Thirty years after Beyond Thunderdome, Fury Road is the best Mad Max film. It is also the best film of this year, and it is one of the best action films ever made.
Allegedly, it took writer-director George Miller twelve years to get his vision completed - a level of production Hell that is usually the death sentence for a decent film - and yet, here it is, 450 hours of raw footage condensed into a spry 120 minutes of relentless, dizzying, bellowing thunder clap of a picture. This is a film that scoops us up in a gasoline-infused tornado and hurls us into an insane opera of war drums, flame-spewing guitars and roaring velocity. That the production could come from the same creative mind responsible for Happy Feet and Babe: Pig in The City is baffling, yet here is Miller, showing career hacks like Michael Bay and Zach Snyder what cinematic destruction really looks like.
The composers that bring Miller's furious orchestra together are the key elements of character, pace and structure. As well as a host of archetypal men-of-few-words, the conception of Max as a mythic character owes a clear debt to Sergio Leone's Dollars trilogy - in Beyond Thunderdome Tina Turner even refers to Max as the Man With No Name - and just as Leone's films stood on their own and were entirely unconcerned with connecting their stories, so does the original Mad Max trilogy leave trifling concerns of between-film continuity at the door. Fury Road is no different, offering an altered back story to Max and making no mention of his previous adventures. There are plot elements drawn from all three previous films, but nothing concrete to connect them, all of which makes it easier to accept the re-casting of Mel Gibson to Tom Hardy. Hardy looks, feels and acts like a different Max, and yet simultaneously he is still, undeniably, Max Rockatansky. Concerns over whether Fury Road is a sequel or a reboot miss the point - all that matters this is another Mad Max film.
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Much has been made of a minority of internet trolls laughably calling themselves 'Men's Rights Activists' angrily typing away from their parents' basements about there being women in Fury Road. And yes, the rumours are true: there are indeed some female characters in the film, many of whom have dialogue and character arcs all of their own. Fury Road isn't a feminist film - it's a movie directed by and about a man, after all - but it puts more or less every action movie since Terminator 2 to shame in having a cast filled with interesting female characters with their own arcs, motivations and agency. Charlize Theron heads the charge with a superfluous performance that reminds us what a versatile and talented actor she is. Reminiscent of the dynamic between Karl Urban and Olivia Thirlby in 2012's criminally ignored Dredd, Max plays foil to Theron's Furiosa; where Max is fully formed at the start of the film, stumbling in to other people's stories as he does, Furiosa is granted the lion's share of characterisation. Max, and by extension, the audience, are more or less along for the ride.
And what a ride it is. So many films promise what only Mad Max: Fury Road delivers, in the sense that it really could be called one long chase sequence with only a few short stops to catch our breath. Quite apart from the astonishing practical effects and minimal CGI, the constant inventiveness of the set pieces, and the technical marvel at cohesively editing all
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Who could possibly have predicted that after all these years, the fourth Mad Max film would not only work, but would result in the best action film of this century? Recasting Tom Hardy was inspired not just because Hardy is perfect for the role, but also, that it elevates the character from an icon of Australian cinema to a mythic archetype. Simply put, Mad Max: Fury Road, in its economical excess, in its merciless thunder of sound and fury, in its meticulous, beautiful madness, is about as pure an expression of cinema as can be hoped for. This, in itself, makes it unmissable. That it has been released in 2015, surrounded as it is by micro-managed expanded universes, vapid exercises in franchise management, and risk-averse studio decisions, is nothing short of a miracle.