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Mad Max roars back on to our screens after an absence of 30 years with creator George Miller at the wheel and supercharged into a state of diesel-fume delirium. CGI-pumped and ribcage-rattlingly loud, Mad Max: Fury Roadhas no truck with the delicate business of exposition or character development. What it does have truck with is trucks — enormous fire-spewing monsters of every variety. A car stereo? How about a lorry-load of drummers and a guitarist lashed to the front grinding out relentless thrash metal. Bursting for background story? You should have asked before we left.
The opening action sequence lasts a full half-hour and there’s barely pause for breath (or even petrol) after that. Really, the film is one long chase sequence, and not in the sense of slow-burning tension as in Duel, but in one headlong rush into who-knows-where, our heroes pursued by an oxygen-mask-wearing warlord — a distant cousin of Darth Vader and Bane — and his horde.
As Max, Tom Hardy tries to squeeze in a performance from the Russell Crowe school of acting — growled one-liners between explosions, brow permanently furrowed, alternating between puzzlement and dyspepsia. He is mad but mainly in the American sense — and he has reason to be, constantly assailed as he is by War Boys. These whitewashed, brainwashed creatures resemble sun-shy Aussies who’ve overdone it on the factor 50 or out-of-work orcs migrated from Peter Jackson’s New Zealand.
But this is an oddly sidelined Max, shunted firmly into the passenger seat by a standout Charlize Theron. Chiselled cheekbones, clenched jaw, cropped hair: she is Joan of Arc with a heavy goods vehicle licence. Her noble mission, we eventually learn, is to find the fabled “Green Place” of her childhood and safely deliver her precious stolen cargo (let’s just say her battle-armoured juggernaut could do with a “baby on board” sticker). A triumph for feminism, perhaps? But the film tries to have it both ways, and so we also get a harem of slender damsels in distress draped only in wisps of gauze, like Rubens maidens reshaped by a personal trainer.
Just occasionally we’re allowed to take in the landscape — awesome apocalyptic clouds rolling in from some far-off John Martin painting or an inky swampland populated by creepy humanised crows. We want more of this but it’s no good asking a petrolhead to slow down. When Miller called “action” on this reboot he really meant it.
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