him breath like Darth Vader. He runs the Citadel with an iron fist and is able to pump water from deep within the earth. Since water is very rare, this makes Joe a very powerful man. The Citadel is one of the new elements to the world of Mad Max and shows how people try to create a new society amidst a stark wasteland. Due to the access to water, they are able to grow crops, Milk is actually human breast milk harvested from lactating women, guns and gasoline are stolen from other gangs which also explains the outfits: they represent tribe or gang colors.
These scavenger hunts are led by several people, among them a woman named Furiosa. During one of their supply runs she betrays Immortan Joe as she takes off with a rig full of gasoline, milk and most importantly: his sex slaves. These sex slaves, all of them looking like models, are used as breeders for Immortan Joe’s children. As they try to gain their freedom they’re being chased by Joe and his war boys, who will do anything to get them back. In order to survive Furiosa has to make an uneasy alliance with Max, who has gotten mixed up in the middle of this.
Essentially a two hour chase movie, Mad Max: Fury Road is a high octane action flick that brings this series into the 21st with a big bang. Even though the entire plot can be told in one sentence Mad Max: Fury Road contains not a single dull moment.
A nice way of creating a more layered world writer/director George Miller made Immortan Joe somewhat of a cult leader. Having the people living in the citadel firmly oppressed he has convinced them he’s as close to a God-like character as possible. His warriors will gladly sacrifice themselves for him because doing so will take them to Valhalla (the afterlife) where they are reborn. Something people actually do everyday in (mostly) Middle-East countries every day. Miller took real life and used it as an inspiration to expand the world he created.
As Max, Tom Hardy has an almost purely physical role as his character is a man of few words. One might even consider him a secondary character to Furiosa who is the actual center of the movie. This is her quest and Max is just along for the ride. Her character, played by Charlize Theron, has such a great screen presence she warrants a standalone movie.
Since these passed 30 years a lot of technological innovations have seen the day of light and Miller puts them to good use. Digital coloring is used to create a brightly colored landscape filled with blue and orange tones. Surprisingly most of the stunt work with the cars has been done the old-fashioned way instead of creating everything with the computer. Aside from a couple of shots that are obviously done for the 3D showings, Mad Max: Fury Road contains a seamless mix of live action and digital additions.
Newcomers to the series don’t need to be familiar with the previous movies as it stands on its own the same way The Road Warrior did, but Max does sometimes have flashes of women and children which are never explained. If you’ve seen the first movie, you know that these are his deceased wife and kid, but if you haven’t these flashes might not make much sense.