I had an exam yesterday, in the centre of Leeds, which meant that I had a rare afternoon to kill on my own afterwards, which I decided to spend at the cinema. I've not been to the movies on my own for a very long time - over a decade, at least - but I'm a big boy now and I don't need Z to hold my hand! And being a Big Boy, who'd just had his nose in the books, I obviously went for what looked to be the biggest, loudest, crashiest movie out there - Max Mad Fury Road. I got what I wanted, and then a lot more on top.
So it's been a long time since the original Mad Max franchise ground itself into the sand with Beyond Thunderdome, reducing itself to self-parody in the process. George Miller has been trying to make Fury Road for years, sometimes with Mel Gibson on board, but eventually without. In the end, Fury Road arrives in a sort of flux state as regards the earlier movies, neither a sequel or a prequel, but not a clear reboot either. Max is the drifter from a Western, blowing into a story in progress, and then blowing out at the end, in many ways more a witness to someone else's legend than a plot driver in his own right.
The legend in this film is the instantly iconic Imperator Furiosa, played with implacable awesomeness by Charlize Theron. A senior officer in the army of one of the wastelands' warlords, she starts the film by making a break for a new life along with said warlords harem, taking a "War Rig" - a heavily armed and armoured articulated truck - off across the desert, Max, initially trussed up as a living "blood bag" for one of the "War Boys" in pursuit, passed from unwilling pursuer to staunch defender, without ever letting you forget that at heart this isn't actually his story.
On the surface level, Max Max Fury Road is a two-hour car chase to the music of overcharged engines and crunching metal. It's a brutal, jarring assault on the senses that serves as a reminder that even in this day of CGI super-everything, practical effects still have a reality that is near-impossible to duplicate. The whole story, and all the characters, are dialed up with a concious operatic sensibility, but where (for example) Beyond Thunderdome felt silly and kitsch, here it feels liberating and thrilling. There is a purity of vision that comes through the screen that you rarely seen in $150million movie.
Underneath all of this there is another, crunchier narrative. By giving nearly every major story beat, motivation and plot hook to one of the films many female characters, the film also acts as a handy metaphor for women breaking free of oppression. I mean, it's a little on the nose, but the "Brides" are literally running away from a gilded cage where they are defined solely by their breeding status and physical appearance, and pursued by a band of young men conditioned to believe in little more than glorious death in support of their corpulent overlords. I'm not even sure it qualifies as "Sub-Text".
All this blends together with some fantastic production design. It's gorgeous to look at; and a heavy implicit criticism of all those grey-bland dystopias that we can't seem to be free of. Even the costume design is top notch, each character showing through their appearance as much about them as their (uniformly sparse) dialogue. Everything is lean, stripped back and efficient. Everything arrows back in towards the thundering action on the road.
Mad Max: Fury Road is a reminder that we don't have to subsist solely on the PG-13 (12A) franchise fare we are so often served up. Hell, I like those films, but they're severely lacking in any sort of edge that would push them upwards in the Ratings game and turn away that lucrative early-teenaged market. Fury Roads success isn't just tilting older, but rather that older rating feels like a product of it being a more unfettered realisation of it's creators vision, and it's loading of proper themes - bold, feminist themes at that - also makes it feel like a film that someone got missed by whatever neutering committee usually gets to these things. So in short - this will feel like nothing else you'll see this summer, and you should go see it.