Going into a film with high expectations is nearly always a recipe for disaster. The last time we remember being this giddy about the prospect of a filmmaker returning to the series they created was when we were about to watch Ridley Scott’s Prometheus. But while Alien went on without Scott, Mad Max has always been George Miller’s.
Tom Hardy is perfectly cast as the leather-sporting, crazy-eyed Road Warrior, but the reason why Mad Max: Fury Road feels so right is simple: It’s Miller’s world, and he’s taking us back.
In the Wasteland, the monstrous Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne) rules his patriarchal kingdom mercilessly, dispensing water when he deems necessary, harvesting children and milk from his wives, and enforcing justice with his crazed War Boys, who believe that a chrome Valhalla awaits them after a glorious death on the road.
So when Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) escapes with five of his young wives, Joe sends his entire army out after them. Chained to the front of one of these vehicles…is Max (Hardy).
There’s truly a sense of a master at work as Miller settles back into the hell he created, filled with fire, desperate lunatics, monstrous villains, a few heroes, eccentric details and an armada of vehicles. He uses visual details instead of exposition wherever possible; we don’t know how Joe came to power and we don’t know how Furiosa came to be involved.
The biggest clues we get to Max’s past are through his violent hallucinations, and he tells us in voiceover that he is “the one who runs from the living and the dead.” That’s pretty much it. Hardy’s dialogue is mostly confined to grunts and mumbling, and he’s fantastic.
Still, it’s not really his story. The real hero of Fury Road is Furiosa, the hard as nails War Rig driver who is determined to get her charges out of Joe’s reach, with an unflashy, commanding performance from Theron. She gets a little more backstory than Max, but the same is true of all of the characters: we know what we need to. Just look at the names of the wives: Splendid (Rosie Huntington-Whiteley), Toast (Zoë Kravitz), Fragile (Courtney Eaton), Capable (Riley Keough), and Abbey Lee is a prime scene-stealer as The Dag.
Speaking of the wives, the subtext of domestic abuse is surprisingly prominent and decidedly potent. “We are not things!” is their refrain. Harvesting their milk and children (at least two of the brides are pregnant) and bellowing about “property,” Joe clearly doesn’t see it that way. With strong performances bolstering this theme, we’re quickly invested in this chase beyond the excitement of creative explosions.
As for the chase, well, that’s difficult to describe effectively. Once Joe sets off after Furiosa, the film really is one long pursuit through the ruined landscape that very occasionally pauses for breath. In the best Road Warrior tradition, it boils down to one tanker against a barbarianised fleet. Cars flip, tumble, explode, get sucked into a tornado, and explode while getting sucked into a tornado. There’s a berserk invention that prevents these lengthy set pieces from ever dragging. It’s amazing that, after everything that precedes it, the final confrontation still dazzles.
Which brings us back to the importance of Miller. This is a great example of how action and orchestrated mayhem can and should bear the mark of their creator. From the war boys off their tits on paint fumes to Nux’s (Nicholas Hoult) named tumours, from the hazy memories of a world long lost to the guy with the giant guitar flame-thrower, this is entirely his creation.
A bigger budget and CGI has allowed him to go bigger without losing anything of himself. This is a colossal, breathless, delirious, jaw-dropping juggernaut that is simply a joy. A lovely day indeed.