The latest instalment in the Mad Max series is a technical triumph with all manner of digital and physical effects, stunts and astounding action sequences. However, as big and bold as the film is, the lack of any logical narrative, so-so performances and the repetition of so much of the action ultimately renders the whole thing as a boring, wasted opportunity writ large. Perhaps director George Miller was on a hiding to nothing in revisiting this barren future world in which oil and water are the most valuable commodities, but what takes place here bears little resemblance, either in aesthetics or characterisation, from the film that first introduced us to Max Rockatansky and quite righty earned a reputation as a bona fide Australian classic. In fact, it really seems as though references to Max – both in the name of the film and Tom Hardy’s character – are more about cashing in on the success of the previous three films than anything else because this could just as easily be a post-apocalyptic chapter in the seemingly endless Fast and the Furious franchise. Instead of reverting to both the aesthetic and mood of the first two films, Miller has opted to draw upon those elements that rendered the third film – Beyond Thunderdome – such a disappointment.
Some 30 years after Thunderdome, Hardy takes over from Mel Gibson as Max, but it is actually Charlize Theron’s Furiosa who is the lead character here and the catalyst for what becomes, quite literally, a two-hour car chase through the Namibian desert. I use the term ‘car’ loosely though because the vehicles here range from modified motorcycles to monster trucks to a fleet of hybrids that range from crazy to pretty cool, one of which seems a throwback to Peter Weir’s The Cars that Ate Paris. The film opens with a somewhat silly pre-title sequence in which Max is hunted down by members of a group known as the War Boys, only to escape and be recaptured again. Max is imprisoned in The Citadel, the underground enclave of malevolent ruler Immortan Joe, who has despatched Furiosa to Gas Town to collect petrol. When Joe discovers that Furiosa has helped his five wives escape from The Citadel, the chase is on, with Max chained to the front of one of the pursuing vehicles. From here, the film consists of various groups of desert dwellers chasing down Furiosa, who is joined by Max and a War Boy named Nux (Nicholas Hoult) after their vehicle crashes in a sand storm. It is not giving too much away in saying that, despite being outnumbered and outgunned, Furiosa counters everything that is thrown her way.
The most infuriating part of all this is the fact that, having finally seen off the various threats and reached their destination, the group, which has now grown to include the likes of model Megan Gale, simply decide to turn around and head back to The Citadel, taking on the same enemies as before and using the exact same tactic to stall their pursuers. It is at this point that it all becomes a bit of a blur and a bore as you are just watching the same action – which is terrifically choreographed and executed to be sure – that we have already seen. Is the fact that they are travelling in a different direction somehow supposed to make us believe we are seeing something different? It is like watching the same movie twice and, as such, the film could have been shorter or the running time better utilised to provide more insight into the various characters. Through all the mayhem, Max says very little as is his wont, playing second fiddle to Furiosa.
There are plenty of faces amongst the supporting cast that Australian audiences will recognise, such as Angus Sampson and TV veterans Richard Carter and John Howard, whose character may well have been Austin Powers’ Fat Bastard in another life. The sheer scale of the action is staggering and it is the skill with which this has been performed and captured that saves Mad Max: Fury Road, but no matter how impressive something is, after a while you want to see something different. Theron and Hoult are the pick of the performers in a film in which spectacle has been privileged at the expense of everything else. Yes it is spectacular, but a series of stunts and special effects do not a movie make.