Review – Mad Max: Fury Road

To say the unbearably long wait for George Miller’s fourth instalment in the post-apocalyptic franchise that made his name was worth it would be the mother of all understatements.

Mad Max: Fury Road - the message is simple: see it on the biggest screen possible

Mad Max: Fury Road – the message is simple: see it on the biggest screen possible

Initial grumblings over the two-hour running time and the somewhat unclear motivations of certain characters largely evaporated to dust (save for the sudden switch in allegiance by Nicholas Hoult’s Nux) following a hugely rewarding second viewing of Mad Max: Fury Road.

The genius of Miller’s decades-in-the-making follow-up to his initial trilogy is that it is both sublimely simple in its narrative thrust and also a complex, world-expanding work of real cinematic vision that has ideas coming out of its tailpipe.

Beyond Thunderdome: Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) in Mad Max: Fury Road

Beyond Thunderdome: Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) in Mad Max: Fury Road

It’s also the most brilliantly accomplished action film since The Raid 2: Berandal and a dizzingly demented piece of moviemaking that throws caution, and everything else for that matter, to the wind.

While Mel Gibson’s leather-jacketed lead dominated the action of Miller’s first three Mad Max pictures, Tom Hardy’s eponymous survivor often plays second fiddle to Fury Road‘s real star, Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron), a trusted driver for the tyrannical Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne).

Bane of existemce: Max (Tom Hardy) in Mad Max: Fury Road

Bane of existence: Max (Tom Hardy) in Mad Max: Fury Road

Furiosa brings the full weight of Joe’s wrath down on her when he discovers she’s smuggled his breeding ‘wives’ out of the Citadel. Meanwhile, Max, who has been captured by Joe’s War Boys and used as a ‘blood bag’ for the sickly Nux, works to free himself and do what he can to survive.

It’s difficult to talk about Mad Max: Fury Road without first referencing the quite incredible action scenes. The fact that everyone is in some sort of vehicle, be it Furiosa’s bad ass War Rig, Joe’s outlandish monster truck or the multitude of pursuit vehicles that look like they’ve been chop-shopped to hell, naturally provides a pulse-quickening kineticism that is well served by Junkie XL’s Hans Zimmer-inspired score.

Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne) goes in search of his wives in Mad Max: Fury Road

Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne) goes in search of his wives in Mad Max: Fury Road

The first major action set piece that culminates in our leads driving headlong into an apocalyptic sand storm would normally be the dazzling denouement of most movies of this ilk, but that is merely the appetizer here for what is a banquet of senses-shattering craziness.

Miller continues to up the ante, throwing in chainsaws, spear bombs and a host of other weaponry until it gets to the point when Joe’s polecats (guys perched on the end of giant, bendy sticks that are somehow clamped to souped-up vehicles) are flying in from left and right trying to take out Max and co or steal the wives back from inside the War Rig. Words barely do it justice, which also might explain why dialogue is at a premium – when action is this compulsive who the hell needs talking?

The polecats get in on the action in Mad Max: Fury Road

The polecats get in on the action in Mad Max: Fury Road

Hardy once again lets his physicality do the talking in a role where more is said by his haunted, unsettling eyes and fists than his mouth ever could. His Max is searching for redemption as desperately as Furiosa, a character brought vividly to life by Theron in a performance that’s as feral as it is fascinating.

There’s so much more to be said about Mad Max: Fury Road, but it essentially comes down to a simple message – see it on the biggest screen possible.

Great Films You Need To See – Hardware (1990)

As part of the BFI’s Days of Fear and Wonder Sci-fi season, The Big Picture, the internationally recognised magazine and website that shows film in a wider context, is running a series of sci-fi-related features. My contribution is a piece about Richard Stanley’s cult 1990 sci-fi horror Hardware. It was written as part of The Big Picture’s Lost Classics strand, although I am including it within my list of Great Films You Need To See.

