Mad Max: Fury Road review – Tom Hardy is a macho Mr Bean in brilliantly pimped reboot

Charlize Theron joins Hardy’s lone wolf ex-cop in George Miller’s deliriously strange action adventure, a rollicking Grand Theft Auto revamped by Hieronymus Bosch

That adjective in the title is accurate. Extravagantly deranged, ear-splittingly cacophonous, and entirely over the top, George Miller has revived his Mad Max punk-western franchise as a bizarre convoy chase action-thriller in the post-apocalyptic desert. There are what seem to be dozens of huge rigs and chunky 18-wheelers driven by large, cross men with long hair and bad teeth, or no hair and no teeth, their rides pimped out with skulls and other badass accessories. Some of these assault vehicles have permanent armies of drummers on board, thumping belligerently and rhythmically away, creating the kind of scary and upsetting noise usually only heard on the streets of the Edinburgh festival.

With a similar view to terrifying the enemy, one truck has a lead guitarist perched on the hood with a stack of amplifiers, thrashing out what might be a continuous Slipknot medley. Using a recording won’t do – these people believe in keeping their aggressive music live. And when the vehicles crash, they don’t do any forward-facing twirl though the air the way they used to do back in the 1970s: now it’s the customary rear axle lurch-up for a giant somersault and juddering crash that took the fillings out of my teeth.

It’s like Grand Theft Auto revamped by Hieronymus Bosch, with a dab of Robert Rodríguez’s From Dusk Till Dawn. Tom Hardy plays Max Rockatansky himself, the former interceptor lawman and petrolhead of the original movies, driven to extreme measures by the murder of his wife and child. This film does not appear to run sequentially from the previous trilogy; it’s more a general reimagining of the first, or the overall raddled mood-scape of all three.

Watch Mad Max: Fury Road trailer in full – video

Max is here a lone wolf, a survivor of the vaguely delineated global catastrophe that has made oil, water and bullets rare commodities thereabouts, and he is tormented by flashback memories of the child he couldn’t save. He is captured by the hateful chieftain Immortan Joe (played by Mad Max veteran Hugh Keays-Byrne) and taken to his grotesque stronghold, the Citadel, where Joe warlords it over an oppressed semi-bestial populace by controlling the water supply and bizarrely supplementing their fluid intake with industrial quantities of mother’s milk, farmed from imprisoned pregnant women. Max is fated to escape with another rebel: the one-armed Imperator Furiosa, played with glittery-eyed panache by Charlize Theron, whose job was to lead raids, stealing gasoline, ammo and other commodities.

Once captured like Max, and turned into a gladiatorial warrior in Joe’s service, Furiosa is now furious at his patriarchal tyranny; she is escaping, taking with her an improbable phalanx of scantily clothed young women, the “breeders” the warlord wishes to make the mothers of his children (they look as if they are heading for an edgy Australian Vogue photoshoot). Max and Furiosa are heading for a spectacular showdown with their oppressor, and must also deal with Joe’s mercurial, shaven-headed footsoldier Nux, played by Nicholas Hoult.

Mad Max Fury Road
Channelling Mel … glittery eyed Charlize Theron Photograph: PR

It really is a strange film. As Max, the craggy but full-lipped Tom Hardy doesn’t look anything like Mel Gibson. It is Theron – or possibly Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, playing a sultry breeder called Splendid – who is channelling the eerily beautiful Gibson from 1979, except that probably neither is pretty enough. Mad Max: Fury Road is almost a silent film in its way. Dialogue is at a minimum, and when Max says anything it is usually preceded by an eccentric rumbling, mumbling mmmm sound, like a macho Mr Bean. He is impassive, to say the least: the nearest Tom Hardy’s Max comes to an emotional outburst is when Splendid does something very brave while hanging on to the side of the truck. Max gives her a little smile and boyish thumbs-up. It’s the Mad Max equivalent of hugging her and declaiming: “Darling, your courage is magnificent.” And when Nux wishes to express defiance or euphoria, he sprays his mouth with silver-grey paint, to make his face look even more like a skull. That is pretty dysfunctional.

At certain key moments, people’s body movements, especially Max’s, slightly speed up, giving the film a kind of dreamlike horror effect, which further colours the occasionally Dalí-esque strangeness of these feral militia on the landscape. Everything looks churned and charred: the heat and desert have turned everyone mad, like Max. As someone says: “Do not become addicted to water; it will take hold of you and you will resent its absence.” It could be a poster tagline for this entirely demented film.


Peter Bradshaw

The GuardianTramp

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