So kudos to those films' creator George Miller for returning to his brainchild in the winter of his seventh decade and transforming it from cult curio to psychotic explosion of rocket-fuelled insanity with Mad Max: Fury Road. Max still isn't all that Mad, but his new film is so deliriously bananas that its very title deserves a place in thesauruses everywhere as the go-to synonym for crackers. It's a carnival of carnage (also lorrynage, bikenage, buggynage and tanknage) so eye-poppingly demented that it's hard to believe it's the work of a human being, rather than some furious, acid-tripping demon with a grudge against moving vehicles.
Tom Hardy takes over the mantle of Max Rockatansky from Mel Gibson, adding his own weary stoicism and a random selection of accents designed to confuse and disorientate his enemies. He finds himself caught up in a family tiff between Immortan Joe, the despotic ruler of the Citadel, and his trusted lieutenant Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron, shaven-headed and greased up like Phil Mitchell after a long day at the Arches). Furiosa's decision to smuggle precious cargo away from Joe in his prized tanker leads to a spot of road rage the likes of which have not been seen since... well, ever.
Tom Hardy IS Fartlighter Explosiva
Further vigorous patting of George Miller's back is required, not only for presenting Fury Road's considerable excesses with a clarity so lacking from most modern blockbusters' action sequences, but also for propping it up with an intelligent - and surprising - thematic core. Max's name may be front and centre (well, slightly left of centre, but definitely before the colon), but he's almost a bystander in what turns out to be a tale of sisterhood, of mothers, and of the need to create and nurture in a world of unbridled destruction. Theron's Furiosa is the film's heart, with Max the mythical stranger who, like a scruffy rōnin, wanders into town and aids her fight against a tyrannical patriarchy (it's surely no coincidence that, to Furiosa, Max is literally a Man With No Name for most of the film).
The small, internalised drama that unfolds in the cab of Furiosa's War Rig, as it hammers through a post-apocalyptic wasteland with an armada of loons in fiery pursuit, is a perfectly-judged counterpoint to the massive-scale lunacy going on around it. When a begrudging thumbs-up from Max to another character is as crowd-pleasing as a truck carrying an entire rock band, a towering stack of amps and a man known as the "Doof Warrior" brandishing a double-necked, flame-throwing guitar, you know that something, somewhere has gone terribly right. Take a further step back from the madness if you can, and note Miller's commentary on holy wars, and the tragedy of sending young men (born with only a "half-life" ahead of them) to die with glorious honour, spurred on by the promise of a place in a trumped-up afterlife.
Stand by for a lot of "This guy is my spirit animal" tweets
Fury Road's weakest link is its sacrifice of a satisfying plot on the altar of unbridled explodiness: in essence, it's the story of a man and a woman who drive down the road, turn round and come back again, a story only too familiar to people like me who get half way to Sainsbury's before realising they've left the shopping list at home. But the assembling, arranging and execution of the film's astounding stunts, combined with some of the images conjured up by Miller's twisted noggin, is so breathtakingly admirable that complex story chicanery is a luxury the film can just about afford to do without. It's also a little bloodless considering the amount of people being obliterated by enormous vehicles landing on them; accusing Mad Max: Fury Road of holding back seems absurd once you've experienced it, but its lack of injury detail relative to the level of violence meted out feels like a sop to avoid the dreaded NC-17 rating in the US.
That said, it would be a dull stick who grumbled too much about a film so boisterously inventive and expertly orchestrated as this. Its flaws are vastly outweighed by the sheer technical skill on display in pretty much every department (the editing alone is nothing short of miraculous, the final cut being a distillation of over 400 hours of footage), and it is unlikely that a wilder ride will appear in cinemas until Miller decides to do it all again. If he does, fingers crossed they make it all the way to Sainsbury's. The trolley rage scenes alone will be unmissable.