Reviews and entertainment articles by Dave Simpson
“And the Road Warrior? That was the last we ever saw of him. He lives now only in my memories.”
Those are the words that ended the superb second film of the original Mad Max trilogy. And after having seen the latest entry in the series, maybe the character should have stayed in our memories. Fury Road may return to the bizarre post-apocalyptic landscape for which its predecessors are famous, but in doing so it adds very little to the franchise in the way of depth or development.
The plot follows Imperator Furiosa as she flees across the wasteland in an attempt to deliver the enslaved brides of the deranged Immortan Joe to safety. Anarchy ensues when the vengeful villain rallies every maniac at his disposal to give chase to his turncoat commander so that he can retrieve his wayward wives. What follows is essentially a two hour car chase in which Max is…just kind of there.
For some strange reason, the titular character is not the protagonist here. Instead, he’s reduced to being a supporting player in his own movie. In fact, if you removed the franchise title and changed Max’s name, then it’s likely you wouldn’t even realise that this fictional universe is supposed to be anchored around him. He really just acts as an underdeveloped add-on to Furiosa’s mission.
There’s not much to be said about Tom Hardy’s portrayal of Max here either. After his brief opening narration, he only grunts out a handful of lines in an accent that’s presumably meant to be Australian, but sounds more like a vague mimicry of Bane. There’s nothing charismatic or memorable about this version of Max Rockatansky. To be fair, it’s probably not Hardy’s fault that the character ends up being so one-note and inconsequential so much as it is that of the script.
There seems to be an assumption that the audience will already be familiar with his backstory so that he can coast by on the property’s pre-established esteem alone. The problem with that is it’s been three decades since Max was on screen and this incarnation needs to earn an identity of his own. Mel Gibson’s iconic take on the character can’t simply be thrust onto another actor. Someone else can adopt the mantle, but there has to be an effort to flesh him out and make him worthy of rooting for again. However, no such attempt is made here.
One could even make the argument that if Max were to be completely removed from the story, barring a few minor tweaks, the same tale could still have been told and perhaps in an even more satisfactory way. At least then it wouldn’t be weighed down by the expectations brought upon it by the franchise’s name and central figure.
Rather, it’s Charlize Theron’s Imperator Furiosa who is the protagonist and driving force of this narrative. The focus is on her almost from the outset and remains there for the movie’s duration. Theron does well with what she’s given, but Furiosa’s predominantly stoic disposition makes her a heroine who is difficult to get behind. While we are eventually given some insight into her past and motivations, it doesn’t help that those she’s trying to save are largely bland and uninteresting additions to the plot.
With the exception of Rosie Huntington-Whiteley’s admirable effort at making Angharad strong and selfless, all of Immortan Joe’s wives are almost always portrayed as weak and helpless damsels in distress. There’s no real attempt to make us care about their plight, beyond the fact that what has been done to them is wrong and therefore they should be liberated. It would help if there was a greater willingness to explore and develop who each of these otherwise interchangeable individuals are.
Immortan Joe suffers from the same issues. We can see that he’s grotesque and despicable, but beyond that he’s not very menacing. He’s just an overweight tyrant in a mask who for some reason managed to emerge on top after the world went to hell.
Thankfully there is at least one participant who is sufficiently compelling and sympathetic. Nicholas Hoult gives the best performance of the piece by a long shot as henchman turned hero Nux, stealing the show throughout. By having a proper arc that’s fully realised before the credits roll, his character arguably ends up being the most noble of those involved in the story.
Nux aside though, the lack of character development has an unfortunate knock on effect when it comes to getting invested in the action, of which there is certainly plenty. One thing that nobody can deny is that Fury Road is one of the most action-packed, high-octane movies that has been made in recent times. The pace is relentless, with there being barely a breath taken between set pieces. The cinematography is also spectacular, with plenty of stylistic call backs to the original series. This is a good looking piece of cinema, that much is for sure.
That being said, for all of its cosmetic splendour and explosions, it’s extremely flat and soulless. The lack of likable characters means that there’s not much in the way of tension or suspense throughout any of the visually well crafted action sequences. As a result, while they look good, they become quite tiresome and monotonous. And that’s a real shame because had the filmmakers succeeded in inserting more heart and depth into the proceedings, then this could have stood a chance at being one of the best movies of its genre.
Unfortunately however, a hollow script, an ineffectual title character and a predominantly underdeveloped array of supporting players stop Mad Max: Fury Road from being attractive in any way beyond surface level. While it doesn’t fail completely in that it’s not entirely unwatchable, it most definitely does not pass with honours. If you haven’t seen this movie and want to, by all means do, but I’d recommend just staying in and sticking on The Road Warrior instead.
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