By Susan JAMES
Australian writer-director George Miller, best known over the last decade as the producer of “Happy Feet” and “Babe,” has left the feel-good animal kingdom to revisit the dystopian world of human animals he helped create nearly 40 years ago. Those years have not been good to Miller’s vision.
His new take on the clash of cultural insanities explodes onto the screen with minimal dialogue and very little plot. The film revolves around an interminable chase sequence with fleeing victims trying to outrun pursuing psychopaths. It makes for a lot of noise, fiery explosions, smashing vehicles, flying bodies and multiple long shots of the endless Namibian desert where it was filmed. It does not make for a riveting story.
“Fury Road” is a Marvel Comics movie without a superhero. Its titular hero, Max, former cop and current nutter, is somehow lost in the mix of other crazy characters and unexplained subplots that rise and fall like mirages in the desert scenery. If cultists remember the Maxian mythology from decades ago most general audiences won’t. It’s obvious that with the fall of civilization as we know it Max has suffered severe trauma, including the loss of his family, and that loss has driven him over the edge. Otherwise, folks, it’s fill in the blanks yourself.
Tom Hardy as Max is an action accessible hunk but is overpowered on the screen by Charlize Theron’s one-armed Imperator Furiosa and Nicholas Hoult’s damaged Nux. Where the original film tapped into Cold War terrors, Miller seems here to be referencing armies of child soldiers and jihadi fears. Nux’s journey from would-be suicide bomber to redeemed martyr is far more interesting than anything Hardy’s Max brings to the screen. Also welcome is the twist that Miller gives to the band of women Furiosa is determined to free, the escaping harem of the evil Immortan Joe (played by Max veteran Hugh Keays-Byrne). When first seen, the four appear like drooping nymphs in conveniently wet, wispy scarves but they turn out to be more resourceful and a lot tougher than they look. With Furiosa as pack mother, score one for female empowerment.
The plot of the film is minimal. Furiosa betrays Immortan Joe to escape with his pregnant wives and take them to the Green Place, a semi-mythical Eden where she was born and from which she was snatched as a child. Max and Nux are at first unwilling passengers on the flight until they access their inner Force and decide to help. Think of a covered wagon pursued by nameless tribes of hostiles across a barren landscape for the entire length of the movie, with Furiosa as a latter day Sacajawea trying to get home again.
Strangely the narrative at the beginning talks about a vicious post-apocalyptic fight over oil but Miller goes on to frame the valuable commodity hoarded by Immortan Joe as water, something with even greater current relevance.
And if you haven’t taken a water bottle with you into the theater, you will have made a big mistake. After two hours of watching parched-looking people kicking up sand and flaming out in an endless dry desert, the only thing you’re going to want at the end is that precious bottle.
See you at the movies!