The oil wars that led to the nuclear holocaust have morphed into the oil/water wars of a future time that's not quite clear. I'm down with that since dating future events too specifically has always, for me, diminished otherwise great movies (I'm thinking Cameron's original "Terminator" and Ridley Scott's "Blade Runner"). Max Rockatansky is back to his old wandering-the-wasteland ways and as the film opens he's standing astride a bluff overlooking said wasteland narrating his post-apocalypse credentials. After a moment a mutant lizard has the misfortune of wandering beneath his bootleather and becomes a tasty wasteland treat for our anti-hero.
With that the stage is set.
Max bundles himself into his Interceptor and blasts off into the heat waves not a moment too soon as non-specific wasteland types pursue. Well, actually he should have left a few moments earlier because in short order he's caught and brought to the Citadel where it's determined his blood type makes him a 'universal donor' to be exploited in order to keep the Citadel's troops (called "War Boys") running smooth.
And just what is the Citadel? It's a rocky outcropping in the middle of nowhere that's become the refuge of choice for the downtrodden since its also the only source of water for several hundred clicks in any direction. The Citadel's grand high exalted mystic ruler, one Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne: "toecutter" from Mad Max 1) has a stranglehold on access to deep underground wells and uses it to impose his cultish control. He's a world class dick with psoriasis to beat the band who has a stable of portly lactators constantly hooked up to mechanical milkers and a second gaggle of lovelies he calls "breeders" that he keeps captive to bear his offspring.
His looting and pillaging is done by "Imperators" but one, Imperator Furiosa, has decided she's had enough of ol' scaleback and heads off for parts unknown with Joe's breeders when she's supposed to be out securing gas and guns. The rest of the film is her and the breeders trying to stay one step ahead of Joe's henchmen on the fury road. Along the way Max escapes captivity and joins her in her quest for the always elusive "green place".
The film has an expansive look that deliberately harkens back to Lawrence of Arabia. Certainly others have tried in the past 50 years to capture that visual magic but Fury Road may be the first to actually do it. The chase sequences are thrilling and Miller shows once again that he knows just when to step on the gas and when to lay off the pedal and let the audience breath (are you paying attention Mr Bay?). Tom Hardy has all of Mel Gibson's detached authority but none of his swagger and for the purposes of this film that seems entirely appropriate since Max has probably been wandering the wasteland for many years now and had the swagger bleached out of him. This Max is also something of a mute with Hardy barely speaking but for one short scene that precedes the final act.
As for the rest of the cast: Charleze Theron finally redeems herself after her atrocious Snow White performance of a couple of years back. Her Furiosa seems truly dangerous because she doesn't really know where she's going, only that she's not letting anyone get in her way. Nicholas Hoult as the War Boy turned ally gives a textured, intense and touching performance that in many ways represents the emotional center of the narrative. He just wants his life to mean something. Anything. And is willing to do whatever it takes to achieve that meaning.
Rosie Huntington-Whiteley is saddled with the fakest looking pregnancy ever but manages to transcend bad makeup effects and hit the right notes. Zoe "High Beams" Kravitz is actually something of a revelation while Riley Keough represents the film's only real casting disaster. She spends the entire movie with a look on her face that says; "I'm Elvis' f***ing granddaughter! Don't you twerps get it!?"
Much has been made of the proposition that Fury Road is actually a feminist manifesto of sorts and you know what? It is. That fact doesn't in any way diminish this as a Mad Max movie though and personally I think presenting Max as a kind of ghostly presence in his own film is rather in keeping with the mythology. But back to the ladies.
This isn't Charlie's Angels style, tough-consumer-chick cliche bs with lots of wire-work and bullet time. The women in this wasteland sweat and bleed and hope and despair and aren't taking shit from anyone. You want to mess with Furiosa she's going to cram her fake arm up your ass and rip out your liver. Not for the fun of it, but so that you'll remember not to f*ck with her again. Aside from that she's charming. The older women in the film are also nobody's fools. They've been on their own for decades guarding their tiny desert outpost and are tough as their leathery skin. They have heart and brains, guts and determination and, crucially, they also hold fast to the hope that something worthwhile may someday spring forth from our lost species.
Watching them brought to mind an episode from my teenage years. I was beset for a time by a gang of local thugs who were intent on proving that individually they had no balls but collectively they could take on any lone neighborhood kid. One afternoon they invaded my back yard carrying chains and pipes and were going to show me a thing or two. Suddenly my mother - in her early 50s at the time (yes she had me relatively late) - exploded out the back door and met them square-on in the driveway. I stood there stunned as she shoved their tough talk back in their faces and ejected them from her property by sheer force of will. Once they left she looked at me, smiled and went back inside to finish dinner. That day I learned something about women I've never forgotten. I'm guessing George Miller has seen it too.
Mad Max: Fury Road. A decade in the making and worth the wait. Available on Blu-Ray Sept 1.