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More than a spectacle

2015-05-18 13:40

Film review: Mad Max: Fury Road

DECADES after he made the first Mad Max, director George Miller had an idea for another episode in this bleak future.

Mel Gibson, who was iconic in the role in the first trilogy, was no longer suitable, and it seemed it might founder, but Miller found his Max in Tom Hardy, who has impressed in a string of hard man roles.

But if you’re thinking that this is a vehicle purely for Hardy to be the hardest man in the desert, think again. Charlize Theron fully deserves equal billing as the one-armed driver of a huge “war rig”.

Miller has been deliberately vague about the chronology. Max is alone in the desert, haunted by loss, until he is captured and hauled to an outpost presided over by warlord Immortan Joe, who rules with spectacle and total control over the supply of water.

Here, people are possessions: Max is hooked up to another man as a permanent blood donor, women are milked like cows and wives are owned and bred.

A driver like Theron’s Furiosa, however, is a rock star. She’s sent off to make a delivery and collect supplies, but when she shows she has other ideas, the chase is on.

The trailer may have made you think she is Max’s antagonist, but they form a bond, around five escaped wives.

I am loath to say more, because I found a huge part of my enjoyment of the film came from the parts that weren’t even hinted at in the publicity. The extended chase is amazing, the stunts breath-taking (and mostly not CGI) and the spectacle huge.

It’s just that there’s a lot more going on than just wacked-out men screaming across the wilderness chasing a woman with one arm and a skull for a gearstick.

Max and Furiosa swop places at the wheel of the rig, each performing death-defying acts of near-sacrifice as needed. All around, tricked-out death machines explode and flip and careen into each other as the chase goes on and on, Immortan Joe intent on regaining possession of his runaway wives. It is this thread of the story that has got some “men’s rights activists” in the States hot under the collar. How dare a film about monster trucks feature women at all, but how double-dare it feature women not as passive damsels but as active agents of their own destiny?

Furiosa, one man has written in distress, “barks orders at Max. No one orders Max,” he laments. Obviously, no one sent George Miller the memo about how his series is a sacred text of manliness. The manly men seem to have forgotten that Max starts out as a traffic cop mourning his lost family. And that one of his more memorable previous encounters was with Tina Turner — hardly a damsel — at the Thunderdome.

Miller is fully capable of telling a story of huge power almost purely visually, aided by his editor, Maraget Sixel. She’s never cut an action movie, but he gave it to her precisely because he didn’t want it to look like every other actioner. Just as well she’s his wife, because it took her two years of six-day weeks to create an amazing two-hour spectacle from thousands of hours of footage shot over months in the Namibian desert.

The actors themselves only fully realised what they had participated in when they saw the film at the premiere a week ago.

But it was all in Miller’s head, presented in the form of a graphic novel to the actors. Hard to write a screenplay when there are almost no words. Luckily for Miller and for us, Hardy and Theron are more than equal to the challenge of creating characters with depth and history while steering a tanker across barren sands, pursued by mad men.

***** Kate Hoole


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