Richard Stanley’s grim and gory debut may never be counted among the greats of science fiction, but that hasn’t stopped it chiseling out a place among the affections of a loyal band of cult followers.

Richard Stanley would go on to direct one more feature, 1992's Dust Devil before slipping out of sight. It's a shame as the director of a film as demented and dynamic as Hardware deserved bette

Richard Stanley would go on to direct one more feature, 1992’s Dust Devil before slipping out of sight. It’s a shame as the director of a film as demented and dynamic as Hardware deserved bette

Squabbles over the rights to Hardware meant the only way to check it out for a good few years was through a less-than-ideal VHS copy and it wasn’t until 2009 that it finally made it onto DVD. The shenanigans surrounding the film following its modestly successful 1990 release have lent Hardware an edge in keeping with a down and dirty punk attitude.

A nomadic scavenger wanders the apocalyptic wastelands in Hardware

A nomadic scavenger wanders the apocalyptic wastelands in Hardware

Ex-soldier ‘Hard Mo’ Baxter (Dylan McDermott in one of his first starring roles) buys a nasty-looking robot head from a nomadic scavenger and gives it to his metal sculptor girlfriend Jill (Stacey Travis), not realising his gift has the ability to reassemble itself to become a machine whose only purpose is to kill.

Despite the meagre budget, Hardware‘s doom-laden industrial world, scarred by nuclear war and controlled by a government that isn’t exactly looking out for its citizens, is impressively realised on screen thanks to solid production design and vivid lighting (the heavy use of red throughout to symbolise the bloodbath that’s to come is especially evocative).

'Hard Mo' Baxter (Dylan McDermott) presents a gift of a robot head to girlfriend Jill (Stacey Travis) in Hardware

‘Hard Mo’ Baxter (Dylan McDermott) presents a gift of a robot head to girlfriend Jill (Stacey Travis) in Hardware

The killer robot premise is hardly original and the nods to genre stablemates The Terminator (1984) and Demon Seed (1977) are clear to see, but the film rises above the schlock-fest it could so easily have become thanks to the vision of its one-of-a-kind writer/director.

Stanley started work on the film in the immediate aftermath of a terrifying stint in war-ravaged Afghanistan where he had been making his documentary Voice Of The Moon. The horrors he no doubt witnessed are channelled into Hardware, particularly in the freakiness of the TV footage we get to see – grainy images of the Holocaust sitting alongside dystopian news footage, footage of thrash metal merchants Gwar and Robocop-style satirical adverts (“radiation free reindeer steaks”). As if that wasn’t enough, the robot head is painted with the Stars and Stripes to make a none-too-subtle observation about American imperialism.

The impassive killer robot in Hardware

The impassive killer robot in Hardware

He had originally intended to set the film in Britain, but decided to make the location non-specific following the addition of American leads at the studio’s insistence. It’s a smart move that works to the movie’s advantage as the multi-national flavour is entirely in keeping with the world created.

This being a killer robot movie, it’s necessary to buy in to threat posed by the machine and it’s here where Hardware amps up the gore. The scenes within Jill’s apartment, which take up a good chunk of the film’s running time, exude a real menace as the robot impassively goes after anyone it can.

'Hard Mo' Baxter (Dylan McDermott) with his robot hand in Hardware

‘Hard Mo’ Baxter (Dylan McDermott) with his robot hand in Hardware

While Simon Boswell’s soundtrack doesn’t do the film any favours, Stanley makes better use of musicians in other capacities, with Motörhead frontman Lemmy playing a taxi driver who recommends Motörhead’s Ace Of Spades to Mo; and Iggy Pop as DJ Angry Bob, “the guy with the industrial dick” whose at one point says: “As for the good news… there is no fucking good news! So let’s just play some music!”

Stanley would go on to direct one more feature, 1992’s Dust Devil before slipping out of sight. It’s a shame as the director of a film as demented and dynamic as Hardware deserved better.