Admit it — you are aching to see the new Mad Max movie. Dying. As in, you’d give your last gallon of guzzoline and get into a chainsaw fight with the Humungus for the last ticket. Of course you would. We’ve only been waiting for 30 years to see what happened beyond Thunderdome. We’re not quite home yet; but if this newest preview is any indication, we’ll know the way soon enough.

Fury Road is a sequel 25 years in the making. Two things make it unique. The first is that it’s directed by the same guy who directed all three of its predecessors, George Miller. But the guy who made the role, Mel Gibson, has been replaced with Thomas "Bane" Hardy from Batman. So weirdly, this long-awaited sequel represents kind of an alternate universe, showing us what Mad Max’s original director would have done without Mel Gibson, and with 35 years of special-effects development.

The second thing that makes it unique is that Fury Road is an actual sequel, as in "Mad Max 4." It’s not a reboot, a prequel or a re-imagining; it takes place directly after the events of Beyond Thunderdome, in the same world on the same timeline. It’s weird that that should even be weird, but try to think of the last reborn movie franchise to do that. What? Tron: Legacy? Pretty narrow field either way.

Prepare to go back in time for the latest and most comprehensive look at Mad Max: Fury Road. It’s sure to be a lovely day.

Plot

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Set to debut at the Cannes Film Festival on May 15th, Fury Road picks up Max’s story some indeterminate amount of time after Thunderdome. This film’s basic story is actually a few decades old. It was planned as an immediate follow-up to the third film back in the early 1990s, and was actually greenlit for production in 2003. But then they couldn’t film in Namibia because of a war, then we got in our own war in Iraq, then Mel Gibson said a thing about Jews. Something like that. Either way, Fury Road got caught in 25 years of "development Hell."

But then they couldn't film in Namibia because of a war, then we got in our own war in Iraq, then Mel Gibson said a thing about Jews.

Looking at the trailer, which opens with a suspiciously familiar-looking car, we can see some hints of that classic Mad Max style. Dark, bleak and anarchic with flat voiceovers. But the visuals themselves are far from flat, especially for a sepia-toned franchise that takes place in a notoriously monochromatic landscape. (Fury Road was filmed outside the same Australian town as The Road Warrior, by the way.) Indeed, the first thing you notice about this Mad Max 4 is how much color and movement there is compared to previous films.

That’s no accident. Those original films were inspired by old Akira Kurasawa films like Seven Samurai — which also formed the basis for a lot of classic westerns, including the Magnificent Seven with Yul Brynner. The original Max at least stylistically owed a lot to American westerns, through Kurasawa’s work if nothing else. Call them genre cousins.


Fury Road, though — there’s something really, notably different about it. Something more along the lines of a graphic novel, or Japanese anime. That probably has something to do with the fact that the script was co-written with British graphic novelist Brendan McCarthy, who did the original Judge Dredd. You can see a lot of that characterization in Fury Road, particularly in Charlize Theron’s character, and whoever that bad guy is with the skull face. I like to think he’s The Humungus’ younger brother, who lost the lower half of his face in a chainsaw fight with Tina Turner.

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But what’s really interesting here is all the color, and the slightly over-the-top, almost cartoon-y cinematography. Of course you’ve got your standard teal-orange color mix...find an action movie in the last 10 years that doesn’t use teal and orange as a dominant color scheme. Thanks, J.J. Abrams. Ten bucks says we get at least one of those ominous, bass-note "whoa-AAAAAAAAHHHH" clarion calls from War of the Worlds. In all fairness, though, that teal-orange is mostly just the poster and a few scenes; the overall theme is a fiery mix of red and yellow.

Apart from that, look at the rest of the color and style here. Striking pale skin, crazy makeup, colored everything, exaggerated movements, beautifully artistic, over-the-top panoramic shots. A kind of still, moody atmosphere interspersed with psychotic action.

Max has always been at his best as a kind of a post-apocalyptic Charles Bronson.

Remind you of anything? Say...every decent anime you’ve seen for the last 30 years? That’s because of Akira. No, not Akira Kurasawa; the classic anime film Akira. Miller is on record as saying that Akira, the mother of all modern anime, directly inspired Fury Road’s visual style and direction.

Look at that brief, panoramic glimpse of raging skyline about 1:33, just after the George Miller title card — do shots get any more epic anime than that? The bright red-and-yellow flames, the still desert vistas and night scenes. They all look a lot less "filmed" than painted.

No, fire isn’t that color scarlet, sand isn’t that color yellow, and shadows aren’t that shade of sapphire. But who cares? Anime’s strongest suit has always been striking artistry for its own sake; and that definitely seems to be the case with Fury Road.

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Personally, I’m looking forward to seeing Charlize Theron as Emperator Furiosa; she’s always had that kind of hard, intelligent intensity about her. She comes off exactly the way you’d think the Queen of Apocalypse would come off. I’m kind of indifferent about Nicholas Hoult (Young Hank McCoy from X-Men: Days of Future Past) in Fury Road. But he might be good comic relief as the completely nutso Nux.

As for Tom Hardy...I’ve got hopes. He was excellent as Bane, and in Star Trek: Nemesis. Max has always been at his best as a kind of a post-apocalyptic Charles Bronson. I like my protagonists angry, hard and indifferent. Hardy seems like he could pull that vision of Max off, and probably a lot better than Gibson did in Thunderdome. Max was never supposed to be a hero...just a survivor.

I hope Hardy can pull that off. Sincerely. Because in this modern Marvel world of do-good crusaders, we don’t need another hero. We don’t need to know the way home. All we want is what’s beyond the Thunderdome.

And on May 15th, we’re finally going to get it.

What do you think?
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