This revival of a thirty-year old franchise is a great action movie with women at its centre, writes Jonny Jones.
It’s been 30 years since the release of Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, the third instalment of George Miller’s post-apocalyptic film franchise, which served as a preposterous but entertaining vehicle for Mel Gibson and Tina Turner. The earlier films had been tense, low-budget affairs that had reflected anxieties about resource scarcity and nuclear apocalypse and dressed them up in bondage gear and fast cars. Their combined budgets probably ran to less than the money spent on hairspray for the two leads in Thunderdome. Mad Max: Fury Road sees Miller combine the best elements of these earlier films with terrific visual effects to create the best blockbuster action film I’ve seen for long time.
There’s a moment early on in Fury Road when the bad guy, Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne), opens the gates of a waterfall, allowing a flood of water to cascade over the poor inhabitants of the Citadel, an oasis of green amid a desert wasteland. After closing the gates, he calls out “Do not become addicted to water; it will take hold of you and you will resent its absence.” This sledgehammer metaphor for the failure and hypocrisy of “trickledown economics” and those who control the taps sets the scene for a film in which everybody is looking for a way out: Max (now played by Tom Hardy) wants to escape his captors; Joe’s wives want to escape the life of slavery and breeding they have been forced into; Nux the War Boy (Nicholas Hoult) seeks martyrdom while bringing them back; and Furiosa (Charlize Theron) seeks her own redemption by helping them escape and taking them to her childhood home. Ultimately, though, they all realise that running into a barren desert is no way out, and that their only salvation lies in turning around and taking on Joe and his goons.
Fury Road has been the target of misogynistic blowhards – so-called Men’s Rights Activists – who have described the film as “feminist propaganda”. The film has an ensemble cast that is led by women – Furiosa has more dialogue than Max and comparable screen time. But one of the cleverest thematic tricks the film plays is to subvert the theme of fertility in the midst of a wasteland, which could so easily have led to some essentialist moralising about motherhood, into a parable about the struggle for reproductive rights for women.
The film is in constant motion, usually at high speed, as cars, trucks and bikes chase give across the desert. The use of visual effects and stunts lends a visceral sense of peril that is often missing from films that rely too heavily on computer generated imagery, and makes for action that one can actually follow and that isn’t obscured by incessantly unsteady camera shots. There’s plenty for lefty geeks to get excited about in Fury Road, but most of all it’s an exhilarating experience that made me realise what thin gruel fans of action films have been living off for too long.