The Max madder-than-hell, I’m angry and I’m not going to take it any more sequels always overstretched the simple premise of the original, going to Thunderdome and beyond. I’ll leave it to the diehard online list-makers to rank these films like so many kindergartners sitting on mats learning their numbers for the first time. And, so, it is with relief and joy that I pick up with Hardy, an absolute favorite of mine, with his manly-man Max a pussycat compared to his Bronson performance.
Hardy inhabits the titular hero – all scarred muscle and tortured eyes and more flashbacks than a habitual LSD user — in a movie that is as linear and relentless as the original. There’s birth and death and the question becomes how much torture, inhumanity and deprivation an individual has to survive until that final apocalypse (or Valhalla depending on your faith).
In this sequel, Max, a road warrior with a cockroach’s survival skills, has attempted escape from the scabrous warlord Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Burn). In the desert, Max meets hard-headed truck driver Furiosa (a ferocious Charlize Theron). From their first encounter, Max beats and bruises, then spars and almost sparks, then offers redemption and heals (literally) this one-armed Valkyrie.
Furiosa is the hero of her own narrative: a trusted lieutenant fleeing Immortan Joe, she carries a cargo of the mouth-breather’s chastity-belt wearing concubine breeders, and his crop of belly-busting unborn children. (Could Furiosa be a futuristic Harriet Tubman?) A simple aside, a quibble really: it is slightly odd that these beauties are of the bulimic, bees-stung lipped supermodel variety, although they are, like Joseph’s amazing Technicolor dreamcoat, of many colors.
Back to the action: Immortan chases Max and Furiosa through deserts, canyons and sandstorms seeking his spawn. A large army and an ecstatic heavy metal electric guitarist strapped to one vehicle backs the warlord up. One conflict follows the next until the tension is almost too deliciously unbearable, the violence absurdly surreal, the heroes outnumbered and outflanked again and again. Along the corpse strewn way, we discover that each character can be reduced like sauce in a hot pan to a single element: survival, redemption, domination and that bickering couple hope and despair.
All of the action absolutely shreds. Like the original film, without the cracked humor, or Gibson’s swagger, the movie is adrenaline-inducing, relentless, single-minded anarchy. Kill or be killed. It’s survival, not of the fittest, but of the most cracked and stubborn. There’s a welcome purity to this breathless dystopic dash that refuses to wink at the audience, or trumpet a sequel at the end, or sub in one hot, sweaty, grit-tongued lip-lock between the leads. And for that, I salute Miller for kicking ass and letting that ass be Hardy in fine Herculean form.