Post-apocalyptic visions and mechanical fury: the fourth installment of Max’s saga by its brilliant creator, George Miller.
In his past life, Max Rockatansky was a police officer, a member of the Main Force Patrol. After losing his family and letting himself be consumed by the desire for revenge, The Dark One became the apostle of wanderers. His surname and story was forgotten with the fall of civilization.
Now Max is reincarnated along Fury Road and continues his journey into the abyss of loneliness and post-apocalyptic violence.
The face and the voice have changed, but the silhouette is familiar. His miraculous body, hurt a hundred times, stitched and mended, determined to survive. Max’s body, that could adopt the credo of the Warboys: “I live, I die, I live again.”
During the first half hour of the movie, Max is merely a blood bag, a man-sized drip for cancerous Warboy, Nux. A mesmerising introduction, during which, muzzled and restrained, Max can only widen his eyes before George Miller’s incredible circus.
Under a tent of sand and sky, monsters, acrobats and even a few sirens parade. All on board of overpowered vehicles, whose outrageous designs fit the personality of their owners.
“There wasn’t a day where I thought “We’re crazy for doing this” admits Miller at the Cannes Film Festival press conference, where the film is shown in May 2015.
16 years separate the very first storyboards from the European première. Filmed over the course of 6 months in Namibia, followed by 3 weeks in Australia, resulting in 450 hours of rushes and 2 years in post-production. Among many incongruities for a project of this magnitude, George Miller decides to shoot in 2D, after spending 3 years developing a brand new 3D camera system. He also opts for a maximum of practical stunts. All of it crowned by a supreme narrative audacity: Fury Road will be one, big chase scene. Furiosa, Max and The Five Wives, aboard a truck dubbed “The War Rig”, against the rest of the world.
This simplicity has been criticised by some, the film being neither chatty nor heavy on psychology. However freed from the typical blockbuster narrative tricks – a three-act structure, sub-plots galore, and to some extent, a male hero – Fury Road offers a concentrate of live matter, all about speed and movement. The editing is entrusted to Margaret Sixel, the director’s wife, although she’s never worked on an action film before. Miller affectionately describes her as “someone who has got a very low boredom threshold”.
Their Fury Road is therefore and above all, a feast for the senses, “Visual music” in the words of the Australian director, who designed the film like a “graphic novel, initially composed of 3,500 storyboards“. The average length of the shots is 2.3 seconds, which gives a certain gravitas to each pause. Particularly striking, the vision of Max emerging from the sand in slow motion, like a Golem, after the crash in a toxic storm. A necessary break to understand that his role in this tale is less about being an almighty hero, and more about helping Furiosa and The Five Wives.
150 vehicles are hand-crafted for the film. Ultimately, “only” 88 are used. The minutiae borders on fetishism for each machine, and production designer, Colin Gibson’s jubilation is contagious: “we designed the design process to resemble as much as possible the HOW of the Warboys : scavenge, assemble, increase grunt, weaponize, increase grunt, add cup-holder, set off to war with V8 roar….”
Among the most impressive vehicles, The War Rig, a steampunk diligence, designed on the basis of a Czech Tatra T815. “2000 hp of nitro-boosted war machine“, a powerful custom, in the image of his driver, Imperator Furiosa and her prosthetic mechanical arm.
Immortan Joe rides The Giga Horse, a kind of motorised throne, made of 2 Cadillac Coupe DeVille 1959s, mounted one to the other. “In a world where there’s barely one of anything, to show you had power, he’s the man who’s got two of everything“, points out Colin Gibson.
Finally, The Doof Wagon looks like a mutant army’s little drummer boy on wheels. Immortan Joe’s attacks are accompanied by a fast moving rock concert, with a wall of amps and speakers, drummers, and a faceless guitarist hanging on a bungee, whose double neck guitar spits flames.
Lightweight, customisable and not greedy in guzzoline, motorcycles logically occupy a prominent place in a world with scarce natural resources. The encounter with The Rock Riders, a canyon tribe, surviving outside the Citadel, is an opportunity for dizzying action scenes.
Their primitive looks – dreadlocks made of recycled materials, horns and head-to-toe leather – contrasts with their virtuosity as drivers. Halfway between men and hyenas, they are formidable warriors, able to lead vertical assaults from mountaintops. To achieve these perilous scenes, stunt coordinator Guy Norris (already on the set of The Road Warrior, when he was only 21) used renowned professional pilots, including champion Stephen Gall, Robbie Marshall, Cody Mackie, Michael Addison and Shaun Ford. On Yamahas YZF 450 and Gas Gas TXT250 custom, they perform choreographed jumps and attacks. For impact shots, stuntmen would step in for the final crash.
Even more surprising, The Vuvalini, an exclusively female gang of bikers, whose most senior “Guardian of Seeds” rides at almost 80 years old.
A nomadic tribe on touring bikes – Harley’s, BMW’s, a Yamaha and a Goldwing – customised for the desert. Machines that tell the tale of their survival and evoke their femininity: rugs, blankets, cushions and a sled, but also carved tanks, feathers and amulets.
30 years separate the filming of Thunderdome and Fury Road. Yet the 2015 film is filled of “Easter eggs”, details that can only speak to hardcore fans and fortify the myth. Among many others: a shot of bulging eyes, a music box, a sawed off shotgun and … Hugh Keays-Byrne – the infamous Toecutter in Mad Max ’79 – as Immortan Joe.
The baroque side of the film, essentially carried by characters and their vehicles, contrasts with the emotional charge of this neo-western. If Miller announces that “initially, there was never a feminist agenda” to the story, Eve Ensler, author of The Vagina Monologues, went on set to talk with the actresses playing The Five Wives. Ultimately, the message about the absolute necessity of the emancipation of women is heard loud and clear, and the film earns the label of “Badass Feminist”.
The richness and diversity of more political themes throughout the film – the radicalisation of youth, the global ecological disaster, the stranglehold on natural resources by a powerful few – adds depth to the whole.
Mad Max Fury Road is one of the few films that rehabilitate popular cinema. It loads us with images, sounds, sensations and dreams. So much that we have to stay in our seats a few minutes after the end credits roll, divided between the need to return to reality, and the desire to linger in the universe imagined and augmented by George Miller. Undoubtedly a big machine, but with a heart and a brain, Fury Road renews the dialogue with bright and distant cinéphile galaxies, somewhere between the inventiveness of Méliès and mad energy of Buster Keaton. All we have to do is be amazed.