Director: George Miller
Which is the best car chase sequence you have seen? Steven McQueen driving the Ford Mustang through the streets of San Francisco in Bullitt. Or Gene Hackman chasing a train in Brooklyn in The French Connection. Or maybe you like the CGI laden chase in Matrix: Reloaded. How long do these sequences last? Some for five minutes, some for ten, some others for fifteen minutes. Now imagine if these were to be stretched to two hours worth of movie length. With all the ferocity and rip-snorting thrills that made them memorable in the first place. That’s Mad Max: Fury Road for you.
It has been thirty years since the third Mad Max movie came out and it would be fair to say that the Mad Max phenomenon has preceded an entire generation of movie watchers. Only the diligent buff would have doubled back and seen the classic action trilogy. But even if you haven’t, it won’t matter much because Fury Road works equally well as a stand alone piece. The theme about the post-apocalyptic world and the desire to survive against all odds is what continues from the original. In fact you can barely use Mad Max in a sentence without following it up with a comment about the post-apocalypse scenario. Director George Miller too, I suspect, is bored of saying this repeatedly. He mentions it very briefly towards the beginning of the film, almost out of compulsion. As if he really wanted to say “Ok, you know how things are. Now let’s get on with the movie.”
The setting once again is the vast barrenness of the Australian outback. A clutch of under nourished, raggedy humans is ruled by a tyrant named Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne) who is getting old but wears a body fitting armour to hide his frailties from his people. He stands inside a niche on a huge mountain, not unlike Castle Grayskull, and releases an inadequate supply of water for his parched subjects underneath. Beside water, fuel is the other essential commodity whose reins Immortan controls. An entourage led by Charlize Theron is sent to the oil rig for a refill. On the way back, Thereon unexpectedly changes course and moves in the direction of another hostile territory. Perplexed by the detour at first, it soon become obvious to Immortan that she is playing truant and they chase her to get her back. The real movie begins now. Just in case you are wondering where the eponymous Max fits into this scheme of things, he is being held captive by Immortan for his blood as he is a universal donor.
The hunting party must be the coolest ever. They have Max muzzled and tied up in front before one of the vehicles on the bumper. Henchmen smeared in white paint and eye sockets painted black are all over the armored cars, willing to sacrifice their lives at the drop of a hat for a place in Valhalla. But the best touch is a truck equipped with enough speakers to fill a photo from end to end and a guitarist with a fire-spewing guitar suspended ahead belting out Junkie XL’s tunes. When you are out chasing someone, you may as well do it in style.
Everything in the movie, the action, the twists, character development, happens while the chase in on and the vehicles are in motion. There are a few brief stops in between but none that causes the pace to slacken. Tom Hardy who replaces Mel Gibson as Max shares prominence with Theron. The film could well have been called Furiosa after her character instead of Fury Road. Even though this isn’t an actors’ movie, it does help if your cast makes the most of their roles.
But the main hero of the film is of course George Miller. Every once in a while, an action film comes along that sets a benchmark for everything else that will follow. Fury Road is that movie. It is lesson for makers of summer blockbusters that it’s not special effects and clunky rapid cutting that result in great action, its imagination and editing. The editing here is so good, that at times when there are three one-on-one combats happening simultaneously, you are able to comprehend each one severally without wondering who is shooting whom. And to attempt a movie that is essentially just one big car chase is imagination at its best. Shot after shot, Miller (who also co-wrote) throws excitement at you until your throat is parched because you have forgotten to swallow your spit.
As this is already a super-successful reboot of a franchise, there will no doubt be more movies under the Mad Max rubric. Fury Road, has already set standards so lofty, it remains to be seen whether subsequent installments can match its high octane levels. But for now, let’s enjoy this glorious spectacle of a motion picture. I think I am going to go watch it once again.
P.S. – Given a choice, watch this movie in 3D. It’s one of those that does justice to this technology.