A History With Mad Max
I first saw George Miller’s iconic cult classic MAD MAX when I was perhaps thirteen or maybe fourteen years old. I was still a year or so away from my awakening into the world of classic, more adult themed films such as THE GODFATHER, APOCALYPSE NOW, GOODFELLAS etc and to be honest I was more than likely too young to be watching such a graphic depiction of violence and cruelty.
I remember that time well, sitting at home, just my mother and I, we would often watch films together once I had come in from playing football with my friends, after dinner and after my father had already fallen asleep following a hard day’s work, and on this particular night we had decided to go for the 1979, Mel Gibson, Aussie thriller, a film my mother had either forgotten or just never watched all the way through. Whatever the case, we put the film on and I really had no idea what to expect.
The truth is we both struggled with the content on display, the sequence where Max’s family is murdered was brutal and I remember vividly how unsettling the whole thing was to me back then. I remember wanting to turn away, not wanting to face the very sinister nature of the events occurring before my eyes and I wouldn’t really come to enjoy what was being offered in the movie until I was a little older. I did, however, appreciate the film and knew that I had seen something worth caring about.
The 1981 sequel THE ROAD WARRIOR was a slightly tamer affair which lent itself to more relaxed viewing, a better movie than the original, ramping up the insanity a couple of notches, well on its way to the much camper BEYOND THUNDERDOME in 1985. These films stayed with me as I journeyed on to adulthood, the original more so than the others, least of all THUNDERDOME, and so would the awful feeling of watching Max’s life ripped apart before his very eyes, a feeling that permeated the atmosphere of the living room I sat in one night with my mother all those years ago.
So when 10 years or so later, George Miller’s long awaited, long planned sequel/reboot MAD MAX: FURY ROAD was due to hit cinemas, my interest was certainly peaked, even more so when a host of glowing reviews came in, touting the Tom Hardy led project as essentially the greatest action film of the last ten years or more. From what I could tell this was going to be a slightly meaner experience than BEYOND THUNDERDOME but also not baring the nasty revenge laced tone of the original that I still remembered so vividly. Anyway, I sat in my seat, my expectations monstrously high from all the praise being thrown it’s way, ready to take in the madness, the feeling of that night watching a Mel Gibson movie with my mother still lurking somewhere in the back of my head.
The commercials played, the previews ran, the lights dimmed, I was expectant. “My name is Max”. Boom. After perhaps a line or two of murky exposition the film explodes into chaos and never stops, Max running for his life in a world that would give your nightmares bad dreams, a world that is of earth but twisted and sent to incredibly desperate places. The films refuses to rest from this moment on, hurtling a hundred miles an hour through the desert on one of the finest examples of action movie pacing I have ever been witness too. Max and his equally troubled companion Furiosa never gave me a chance to think about that awful scene fed to me somewhere around 2004 via 1979.
FURY ROAD is truly something. A master class in production design, a shiny beacon for all that is possible, a film that slams in your face how over blown CGI is an annoyance, something that is far from necessary to make an action packed experience for the ages. The amount of work that must have went into creating this world, the cars, the machines, the costumes, props etc is staggering beyond belief. Every arts department for the insanity that is FURY ROAD will I am sure be receiving invites come Oscar night and if there was ever an excuse to create a ‘Best Stunts’ category at Hollywood’s biggest event than this was it. How they pulled off some of the beautiful chaos that was appearing on screen is something I will never be able to understand.
FURY ROAD is unapologetic, a huge part of why it resonated so strongly with me and also why the original affected me in such a visceral way. The movie and its characters arrive, explaining nothing, showing you what it has and expecting you to deal with it. There is no spoon feeding involved here, if you don’t quite catch something then its “sorry, too late, we are already gone”. The original didn’t care what you thought, it was just trying to be the best movie it could possibly be and FURY ROAD behaves in much of the same way. George Miller doesn’t pander to the masses and the studio behind him haven’t forced him to try and pull in every demographic under the sun. This is why the first two MAX films were so successful; straying unfortunately a little from the path with BEYOND THUNDERDOME, but with FURY ROAD things are well and truly back on course and it seems to be going down a treat with viewers.
Plot isn’t exactly paramount to the success of this film, it’s a pretty simple, point A to point B storyline and that’s okay, that’s not why you brought your ticket, that’s not why you’re here. It doesn’t matter who Max is, his back story is left to minute flashes, hallucinatory images, never offered with any context. When Furiosa asks him his name, he tells her it doesn’t matter and he’s right it doesn’t matter, he could be nameless, Clint Eastwood in all those 60’s westerns, Ryan Gosling in DRIVE. Max is just a man, haunted and violent. He needs to get away, this world is mad, this is how things are and we’re all going along for the ride. Its simple stuff, executed to perfection. Ambience and the feel of the world was what MAD MAX was always about, an iconic character trying to survive in a world that was perhaps even crazier than he was and in 2015 this has never been truer. The definition of insanity has taken on a whole new meaning and I for one was left wondering how the hell Miller was going to top this in the future. Things can’t get crazier after FURY ROAD… can they?
The ideal way to experience this film would be not to know a single thing about it and preferably never having read one word of a review but this was not the case with myself, so yes, I came in with baggage, I arrived with expectations and this is indeed a movie that deserves to be shouted about, you should be prefaced with the knowledge of what Miller has achieved here and you should be cognoscente of the fact that your idea of what an action flick can be in 2015 will soon be changed forever. In a world of terrible CGI infested ‘action’ disasters, pumped out on a never ending convenor belt of mediocrity, FURY ROAD is the film we have all been waiting for, the saviour of the genre, the re-emergence of a classic franchise that isn’t pure money grabbing garbage.
The phenomenal world building that Miller has managed to create, in a single film, for a whole new generation of fans is awe inspiring. Sequels will be arriving, for that there is no doubt and for the first time in a very long time that is something to be excited for. FURY ROAD has taken the best aspects of everything Max should be and he isn’t sorry, he couldn’t care less what you think or if you understand his world.
My history with the franchise has been an uncomfortable one, an exciting one, a revelatory one but the future is where my attention is now. His name is Max everybody, not that it matters, and his world is even more insane than we remember. He has some new friends and his grim past is left mostly for another time but he’s most definitely back and I don’t think he will be leaving us again any time soon.
MAD MAX: FURY ROAD is out in cinemas now.
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