There is a scene in the 1993 German war film “Stalingrad” where a bronzed platoon of elite storm troopers victorious from the lightening battles in the West and North Africa confront their dead and wounded comrades in a factory on the frontline of the eponymous city. The elite Wehrmacht soldiers look in abject horror at how their fellow Nietzschean ubermensch have been chewed up and spat out by the meat-grinder of Stalingrad. Limbs are severed, burns cover faces and blood soaks the floor. Black hollow eyes look directly back into the unspoiled Teutonic blue orbs that so far have only witnessed unparalleled victory. The storm troopers know at that very moment their fate is sealed and Stalingrad will be the turning point, the game changer.
For a generation used only to the sanitized right wing hegemony of the Marvel Cinematic Universe “Mad Max: Fury Road” is their Stalingrad. Just watch their eyes as they stagger bewildered from the two-hour onslaught, a gutter level street fight fought at high speed with buzz saws, flamethrowers, and harpoons. Superheroes never get killed but in the post-apocalyptic wasteland people wither from radiation, die of thirst and are mangled under axels and welded spiked wheels. Cutthroat gangs of stuntmen chomping at the bit to jump from moving muscle car to moving muscle car largely replace the digital polish of C.G.I. throwing their bodies at the red line, a kerosene Kursk exploding in front of our eyes. “This ain’t rock’n’roll-this is genocide” and boy does it feel good to put the iron boot right on the throat of the Disney dandies.
“Mad Max: Fury Road” has been turbo charged to leap right back out of development hell and burn the multiplexes back down to their core. George Miller, a rampaging 70 year old madman with a megaphone and an accelerator, has not just rebooted his Ozploitation classics but driven a monster truck load of originality right back into the action film. You can positively hear the screenplays being ripped up and stitched back together again in “Mad Max’s” image. To reshape the cultural landscape once as Miller did with “Mad Max 2” is a stunning achievement, to do it twice is paramount to cultural Armageddon.
The film doesn’t miss a beat and flings Max right into the flaming heart of the action, captured by suicidal War Boys and used as a human blood bag to keep the ailing Nux alive. The grotesque Immortan Joe, the leader of a brutal triumvirate, an unholy trinity of bullets, gasoline and water, preaches Hitler-like to his acolytes: “do not become addicted to water, it will take hold of you and you will resent its absence.” Immortan Joe’s post-apocalyptic dictatorship is a world that has gone beyond its tipping point. There is no way back to civilization just the wrath of an Old Testament warlord driving humanity to a lingering, festering demise. Tumors and mutations eat away at his people as he tries to secure his bloodline by drinking breast milk and impregnating his harem of “wives”.
Enter his one armed champion, Imperator Furiosa who goes renegade and steals Joe’s armoured truck and his five ‘wives” to try and escape to the Shangri La of “the Green Place.” Joe and his wheeled fleet give chase with Max hood first on Nux’s roadster as a high-speed transfusion. And that’s about it. Simple. Except that’s not it. The sheer audacity to throw this narrative back and forth across the desert in a convoy of death and destruction is nothing short of breathtaking. Miller and co-writers Brendan McCarthy and Nico Lathouris weave their exposition expertly into the design and the language of Max’s world (always a strength of the franchise) and we work out its history and mythology effortlessly. This is a far more unforgiving world than last seen in “Beyond Thunderdome,” one that apes the death cult of Islamic State and Boko Haram and even the Australian craze for solvent abuse called “chroming.” Miller refuses point blank to return to Max’s back-story and by sheer strength of will (or should that be wheel?) bends the knee of his new audience to the dreadful majesty of his film.
The car-to-car combat has evolved to new levels of unhinged genius, a chop shop arms race that makes perfect sense on the blazing plains of the apocalypse. Battles between Furiosa, Max and Joe’s forces resemble a mechanized Trafalgar or Actium with thrust and counter thrust made by specialized War Boys boarding by weighted poles or spitting gasoline into engines to inch ahead and lacerate tires. Joe even has a raging death metal band to rally the troops headlined by an “Iron Maiden” looking “Eddie” with a flamethrower for a guitar. On occasion they even take over the film’s score in flashes of mad genius as Max leaps from one vehicle to another as they explode in ever increasing fireballs.
Much has been made of “Fury Road’s” strong female characters and apparent, “feminist propaganda” causing the Men’s Rights Activists to call for a boycott of the film. Let them sulk. Let them eat cake in the company of bland superheroes. Furiosa and the “wives” rightly take centre stage with their ingenuity and integrity with Max as a supporting character. Miller’s bravery to keep us waiting for Max for 30 years and then have him play second fiddle is astounding. His decision actually increases Max’s mystique, a Homeric hero appearing from the shimmering wasteland only to vanish again once he has elevated hope to the masses. Miller’s sensational movie could just do the same for the coming cinematic apocalypse when Hollywood finally tears itself asunder. Just look at the eyes of the crowd. They have never seen anything like this super-charged game changer and the words of Nux are their new battle cry, “If I’m gonna die, I’m gonna die historic on a fury road!”