Back in 1982, I went with my mom and dad to the U.K. to visit my grandmother, aunts, uncles and cousins. One day, my cousin took me to the cinema where we saw “Mad Max 2.” I had no idea what this film was about — except, as I was told, it was a sequel to “Mad Max.” I went in thinking it was going to be dumb, and came out wanting to see it again. I wasn’t the only one. When “Mad Max 2” came to the U.S., it was retitled “The Road Warrior” and went on to make about 23 million dollars in the U.S. alone. Pretty good haul for a film whose budget was about 4.5 million dollars. The popularity of the film with its spare backdrop of being shot in a desert, coupled with the novelty that an action adventure movie from Australia had some very quirky characters, made for a real treat to American moviegoers.
“The Road Warrior” was essentially a post-apocalyptic western with Australian accents. The violence level was punched up a few notches, the punk rock villains and new wave “good guys” made for some interesting visuals, but what moviegoers remember is Mel Gibson’s “I’m just here for the gasoline” self-interested loner of a character. By the time “Beyond Thunderdome” came out, it was bound to be a disappointment since George Miller was probably under a lot of pressure to improve upon franchise that started out in the B movie circuit and went mainstream. While “Beyond Thunderdome” was a so-so effort that couldn’t compete with the brilliance of “The Road Warrior,” it closed out the story in a way. Also, I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who thought there wasn’t much new wine to squeeze out of that old wineskin of a franchise.
Flash forward to 2015, where rebooting old franchises is the name of the money game in Hollywood. When I saw the trailer for “Mad Max: Fury Road,” I thought looked like it was behind the curve because it reminded me of watching a video game on an Xbox. The characters, the colors, the action, the simplified plot…well, it’s all so ho-hum these days since many video games are essentially westerns — with the gamer playing the role of the hero. However, the critical buzz going into this movie was unusually high for a rebooted film, so I thought “Hmmm, there maybe something here that’s novel for the genre.” Alas, “Mad Max: Fury Road” takes down a familiar route that paves very little new ground in terms of originality. George Miller is once again in the director’s chair and keeps the octane high in the first act — which is essentially one long chase sequence. By the time we’re able to catch our breaths, Miller slows the action down to reveal the plot (which is about finding green pastures in a more literal sense). However, sometimes there’s no there there, and that’s why Miller turns his characters around to go back from where they started. When you’re working with a rather thin plot that involves an overlord who keeps his subjects in various states of deprivation in a post-nuclear war world, it’s really a story about bad guys with a single-minded love of violence and power — and a vigilant few who want something better and set out to find it. In between, we get to see how humanity coalesces around a dictator who controls vital resources like water — and doles it out in drips and drabs to a thirsty horde who have no other access it.
Nothing is subtle in this post-apocalyptic world. Almost everything is grotesque, primitive, and tribal — except for the “good guys.” The action sequences are frenetic, and there’s a stop-motion quality to the cinematography that recalls a similar technique used in “The Road Warrior,” except this time it’s much more chaotic. While the character of Max is the same (or similar) to the one Mel Gibson played, Tom Hardy’s Max is kept in a “masked state” for most of the first act.
Only later when Max’s metal mask is removed, do we see him clearly for the first time. In a nod to “The Road Warrior” and adding a bit of a twist, the masked Max strapped to the front of one of the vehicles reminded me of the insane gang of punks in “The Road Warrior.”
But those allusions to a earlier film are shunted to one side as the story of Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) helps the Five Wives of the overlord, Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne), escape from his city during a fuel run to “Gas Town” in a big rig. The wives are tired of being held captive specifically for breeding and work a deal with Furiosa to get them to “The Green Place” where, it’s suggested, is not affected by the effects of nuclear fallout. Max comes into the their orbit after one of Joe’s War Boys vehicles (the one Max is strapped to) crashes into Furiosa’s rig during a chase. The liberated Max establishes a tenuous bond of trust between Furiosa and the wives and the newly thrown together group work together to find a new start far away from Joe and his gang of War Boys.
Overall, Miller does his best to keep the action at such an intense level that the viewer isn’t too bothered by the predictability of the narrative. However, if you’re looking for some simple, action-packed fun at your local cineplex, “Mad Max: Fury Road” won’t disappoint…just go in with slightly lowered expectations.