Review by Jacob Black, photos courtesy of Warner
The chase scenes start immediately. Within seconds, the rumbling of V8s and the sight of frightening nightmare vehicles bearing down on a hapless runner flare in the theatre. The music and sound effects are low key for this first one, though. This first chase is so nonchalant it sets a striking tone for the rest of the movie. Yes, this is a pivotal chase scene, yes, there is a violent crash, no, this is not unusual. In the Mad Max universe, this is perfectly normal.
When I tell you Mad Max: Fury Road is intense I’m employing every ounce of understatement I can muster. Too often in movie land these days the trailer gives away all the best bits. If you’ve seen the trailers, chances are you’ve seen all the best scenes already. Not so here. There is so much packed into this film that the trailers barely scratch the surface of the action.
It is frenetic and unrelenting action punctuated by the sort of clipped, limited dialogue that has long been a hallmark of Australian cinema – an industry in which director George Miller is a mountain. Mad Max is Artaudian cinema with a healthy dose of shock and awe. The makeup and costuming is grotesque and revolting, ensuring that even the calm moments are unsettling and dystopian.
Ever since the first Mad Max film, Miller has used BDSM and kink culture tropes as a code for depravity and to dehumanize his characters. These techniques are politically problematic but they are effective. It’s one of the many things that tie the four films together.
In the first few, gasoline was the commodity the world had gone mad for; in this one, it’s water. That means there’s a little more room for excessive fuel burning, flame outs and even a flaming fuel-powered electric guitar. Don’t get me wrong, we’re all winners when flames are happening, but surely fuel isn’t so plentiful you can go burning it hilariously in the air for funsies?
Mad Max fans will recognize and connect with more than a few familiar references. The infamous (and apparently invincible) Interceptor is back, of course, the music box makes an appearance, and a few more we won’t spoil because spoilers suck. Sadly the metal boomerang doesn’t make an appearance.
This edition was filmed mostly in Namibia after unseasonal rain rendered Australia too green, and it benefits from it. The stark African desert is more barren, more foreboding and more intense than what Australia has to offer and the jump to an African filming location seems to sink the Mad Max universe even further into decay.
The driving scenes are nuanced. There’s very little of the flash and bang “20 gear change, 40 steering correction” style of stunt driving, but there is a pretty epic J-turn and a few other neat tricks. The result is a welcome and unexpected realism that makes it easier to suspend belief when the less realistic action kicks in. Realism is clearly important to Miller, who pays attention to small details; like someone getting sick and having to be relieved from duty after mouth-siphoning too much petrol, or having to back off and let an over-stressed engine cool after you’ve sprayed fuel down the supercharged scoop to get a momentary boost of power.