It is quite common in this day and age to find old franchises given a new burst of life via a reboot, sequel, or remake. Much of the time any such announcement is met with derision from the fans, and nonchalance from the general public, resulting in many people already making up their mind to hate the film before it even starts filming. Strangely this has not been the case with this new Mad Max film, which has been embraced by the whole community from the offset. Perhaps it is the fact that the original creator and director is still involved, or perhaps it is that people realise that tales of Max are timeless and can be told for each generation to enjoy. Either way, it is safe to say that there was a lot of anticipation from the fan community for this new entry into the series.
This new film kicks off right into the action. Max stands alone, haunted by memories of those he failed to save, when he is ambushed by a gang, resulting in him being used as a blood-bag for a warrior in a great kingdom built into rocks. The leader of this domain, King Immortan Joe (played by Hugh Keays-Byrne, who played Toecutter in the first film) rules from high up in the rocks, where his control of the water has given him power over all, and allowed for him to build trade routes with nearby fuel and ammunition tribes. When one of his regular trade runs, led by Furiosa (Charlize Theron), diverts from the route, Joe discovers that his Five Wives have been taken and sets off in pursuit. Caught up in amongst the carnage that follows is Max, hooked up as a bloodline to Nux (Nicholas Hoult), a War Boy intent on proving his worth to Immortan Joe and entering Valhalla in the afterlife.
Much has been said of the fact that the stunts and carnage were done with as little CGI as possible, and this staple of the franchise not only works well here, but has some of the most spectacular action moments on film this year. The explosions, carnage, and destruction are all brutal, and unlike certain CGI fuelled action films of recent years, believable. But it isn’t only in the destruction that George Miller shows his skill at direction and visualisation. Beautiful shots of sandstorms, swamp-walkers, and cities built into rock flesh out his mythical future world even more, and serve not only the story, but the whole franchise well. On top of that there is the expected bizarre vehicle design, all beautiful in their twisted construction, but none more so than the drummers, wall of speakers, and guitarist on a vehicle serving as mock buglers,sounding the battle chimes. Comical, and stunningly impressive, this one vehicle alone represents the madness of this future world – a world gone very wrong.
With a character as iconic as Max, it was always going to be a hard job to follow Mel Gibson’s take on the part. After all he made the role what it is, and anyone attempting to copy him would be under severe scrutiny. Maybe this is the reason that the character doesn’t have a lot to say through this film, as it gives a chance to redefine the physicality of the character in the form of a new actor, rather than forcing us to compare mannerisms and voice inflexions. Suffice to say, Tom Hardy rises to the challenge, and aside from adopting an Australian accent, doesn’t attempt to copy Gibson’s take, instead making the part his own for a new era. Charlize Theron also steps up to the plate as Furiosa, and the film is more about her than Max. As the one-armed driver of the rig who goes off-mission and starts the whole chase off, her character begins as cold and empty, but as we learn her story she grows more depth. As, too, does Hoult’s character, who at the early part of the film we want killed, but as the film progresses you start to root for him. Such character growth in what is essentially a 2 hour action extravaganza put many recent blockbusters to shame.
It has been thirty years since Beyond Thunderdome, that’s 30 years in the wilderness for Max Rockatansky. But it has been 30 years well spent if this is anything to go by, and with Miller saying he already has plans for two more films (at least), then it is a welcome return. We may not need another hero, but we do need Max to show action cinema how to really do it.