What George Miller has delivered in the form of Mad Max: Fury Road is a real achievement in technical filmmaking; a truly impressive sight to behold. It is plagued, however, by an overly simplistic plot and an excessive number of set pieces. The claims that it is one of the best action films of all time certainly feel premature and unfounded, for although it excels as a masterclass in technical brilliance, as a film it stumbles.
Much has been made of the sheer originality and excitement of Miller’s screenplay. Set in the barren desert world of a post-apocalyptic future, it sees disgruntled outsiders Max (Tom Hardy) and Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) team up to flee the dictatorship of the cruel Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne) and search for a safer homeland. As interesting as some of the core concepts of the script may be, though, it reeks of untapped potential. There are undoubtedly brilliant ideas waiting to be explored; the brutal harvesting of citizens’ blood, the strickening shortness of resources, and the cult of personality which surrounds Joe are just three. But these are largely ignored in favour of action sequence after action sequence and car chase after car chase. This is not to say that high-speed races and continuous destruction are not watchable on a purely superficial level, but when they come at the expense of the development of central themes, they do become tiresome rather quickly.
Thankfully, the technical brilliance of the film is not lost beneath the boldness and brashness of its spectacle. The work of the costume designers and make-up stylists in particular is nothing short of exceptional – outrageous enough to match the chaos of the dystopian world, but considered enough to lend it a sense of believability, too. The production design, meanwhile, is second to none. Startlingly original, fantastically creative and utterly epic in scope, Colin Gibson’s Oscar is more or less secured. The sound and visual effects teams, meanwhile, prove that they are more than up to the task of realising Miller’s lofty ambitions.
Tom Hardy turns in a strong performance as the eponymous hero, but with only a handful of lines throughout the whole film he is easily overshadowed by the magnificent Charlize Theron, whose Furiosa mixes steely grit with just the right level of vulnerability. It’s rather refreshing to see a female take the lead in what is otherwise an incredibly masculine film, but Miller’s treatment of Joe’s ‘hareem’ – presented as nothing more than helpless, scantily-clad breeding stock – does limit any hopes for further subversion of gender roles. The real star of the film, however, is Nicholas Hoult, who delights as the pathetic, but generally rather likeable, Nux. Long gone is the pale-faced, awkward child from About a Boy; what we have in his place is a thoughtful and accomplished young actor.
Ultimately, though, the real driving force behind this dystopian epic is not the actors but rather the excellence of the technical craftsmanship. It is just a shame it is hindered by troublesome bumps in the road.