Who Killed the World?
Mad Max: Fury Road
“Who Killed the World?” The graffiti just jumps out at you, when you see it on the wall of the Citadel’s awful Harem Chamber.
“Who Killed the World?” Indeed. Later it is asked by one of the female Breeders who are on the run from Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne), the ruler of the Citadel.
And maybe it’s even somewhere else in here, buried under the screaming insanity and outright mayhem that is George Miller’s belated return to the world of the Wasteland in this fourth installment, Mad Max: Fury Road.
There’s a grisly poetry to that question, as there was throughout the best of his original trilogy, the second Mad Max movie that was known as The Road Warrior and which was one of the greatest sequels ever made.
In the 1979 original, Max Rockatansky and civilization were still hanging from the edge of the precipice with bleeding fingertips; in the third we were years into the future as the world’s survivors tried to adjust to their new lives. With The Road Warrior we were at the purest moment of the collapse. Laws were long gone, new ones being invented by those strong enough to enforce them and Max – now the ultimate loner, drifter and survivor—right there in the blasted midst of it all.
Fury Road has the feel of that second epic, but with the madness and the action ramped up to an unprecedented degree. Without a doubt it should be seen on the biggest screen you can find, as this will become a new standard by which action films will be judged. In fact, I’m just going to go out on the limb here and say it: this is action film with a wicked dash of adrenaline-shot, superlatively imaginative, big-budget Art House movie.
Now there’s a mouthful for you. Imagination? In amongst the blistering, near-non-stop action? Well, yeah: Immortan Joe’s spaced-out travelling band of drummers and deranged guitarist shooting flames from the top of his instruments or the War Boys swaying on their poles far above the action before zooming down with dizzying accuracy right into the middle of the chaos.
Blood Bags and Shiny Chrome
In fact, Miller and his co-screenwriters Brendan McCarthy and Nico Lathouris have so much going on, so many visuals to offer that I wanted to see more of what they just ran past us. For myself, if there’s an extended version (stupid question) I want to see more, just for example, of the stilt-walking Marsh Dwellers.
Since I’ve mentioned a screenplay I better mention the story, such as it is. Max (Tom Hardy, replacing Mel Gibson –scary to think that it’s been three decades) is little more than a cipher. He’s as battered, bruised, bleeding and surviving as ever, but Fury Road pretty much belongs to Charlize Theron, who plays the enigmatic warrior, Imperator Furiosa.
We are straight into the action from the beginning, but Max is captured almost immediately, tortured and spends the first half hour of the movie in a muzzle, chained to the front of a careering vehicle like a grotesque hood ornament and used as a literal blood bag, with a tube attached to a sick War Boy, one of the religion-crazed followers of Imperator Joe along the Highways of Valhalla in the quest for the Shiny and Chrome.
And as sick as that image is, even worse is the mercifully brief shot we get of Joe’s human milking machines, women hooked up to produce an endless supply of Mother’s Milk.
Meanwhile, Furiosa has fled the Citadel with five of Joe’s brides; beautiful women picked specifically to give him children. And although Max will join up and help them in the flight to freedom it is Furiosa’s eyes that will remain with me. This is a haunting – a purely haunting— display from Theron. Head shaved, stump of one arm swinging, as bruised and manhandled as Max himself, at first I thought she was even more deglamourized than she was for her award-winning performance in Monster. However, that was just me being shallow: look beneath the dirt and the grime and you will see a beautiful woman and a beautiful soul. It is an incredible performance.
I have to mention the wonderful cinematography from John Seale. If the script never quite reaches the poetry of The Road Warrior, Seale’s work does, without a doubt. As to one person being the editor? That can’t be right, surely. Margaret Sixel is credited but for scenes like these surely she had to have a lot of help?
And as for that stunt work. Is it possible that no one was injured? Because it looks very light on the CGI and I believe that director Miller says that around 90% is physical. I’m going to say it again: Fury Road will redefine the action genre — although I’ll be damned if I know where you’re going to get anyone to equal Miller.
Who Killed the World? I haven’t been hit with such a bleak piece of graffiti since the words Apocalypse Now were seen briefly, sprayed behind Dennis Hopper in Francis Ford Coppola’s masterpiece.
And in this post-apocalyptic Australia, we needn’t hold out for any real answers either. How did Immortan Joe come to be? He is just one of those horrific tumors – like the ones that he and so many of his followers sport – which have been thrown up by this dying world. Like the Toecutter or Lord Humungus, from the previous films. And the Citadel? A new outpost, struggling to survive, just like Aunty Entity’s Bartertown.
Who Killed the World? Does it matter anymore than why Furiosa is looking for redemption?
And it is Furiosa’s pain filled, wounded eyes that will stay with me – long after the screams and the sounds of the twisted, shrieking metal along the Fury Road have died away.