Cannes Review: Mad Max Fury Road

Strap in, say goodbye to your fingernails and prepare for a white knuckle ride of epic proportions. Mad Max Fury Road is everything and more that you could hope for from an action film, and viewers will be left shaken from its incredible levels of vehicular mayhem. Director George Miller may have taken twenty years to get this to the screen but his efforts have paid off with a film that rushes by in a breathless barrage of explosions and insane stunts.

The story follows Mad Max as he is stripped back to the absolute core. When the pedal is this firmly clamped to the metal, there is little room for plot, character or even dialogue. Max (Tom Hardy replacing Mel Gibson) is haunted by his tragic past and concerned with only one thing: survival. But within minutes of the film’s opening, Max has been hunted, captured, escaped and recaptured. Disgusting dictator figure Immortan Joe and his cult of ‘war boys’ have enslaved Max and hooked him up to provide much needed blood for sick soldiers.

Meanwhile, one of Joe’s Imperators named Furiosa (Charlize Theron) has taken a war rig, filled it with five of Joe’s wives and is making plans to escape from the evil warlord. As Furiosa takes off, Joe and his war boys are in hot pursuit. Sickly war boy Nux (Nicholas Hoult) is currently attached to Max in order to drain his blood, but he is determined to not miss out on any of the action, especially when he may be able to impress Joe. So he jumps in a car with Max strapped to the front of the vehicle and so begins a chase that lasts for the entire two hour running time, barely pausing for breath.

From the moment, the film begins to roll, audiences can expect to be witnesses to some of the most spectacular action you will ever see. When Fury Road finally has a fade to black after the mother of all sandstorms, you may just realise that your nails are gone and it’s been thirty minutes since you last took a breath. With this much incredible carnage packed into the opening scenes, it is very difficult to imagine where Fury Road can go next. And yet, somehow, George Miller saves the best for last with a finale that ups the ante and explodes off the screen.

Even with a simple chase driving the narrative, and though it is shot in the vast, barren deserts of Namibia, Fury Road never repeats itself and never allows a dull moment to slip by. The desert can be magnificent, but there is also the potential for the vast empty landscape to lack character or to become visually boring. But with George Miller behind the wheel and John Seale on cinematography duties, the visuals are constantly inventive and the world of Mad Max is nothing short of stunning. Witnessing the hordes of dark and dirty vehicles race across the golden sand, through giant canyons and into monstrous sandstorms is miraculous. The camera is always a part of the action, right up close to show the danger of the stunts and capturing the speed of the chase. If anything, the speed of the camera makes some of the action look safer than it should. You become desensitised to the fact that there are real people climbing all over these vehicles and that a simple slip would mean instant death.

However, it’s not all real, and there is some notable use of computer generated imagery. To Miller and his effects team’s credit though, the CGI never overwhelms the action and is a near-perfect complement to the expertly choreographed stunts and practical effects. Some sequences are so hair raising, and so brilliantly crafted that it is almost impossible to see how they have been put together. Stunt performers and even the stars seem to be hanging from speeding vehicles, their body parts often inches from the ground and explosions, with crashes and fights all adding to the visceral impact of the mayhem.

If all that isn’t enough, the soundscape created is relentless in escalating the tension. Juggling the huge roars of the engines, the thumping drum beats on the soundtrack and even an electric guitarist who rides along in Immortan Joe’s war party, the music is always there, amping up the action and increasing the sense of danger. There are some heavy handed violins to inject some emotion in quieter moments but with such a tense and desperate chase, the manipulative music isn’t essential.

In amongst all this, it’s hard for the stars to get a look in. Tom Hardy is like a supporting player even though he stars as the title character. For the first thirty minutes at least, he is really just a passenger in his own movie. Charlize Theron’s Furiosa drives the film, like she drives the war rig and initiates the rescue of the wives. She is lacking an arm and hardened by a severe buzz cut, cutting an instantly iconic figure. Furiosa is a one woman army and what she lacks in character development, she makes up for with sheer bloody minded determination. The five wives are less well served as actual characters and are really there as a plot device, while some third act additions to the cast are welcome but woefully underdeveloped.

What Mad Max Fury Road lacks in character, it makes up for in spectacle. George Miller is like the Terence Malick of manic action movies. Mad Max Fury Road hurtles by in a blistering rush of rolling madness.

About the Author

Peter Turner Senior Reporter & Critic for Tastic Film Magazine.

Posted in Cannes Film Festival, Cannes Reviews 2015, Festivals, Movies, Reviews