Bang! Boom! Director George Miller has definitely heard the expression ‘go out with a bang’. The only problem is Mad Max comes in with a bang then explodes again and again for a full two hours. To induce a ‘wow’, each explosion must be louder than the last: quite a task. The Guy Fawkes of film shows the Chinese how to burn through firecrackers like Saudi Arabian gasoline. Or should that be Iraqi…
The plot: Charlize Theron steals a ‘war rig’, basically a Shell fuel tanker, and drives towards Gas Town, only to divert and steal a whole host of pregnant ladies. These muses of the desert belong to one Immortan Joe, a weird freak who owns the water and humanity – a bit like a modern day sheikh only without the philanthropic sponsoring of overseas extremism. He prefers his to be domestic. And the film is one long, never-ending domestic. From Tom Hardy, replacing Mel Gibson’s Max, and Charlize Theron’s abortive love affair (they get distracted by their own mortality) to Immortan Joe’s preoccupation with pregnancy and all things V8 (not a viagra brand, but the engine variety). Domesticity reigns blue supreme.
Joe has stolen the atmosphere, the means to inculcate Valhalla, depicted here as one great big greenhouse. The green screen budget clearly did not stretch to sufficient CGI for heaven on earth. Instead, we have greenhouse gases set on the oil fields of Tikrit. Saddam Hussein is perhaps an apt dictatorial comparison. That means that Tom Hardy would represent Tony Blair, and Charlize Theron would be George Bush – in a film already lambasted for its female emancipation, casting a South African expat woman would irk the haters even further – and Nicolas Hoult as a ghost-skinned Jack Straw, or representative of the unwilling British electorate. Still, in a world of petrodollars, in a world gone turbo, international interventionism is the call of the day. So towards Gas Town we must go.
The setting, relocated from the deserts of Oz to the planes of Africa, is a cross between the opening sequence of Kubrick’s Space Odyssey and a feature length Top Gear episode. Naturally, Miller’s creation leans more towards the latter. There is not a hybrid in sight – it is more of a monster truck nuclear apocalypse as each beast is bigger than the last. Top Gear’s Botswana special is the point of reference. The one in which Clarkson and co. drove over the salt plains, Hammond probably fell over, Clarkson was probably controversial and May probably drove slowly. Ha. Ha. Only here, the threat is imminent death, not lower ratings. This is where Kubrick’s bizarre prologue to 2001 enters the fray. The humanity depicted in post-apocalyptic Mad Max is like the desert gorilla gangs of Space Odyssey. They fight over the only source of water and are subject to the dawn of brutality as each battles for an inch of survival. The Green Party should use the film to justify why we need another wind turbine.
This is a film in tune with the diesel-guzzling generation. Fast and Furious, but in monster trucks on the desert. Like an episode of Ice Road Truckers with the thermostat turned to max. What does turn up is Tom Hardy. He is an actor turning into a mercenary; while not quite at Dornan levels of shady grey indecency, he does seem to be slowly selling his soul to the mainstream, and a franchise film is the end of that road. He is a busy man, in a whirlwind of furious role acquisition. Fortunately, he still seems to balance the avaricious with the artistic, the box office with the independent. Since being Batman’s Bane, he has appeared in BBC’s Peaky Blinders as a Jewish gangster, and mini screenplay, Locke, where he gained his driving licence careering down the motorways of England on the blower to his wife. He was also in The Drop starring James Gandolfini, a minor masterpiece that was both big in cast and small in ambition. Mad Max and Child 44 represent the pay packet security which drives most of modern society. But he can sleep well, dignity intact.
Hardy is a global star now. The only problem is, you barely ever see the man. Here, like Batman’s Bane, he spends the film’s first half behind a giant mask blocking the face. At least in Mad Max, his voice is not adulterated; he seems to find inspiration in the sore throat vocals of Christian Bale’s Welsh Dragon of a Dark Knight. But we miss that puppyish visage that makes the man more melancholic than mean. His is a genteel Mad Max, without the bombast of Gibson, more reflective and charming – good with the ladies. Which is important, because in Fury Road, Hardy plays a social worker/hijacker who needs to protect his wards of five pregnant ladies, and Charlize Theron’s Furiosa. In the hot climes, and with the female intimacy, it becomes a kind of alternative reading of Hardy’s character Ricki Tarr in John le Carré’s Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, entitled ‘What Tarr really got up to in Turkey’. Let’s just say the romance is not quite so charming; Theron has a diesel stained forehead, rather than being a Russian rose. Hardy gives her the eyeball a few times and the love is platonic. But there is something there. Then he disappears, abandoning a woman and four pregnant ladies. Tragically poor parenting.
‘MEDIOCRE!’ in fact. The most quotable moment of the film, as half-life Nicolas Hoult seeks Valhalla and ends up tripping off a tanker, leaving brace face Immortan Joe to decry his ineptitude with such abusive language. No wonder it deserves its certificate: 15. You would need to be at least fifteen years old to appreciate the nuance of such an angular film. Well, that’s critical bullshit – Mad Max, merely mediocre.