Don’t need no stinkin’ heroes
The future world is still bad, and everyone’s still badass in long-awaited return to Mad Max franchise
One of the more engaging things about the first three Mad Max films (released in 1979, 1981 and 1985, respectively) is that they were freakishly full of punk rage and fury, and thus seemed almost totally immune to the bromides dispensed by more conventional action-movie franchises. “We Don’t Need Another Hero,” sung by Tina Turner in Beyond Thunderdome (1985), seemed to become the anthem for all three of the films in George Miller’s paradoxical nontrilogy.
So it’s a little strange to find that, after a three-decade hiatus, Max is back, and—what’s more—Miller has found yet another way to spin an X-treme Max adventure while staying more or less true to that Thunderdome anthem.
It would have been interesting to have an aging Mel Gibson play Max one more time, but that of course would have implied that the apocalyptic endgames of the series had somehow found 30 years’ worth of renewable future somewhere out there in Max’s mad wasteland where the most valued commodities—gasoline and human blood—are in increasingly short supply.
But no matter—Tom Hardy is a perfectly good choice to play Miller’s heroically desperate antihero. Plus, speaking of renewal, the real star of this show is the desperate and gallant Furiosa (Charlize Theron), who is trying to rescue the pregnant, bikini-clad trophy wives of the grotesquely masked archvillain Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne). Furiosa and at least a couple of the brides are fully capable of defending themselves in post-Thunderdome warfare, as are the wizened lady bikers who turn up late in the action.
The film’s macho feminism is dramatized via the brief, fugitive partnership of Furiosa and Max. As such, it stands as the latest of the thematic crosscurrents that mark the continuing evolution of the series’ testosterone-fueled fantasies. Furiosa, meanwhile, speaks of “redemption” as her goal, and that applies to Max as well. At the outset, he is an abject prisoner, viewed only as a “blood bag” by the vampiric zombies who are his captors.
Max plays a key role in the lady warriors’ survival, but, rather like John Wayne in The Searchers, he must walk away from the community he has helped preserve. By the end, however, he has torn away the mask of the monstrous Immortan Joe and gotten free of the forked iron mask that was part of his own captivity. Our last glimpse of him is from Furiosa’s point of view, and his face looks more distinctly human than at any other time in the film.
That said, Fury Road is every bit as brutal and rambunctious as its predecessors. While it uses more CGI than some early reviews might lead you to believe, it has fierce, muscular intensity to its stunt heavy action sequences, and a strikingly visceral sense of human flesh in its portraiture.
The violence, of course, is excessive. It’s bound to wear you out, but it’s also often weirdly comical. Maybe the spirit of Mack Sennett, the king of violent slapstick, is presiding over all this. Maybe Mad Max is the Keystone Kops on steroids. And maybe that’s what the heavy metal guitarist on the hood of Immortan Joe’s battle wagon is trying to tell us.