Starring: Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron, Nicholas Hoult, Hugh Keays-Byrne, Josh Helman, Nathan Jones
Directed by: Thomas Vinterberg
Looks aren’t everything.
Be warned: The future is an arid nightmare full of vicious, warlords with leathery skin, bad teeth, missing noses. Water, blood, and gas are prized, harvested, and hoarded. Cruelty is a way of life and ugly is the pervasive adjective for the population and its many violent gangs.
Ugliest of all is King Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne) a repulsive, white-haired tyrant who controls the water and thus, the turf known as The Wasteland from his internal mountain lair, The Citadel. In Joe’s world, women are for breeding and milking.
Max (Tom Hardy) is a survivor and loner, haunted by nightmares of his deceased family, living on instinct (he doesn’t mind eating his mutant food raw) until he’s captured by Joe’s mobilized War Boy posse and kept as a living blood transfusion for Nux (Nicholas Hoult), a War Boy who has actually named the tumors on his neck. It’s nice to have friends.
But this is not about Joe, Max or Nux. This is about Furiosa, a big rig driving, one-armed female warrior who breaks ranks from Joe, smuggling his wives (who do not follow the dress code or skin type for these parts; they moisturize) into a sought-after destination she remembers as the Green Place.
A relentless pursuit ensues, as Joe’s forces, along with other allies – all armed, motorized, souped-up, and decidedly NOT aesthetic to the eye, give constant chase and battle to Furiosa and the wives, joined eventually by Nux and Max to form a tiny but effective ragtag army of their own
There are many novel ways to assault and die, and director George Miller (all three of the previous Mad Max films in the franchise) explores unique variations, all of them on wheels, some on poles, some as living hood ornaments. The visuals, stunt work, custom vehicles, set and sound design all rock, sometimes literally.
Most of the film is a chase scene, one long shot of adrenaline to the heart, which can be exhausting to watch. There is very little exposition except for Max’s tiny voice-over at the very beginning, and some Furiosa dialogue with various women of her original clan. There is a lot to see and hear, and the scenes of pursuit are endless. Is gas scarce or what? You wouldn’t know it from the hairtrigger tempers attached to the lead footed goons at the pedal.
Miller’s new world order is ferociously realized, highly stylized, and sometimes laughably over the top. Flesh is hooked, chained, masked, sliced, and tattooed.
Bodies are commodities to be drained of blood and milk. Barren desert vistas underscore a primitive existence where no mercy is expected or shown.
Other grotesque characters are introduced. One has a metal nose and edemic feet; one has no eyes. All in a day’s work for the inhabitants of the world after the bomb. The explosions don’t stop, nor do the considerable amount of omnipresent gears grinding out a rhythm of mayhem and brutality. Turns out grease is the word. Axle grease, that is.
Max is not even the star of his own film. This is Furiosa’s story, with our anti-hero playing the supporting role. Both Theron and Hardy do their best to lift the material from mindless to meaningful, but with so few lines, they are continually drowned out by revving engines, war cries, and an insanely frenetic solo guitarist with a rig (and stage) of his own. The drum corps. rides on another. Music does NOT soothe these savage beasts.
The problem is that the story is only told through action so that some viewers are left to draw their own conclusions about the circus of violence racing across the screen.
Others will be left in the considerable dust of this dry “civilization” that’s all show and no tell. That’s never enough to support a well-told tale.
Looks aren’t everything.