There are three kinds of plot. There is the injury and revenge plot; the trial and the triumph of the hero; and the love triangle. The first is the basis of Greek tragedy and the Western movie; the second is the archetype of the myth, and the basis of most religion. The third often leads to one of the other two.
In the myth of the hero, there is the call to adventure, perhaps to an unlikely starter; there is the threshold of adventure and the initial trial; the hero is blooded, bloodied and strengthened; the hero finds helpers and after great battles triumphs in the war and overcomes evil or death; the hero prevails and returns, and there is peace on earth. You might even call it a form of redemption.
The first Mad Max movie was, as I recall it, a simple revenge story. By the time you get to Mad Max at Fury Road, it is largely the myth of the hero. In an unnameable and undateable future in the middle of nowhere, a barbarous dictator holds a whole people in thrall by controlling their water and protecting his Citadel with a frightful inbred race of warriors in war wagons and chariots and Harleys.
A woman warrior makes a run for it in a war wagon with captive wives of the dictator. Her name is Imperator Furiosa. She is on a quest for the Promised Land – the Green Place – and redemption; that is her word, in case you did not get it – redemption. She teams up with the Great Survivor – Mad Max – and after huge and weighty trials, they arrive at the Green Place – but it too is now waste land because the water failed. Mad Max persuades them to go back and take on the the Citadel and ready the dictator for his Gotterdammerung – or see Imperator Furiosa driving into the flames, in the manner of Brunnhilde.
So, it is a fairly standard mix of the Old and New Testaments, the Lord of the Rings and Wagner’s Ring Cycle, with special thanks to the Reich and the Gulag, and more dead bodies than in a Johnny Woo Hong Kong Ballet in Bullets.
One of the helpers has defected and dreams of being admitted to Valhalla. If you think that this plot of this version of the heroic myth is over the top, have a look at the plot of the Ring Cycle, with special attention to the role of the Valkyries, those engaged in bearing the dead to Valhalla (immortalised in Apocalypse Now). This warrior fires himself up with a form of Colgate toothpaste, but he is brought in from the cold by a red-haired beauty among the Wives who in one of the few soft moments of the movie looks just like that beauty that Botticelli painted standing on a shell. You might also like to look at the wars in heaven described in such lyrical military terms by Milton in Paradise Lost – and the repeated references to thrones, powers, principalities, and realms. And you might reflect on how the pious genius of Milton ended up with Satan as the hero of his epic written to justify God.
According to Tatler some time ago, Charlize Theron had the best legs in Hollywood. You get no chance to assess that here, because she is never out of her warrior jeans. She also sports a number two crew-cut that shows off her handsome features to the best effect, which she carries in her full stature, rather like those handsome black women that stride so confidently down Lexington. Although they may have softened the American accent, she is just right for Imperator Furiosa.
She says very little, but she is positively voluble beside Tom Hardy as Max. Max is very good looking – as good as Charlize – in what I may be permitted to call an Australian way. He has something of Harrison Ford about him – not the puckishness, but a kind of bush innocence. I thought he too was just right for the part. Will Tom and Charlize become an item? Will he forgive her for taking out one of the bad guys with one shot after he had failed? Or will he just ride off into the next adventure? We might have here the rebirth of the strong silent type.
There is hardly any support cast. I could have done with just a bit more humour and without what struck me as one lapse of taste. The bad guys are sufficiently unattractive – although have they made one as unattractive as that guy that Grace Kelly popped in High Noon – that fat, grizzly, balding bastard with the permanent leer and even more permanent hangover?
The movie does however have its moments. All hell breaks loose in a dust storm that reminds us of the parting of the Red Sea. There is a frightful battle in darkness. After a cold, clean editing break, the camera is set in daylight on what looks to be a moonscape. Then a big hill starts to move. Slowly you realise that you are not looking at a range in a desert but part of the form of a man emerging out of the sand – it is Max! And Lo! Max is not shaking the sand off his feet but the sand from his hair! The Great Survivor has done it again.
Well, we go the movies to be entertained and I got more than my $10 worth at Daylesford. It is not for everyone – neither is the great Johnny Woo – but I thought that it was a hoot, and I was chuckling all the way home. It is I think important that we keep working on the basic myths. They have survived because we need them – not least when we have ditched God.
And there is one person this movie was made for – our unheroic Prime Minister. There are more silly mantras and death cults than you can point a bloody stick at; but perhaps our PM might think this is all some covert message from the Dark Side about the evils of climate change. There are, you see, so many things out there that can just spook us, and some may not want us to leave the spooks in the movies or at the cinema.