Cinema review - Mad Max

Charlize Theron steals the show in exciting remake of 1979 classic

THE TRAILER for Mad Max: Fury Road is the best 2 minutes 30 seconds YouTube has to offer, indeed it is the best trailer I’ve ever seen. In the past I’ve been burned by great trailers. A good trailer can build up what you think will be a great movie and deliver only a good or sometimes a terrible one - I’m looking at you Godzilla and crappy Miami Vice reboot. So does Mad Max live up to the best trailer ever? Oh yes.

In 1979, George Miller brought us the original Mad Max with Mel Gibson. Pitch black and incredibly violent, it caused outrage, and was so reviled by both critics and film industry types that Australian film producer Phillip Adams said it had “all the emotional uplift of Mein Kampf”. It was banned in several countries. These kind of controversies led to immense popularity. It also had some fans in the media. JG Ballard described it as “punk's Sistine Chapel”. Made for a pittance for 20 years it had the highest profit-to-cost ratio of any film. It made Mel Gibson one of the biggest stars on the planet and its two sequels were very popular but maybe lacked the nastiness and grit of the original.

I had assumed Miller’s taste in nastiness and grit was all but gone - his last five movies include: Babe, Babe: Pig in the City, Happy Feet, and Happy Feet 2 - but here he is again, 70 years old and helming a sequel/reboot of the franchise which made him, without the enigmatic Gibson (easy to forget how great he was early in his career ) and 15 years in development hell. It does not sound like a good mix but the trailer certainly intrigued me.

In Mad Max, the dark ages have returned and the essential commodities are now bullets, water, and petrol. When we catch up with Max he is kidnapped by Immortan Joe’s gang of pale skin head War Boys. He’s quickly strapped to the front of a car and used as a blood bag for a skinhead Nux played Nicholas Hoult - pretty unrecognisable from the cute kid in About A Boy - and delivering his best performance since then.

Charlize Theron Mad Max

Despite the name of the movie we are soon introduced to the film's real protagonist Furiosa played by Charlize Theron (by the way I am definitely naming my future daughter Furiosa ). Furiosa drives Joe’s enormous War Rig, a giant, almost phallic, looking armoured black container of oil (pretty on the nose symbolism, but this movie does not really do subtlety ). We quickly learn her plan is to smuggle out Joe’s 'wives' or 'breeders' and take them to a peaceful life in the Greenlands. His wives are five beautiful, scared, women, led by a heavily pregnant Splendid, played by Rosie Huntington-Whiteley (Miller is pretty much naming all my children at this stage ). They are scantily clad dressed in white strips of linen wonderfully juxtaposed against the filthy mechanics covered in black oil and infested with tumours, gout, and other skin diseases. They escape the chamber they have been confined to for their whole lives having painted on the wall 'We are not Things'. The entire film is virtually void of dialogue so it's quite apt that the line that remains with you long after the movie has ended.

I came out of this movie dazed and frankly exhausted. Miller has somehow come up with a kind of visual interpretation of Phil Spector's wall of sound, only this is not a wall is of strings, horns, and tambourines but of colour, violence, and intensity. The wall starts 30 seconds into the movie and is an unrelenting journey to a crescendo of blood, petrol, and fire. One of the first things you notice in the movie is the colour. He does for colour what Christopher Nolan did for shadows and darkness in his Dark Knight trilogy. The bright reds, yellows, and whites pop against the clear blue Australian sky and orange desert and at night the film is lit up in blue moonlight that seems brighter than a winter's afternoon in Galway.

It is easy to forget Tom Hardy, with the show being not just stolen but out right snatched from his hands by Charlize Theron, but with the exception of 2012’s underrated Locke, Hardy's best work tends to come from his more monosyllabic turns. In Mad Max he offers maybe 50 words in two hours but he has a physical presence that is powerful. He is as fluent in body language as I’ve seen an actor be. He buys into the silent ethos of the film by delivering a great performance made of muscle twitches and darting eyes that is perhaps overlooked on first viewing.

Furiosa herself conjures memories of great sci fi heroines like Ellen Ripley and Sarah Connor - shaved head, bionic arm, engine oil for eye shadow - and is the most interesting protagonist in a sci fi franchise since… well probably Ripley herself. I already long for a Furiosa spin off movie franchise and it seems one could be in the works. She is much more interesting than Max and it's to Miller's credit he then focuses the movie on her story and religates Max to a side kicks role after 30 minutes.

Mad Max: Fury Road is an extremely loud and fast joy ride, and will not wait for you to catch up. Its comfortably the strongest of the Mad Max series if ever there was a movie made to be seen on the big screen it is this. Go now.

 

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