"Oh, no. Two-and-a-half hours of Tom Hardy in a mask again?"
This was the thought that went through my head as I waited for 'Mad Max: Fury Road' to begin at a suburban Mumbai multiplex, which insisted on showing us the trailer of upcoming Dwayne Johnson starrer 'San Andreas' no less than three times.
I'm generally cynical about reboots, even if they are by the very same director who created the franchise (*cough* George Lucas *cough*). As a result, from this latest installment of dystopian road movie franchise 'Mad Max', created by Australian director George Miller in 1979 and famous for launching the career of one Mel Gibson, I had middling expectations. My best case scenario was that it would be better than 'Star Wars: The Phantom Menace' and possess the technical finesse of at least a 'Tron: Legacy'.
But I was proven wrong, and how. 'Mad Max: Fury Road' is a rare action movie in today's times in that that it looks and feels like the product of a fully realised vision. It possesses the vital ingredient missing in most CGI-laden summer blockbusters: a sense of clockwork synchronicity between its various departments. The cinematography, costumes, make-up, background score, and action sequences don't come across as disparate elements fighting individually for the viewer's attention -- they work as one unit to serve the script and that alone.
Put simply, it's the summer blockbuster 'Avengers: Age Of Ultron' should have been.
Tom Hardy plays Max Rockatansky, a lone renegade in a future where most of humanity lies destroyed thanks to wars over fuel and, subsequently, water. A settlement in the midst of dusty, tree-less terrain, called the Citadel, is ruled by Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne), who covers his horrifically sore-ridden body with a plastic suit. As his diseased, unwashed subjects living below him starve to death, Immortan Joe controls the supply of both fuel and water, releasing the latter as a torrent from large pipes for only about a minute before warning his people, "Do not get addicted to water. It will take hold of you." Supporters of the 'Legalise Marijuana' movement will find this sentiment familiar.
"'Mad Max: Fury Road' is a rare action movie in today's times in that that it looks and feels like the product of a fully realised vision."
The hierarchies portrayed in this society are grotesque, yet fascinating. War Boys -- shaven-headed young men who live truncated lives -- fight for their king, with hopes of dying in battle and being taken to the "gates of Valhalla". One of them, Nux (Nicholas Hoult), has two large cancerous tumours and is kept alive by Max, who is captured by them and used as a human blood-bag (and referred to as such). A reminder: this is by the 70-year-old director who spent the last two decades creating family-friendly franchises such as 'Babe' and 'Happy Feet'.
Meanwhile, a senior lieutenant named Furiosa (Charlize Theron, in 'Ripley' mode) takes her souped-up 'war rig' for what looks like a routine 'guzzoline' run, but in reality, she's helping the King's four young and beautiful wives escape their miserable existence. This sets up a thrilling road chase that lasts for the remainder of the film, filled with plenty of eye-popping visuals and heart-stopping action sequences.
Perhaps the best thing about the script is how it is self-referential without being self-reverential, a pitfall that all reboots tend to succumb to. The campy, heavy-metal aesthetic of the original series is retained, but with nudges and winks that seem to say, "We know this is crazy but just shut up and enjoy the ride, won't you?"
"A reminder: this is by the 70-year-old director who spent the last two decades creating family-friendly franchises such as 'Babe' and 'Happy Feet'."
The War Boys, slavish and wretched, have their own little vocabulary that seems to be gleaned from various pop cultural nuggets passed down to them as facts (they seem to have a thing for 'chrome'). A rag-tag renegade women fighters call themselves the 'Vuvalini'. A convoy of soldiers led by Immortan Joe in pursuit of Furiosa (later joined by Max) also includes, hilariously, a troupe of war drummers and a metal guitarist who is constantly riffing away. The latter, whose flying V guitar shoots out flames intermittently, is perhaps the best comic touch I've ever seen in an action movie.
Reportedly shot on location in Namibia, the cinematography by John Seale captures the terrain beautifully. The background score by Dutch musician Junkie XL, is a sublime mix of percussive elements and strings that strive more for melody than rhythm (thus going away from the 'Hans Zimmer' approach). The action sequences -- a mixture of live-action, CGI, and good, old-fashioned stunt work -- are the most engaging I've seen in a while now, and alone worth the price of admission.
However, at the end of it all, there is a story and there is a method to Max's 'madness'. In a feminist move that seems to have outraged 'Men's Rights Activists', Max and Furiosa have an equal presence in the movie. Both are stellar, with Hardy playing Max as a disturbed and unhinged character who wants to do good out of instinct, and Theron (sporting a buzz cut and a robotic arm) is as good an action heroine as can be. The film may have retained its '80s aesthetic, but its sexual politics are more 2015 than several of its contemporaries.