Cannes - Mad Max: Fury Road is set to roar into the Cannes Film Festival on Thursday, injecting a thunderous dose of commercial horsepower and introducing Tom Hardy in the role that made Mel Gibson famous.
But attendees expecting a cinema tribute to macho posturing will be in for a surprise: the real star of the long-delayed fourth instalment of the post-apocalyptic sci-fi franchise is in fact a woman and one missing an arm at that played by Charlize Theron.
"What you don't get here is what you expect, and that's what's wonderful," Hardy told a small group of journalists on the eve of his Riviera red-carpet appearance for the official screening. "The lead of this movie is a female amputee. It's a total empowerment of women."
Theron agreed her character, a steely, shaved-head tanker driver named Imperator Furiosa, who goes rogue during a desert mission for a maniacal warlord, was "awesome".
But she added the really "badass" thing "is not that she's a woman and she's fighting on par with the men it's that she's an amputee and she's figured out a way to survive".
The movie got a Hollywood premiere last week that saw 59-year-old Gibson publicly pass the torch to 37-year-old Hardy. It opens worldwide on Thursday and Friday.
Epic action movie
Fury Road is part sequel, part reimagining of the Mad Max films. It's still set in a future desert wasteland inhabited by savage gangs where water and fuel are sparse, and pimped-out battle vehicles rule.
This time, though, the budget estimated at $150m (about 132m euros) -- is far, far bigger than the shoestring the original 1979 Mad Max was made on.
The stunts and vehicles are correspondingly over-the-top creations that set new standards in film. The desert is not the Australian Outback but the always-arid Namibian desert and of course Hardy is British, not Australian as Gibson is.
The story serves little more than to prompt two extensive vehicle chases and battles that Hardy who speaks little in his road warrior role said made it into "a really epic action movie... that is relentless and incredibly visceral".
But George Miller, the 70-year-old Australian director who conceived and has directed Mad Max throughout (while also making pleasing family movies Babe and Happy Feet), happily admitted it is "a big sort of bombastic movie".
"I like to think of action movies as visual music... If the first Mad Max was like a sort of garage band, this is more like a rock 'n' roll opera," he said.
Certainly music is a motif for Miller: one of the more memorable images in the movie is a punk rocker with a flame-spewing guitar riding at the front of a truck decked out with a wall of speakers behind which an array of galleon-style drummers thud away.
An Australian film
Reviews have hailed the extravagant effects and stunts -most of them done "practical" style, with real people on wires rather than computer-generated.
Variety magazine said the film "makes even the nuttier Fast and Furious movies look like Autopia test drives" with "beautifully brutal action sequences" that should score big box office revenue.
Miller said that, though it had a multi-national cast and half its budget put up by US studio Warner Brothers, "Fury Road" was "definitely an Australian film" rather than a Hollywood one.
He also said that, while the first draft of the script was written back in 1999 with Mel Gibson in mind, then Heath Ledger the Australian actor who played The Joker in the Batman movie "The Dark Knight" before dying after taking a cocktail of prescribed drugs it was Tom Hardy who eventually showed the charisma of a young Mel Gibson.
Hardy himself admitted his excitement at getting the role gave way to anxiety because it had been "synonymous with Mel Gibson".
But then he realised that Mad Max was really a creation of Miller's and he took it on as his own -- to "forget the worry, not feel the pressure to fill anyone's shoes".
But, in a nod to Max's roots, Hardy said he made sure that in his accent in the movie "there's something British and at the same time there's a slight Australian accent".
Watch the trailer here:
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