Sunday, May 17, 2015

I saw Mad Max...

Times were a-changin' in the '70s: a legal switch had struck in various sectors, leaving victims at the whim of their assailants. Justice was dealt, but not accordingly, with impunity the growing norm. Pop-culture reflected this imbalance, and where reality couldn't fix matters, movies  like "Dirty Harry" and "Death Wish" could. The need for such a cinematic remedy streached even to Australia, where the hunger for a hero raged equally strong. 

The first "Mad Max" surfaced in '79, and became a huge hit in its homeland. Written and directed by George Miller, it tells the tale of a near-future police officer, Max Rockatansky, portrayed by Mel Gibson (in his first leading role). We see Max grow mad thanks to a failing criminal system: his best friend set aflame by a sniveling thug; his wife and child run down by heartless cretins during a rural sojourn.

In Miller's sequels, "Mad Max 2/Road Warrior" and "Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome", the bad guys have multiplied to the point of ruling the landscape, seizing commodities from those who have justly earned and nurtured them, terrorizing and slaughtering the innocent and beguiling the naive and desperate with false hope, only then to shackle them. 

Max enters these woeful pockets by chance, with a heart hardened by pain and a reluctance to befriend anyone in fear that they, too, might be taken from him. He also acts as a reluctant savior to many: like Alan Ladd's Shane, wandering into their vulnerable nests to teach them how to fight, survive and believe that virtue still has a place in world gone as mad as he.  

Miller's new Max, "Fury Road", stars Tom Hardy in the title role, in an adventure that some consider a prequel and others label as a re-imaging. The script, penned by Miller, Nico Lathouris and Brendan McCarthy, contains the same rough-and-tough elements that distinguish the Gibson trilogy, with the nomadic Max once more caught between factions in a battle over a special commodity...but this time it's more than mere oil or water. 

It's a group of young women (Courtney Easton; Rosie Huntington-Whiteley; Riley Keough; Zoe Kravitz; and Abbey Lee Kershaw): a special breed, or so were told, kept to birth a race of totalitarian crackpots...or if the better opportunity arises, humankind's salvation, as long as they can get to a safe place. Max, who's imprisoned by their blood-craving captors, joins the ladies' cause, trekking with them across the desert via a mighty rig. This jaunt occurs, however, only when the resourceful Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) deters an order to steal crude from a neighboring group. 

Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne: the vile Toecutter in the original Max) is the new adversary, and like previous Max villains, is formidable and frightening. With his toothy half-mask and shock-punk hair, he invokes "Hellraiser'"s Chatterer; "American Horror Story'"s Twisty the Clown; and such Dark Knight foes as the Joker and ironically enough, Hardy's Bane. 

Throughout it all, Furiosa becomes as much a force against Joe as Max, and she and her escapees become the adventure's inspirational point: their quest empowered by a quiet kind of religious fervor, which stands in stark contrast to their adversaries' violent, misguided zeal. It's also the sort of conviction that might make our current crop of editorializing newscasters and comedians wince, but the need to believe in something greater than the merciless norm--to find a reason to endure in the face of chaos--is an essential component to surviving Max's post-apocalyptic hell. 

Hardy's portrayal of Max captures Gibson's nuances and essential look and to our benefit, he never once tries to reinvent the character. On the whole, Max is as cool as any action hero could hope to be, but he's also an "everyman": yet the victim and easy to identify with and champion because of his humble design. 

"Fury Road" also furthers Miller's queue of quirky co-characters, such as Nicolas Hoult as the pasty-faced Nux and Nathan Jones as the towering Rictus Erectus. Some of these participants are good; some bad, and parenthesize Max and Furiosa's ongoing presence. The good ones, however, wish to live their lives without impediment, but must fight for that right. On this basis, they gain our empathy and respect.

Considering our current, global scene seems swayed in favor of the criminal sect (certainly more so than when the original Max was released), "Fury Road" arrives at a perfect time and on this basis, demands continuation. However, even if such doesn't occur, "Max IV" stands as a testament to the ideal that, as long as good people persevere, so will justice. Sometimes we only need a Max to show us the way, and often we find he's not waiting in some distant, dusty locale to appear, but rather for that glorious chance to roar from out our flustered hearts. 


  1. Wanted to mention, too, that the Western element of Max goes well beyond even the "Shane" aspect. In "Fury Road", we basically have a "Wagon Train" barreling at high voltage, with various tribes interceding along the way. Yep, the Max adventures are really disguised westerns, with futuristic steampunk trimmings. There's no two ways about it.

  2. Also, as an afterthought, I wished to mention that I think Joe encompasses a dash of Baron Harkonnen from "Dune"; additionally, Auntie Entity probably figures into his make-up. Still, I believe the Bane connection is the strongest overall.

  3. Evidently, Miller tweeted today that we'll, indeed, see more Max on the big screen. Yep, another chapter appears to be careening our way. Hot damn!!!