It is a truth universally acknowledged that if you stick cars and explosions in a movie, men will go and see it. The FAST & FURIOUS franchise has clocked up a ridiculous number of miles at the box office and now another series is about to join the fun, set in the future but resurrected from a seemingly-dormant past.
MAD MAX: FURY ROAD takes us back to the dusty, post-apocalyptic world of Max Rockatansky, a man as burned by tragedy as by the relentless Outback sun. Originally played by Mel Gibson, this time round rising Brit Tom Hardy adopts the mantle (and indeed the accent) for a blistering thrill ride of machine-based mayhem that has had even the most genteel critics foaming at the mouth.
Though Charlize Theron provides equal star power as Imperator Furiosa, it’s safe to say this film is largely one for the boys. So with that in mind, THN are taking a less-than-leisurely trip along the highway of man-angst. Hot engines and noisy exhausts are the order of business as we get under the hood of this staple genre that shows no signs of conking out…
DENNIS WEAVER – DUEL (1971)
Our first choice is a man who starts off as just another traveller on the road, and winds up a hunted animal pursued by a relentless truck which doesn’t take kindly to being overtaken in the heat of the California desert. I mention the truck as a character in the movie because you never find out who’s driving it, making the monstrous vehicle a key player in the tense battle of wits and wheels.
Star Dennis Weaver was familiar as the affable father in bear-based kids TV classic Gentle Ben, so for audiences to see his nerves literally shredding onscreen became an increasingly traumatic experience. Weaver’s David Mann is a salesman who’d have difficulty saying boo to a goose. By the end he’s capable of snapping its beak and pulling eggs out of its butt.
Based on a short story by Richard Matheson, DUEL is best-known as the film that launched the career of a certain Steven Spielberg. Beginning life as a TV movie, it soon gained the momentum to be released in cinemas. Unlike Weaver, Spielberg never needed to look back.
RYAN GOSLING – DRIVE (2011)
Weaver played an innocent man caught up in a motorized death match not of his making. Ryan Gosling’s character in the next selection, however, lives his life in the driver’s seat of danger and excitement. Working a dual life as a movie stunt driver and ace getaway jockey, his nameless figure is up to his neck in crime and fantasy.
That’s all well and good, until his cool, controlled Eighties-inspired existence is rocked by an entanglement with Carey Mulligan’s working mum Irene. Getting involved with her and her convict husband (Oscar Isaac) leads to the unravelling of The Driver’s knife-edge world. In the second half of the film he’s getting all Travis Bickle’y on the asses of the Jewish mafia as blood spurts and gaskets blow.
Nicolas Winding Refn brought James Sallis’s book to the big screen, establishing himself as a helmer of notoriety. He created a stylish universe where chaos was just around the bend, light years away from the rusty, dusty carnage of the MAD MAX franchise.
TOM HARDY – LOCKE (2013)
Weaver and Gosling had some extreme experiences, but at least they got to get out and stretch their legs. Concrete expert Ivan Locke spends the duration of his story stuck behind the wheel of his car with only voices for company. Over the course of an hour and a half his life is reduced to roadkill when he learns the woman he had a fling with is giving birth and decides to head for the capital to be with her.
Only trouble is, he’s supposed to be supervising a major construction project and returning to his wife and children. Attempting to negotiate this perilous road over the phone leads to him using the vehicle as a makeshift office for his tortured soul. Everything except the new arrival is demolished by the time he reaches his destination.
Mixing the atmosphere of a road movie with the intimacy of a radio play, writer/director Steven Knight crafted a memorable trip into one man’s embittered pysche. And look who played the central character – rebooted MAD MAX Tom Hardy!
GUY PEARCE – THE ROVER (2014)
Our penultimate man whose mental tailpipe is a little clogged takes the malnourished, feral shape of Guy Pearce in THE ROVER. Eric lives in an Australian wilderness which plays host to the remnants of society following an economic collapse. When a gang of thieves steal his car he gives chase. There’s something in the boot that’s precious to him, though quite what isn’t revealed until the closing moments. Whatever it is, he sure is determined to get it.
Of all the entries on this list, Eric is the closest to the character of Max. Obviously he’s from The Land Down Under, but the setting clearly echoes the fuel-famished wastelands Rockatansky patrols. Eric used to be a civilized guy, until a tragic event shaped his life in the maelstrom of the financial crash.
Writer/director David Michôd gave Pearce a human dimension of sorts by making him a father figure to Rey (Robert Pattinson), the wastrel the criminals leave behind. But redemption isn’t marked on Eric’s road map, and before long he’s surrounded by violence yet again.
TOM HARDY – MAD MAX: FURY ROAD (2015)
When Michôd was putting THE ROVER together, he probably didn’t suspect a new chapter of his movie’s spiritual ancestor lay ticking over in a layby, just waiting for the chance to screech into view. Thirty years in the offing, this fresh if mucky batch of skull-cracking petrol-incinerating action seemed like it was never going to happen. Yet director George Miller has managed to get his show on the tarmac, with Tom Hardy sweating it out amongst the fumes and foes.
It’s been a hell of a journey for the leather-clad dark knight of the roads so far. Beginning his saga of scorched innocence in 1979, Max saw his family slaughtered by a maniacal, ever-so-slightly camp biker gang. This turned him from law enforcer to revved-up vigilante. Having visited venegance on the murderers, 1980’s THE ROAD WARRIOR found him protecting a ragtag community from the nastier elements of the unforgiving four-wheeled dystopia. 1985’s troubled BEYOND THUNDERDOME had Max look after a group of filthy-faced moppets whilst encountering Tina Turner’s Auntie Entity in the no-holds-barred arena of the title.
FURY ROAD looks to take the brand back to basics, with a generous helping of spectacular old-school stuntwork that’s been knocking the fanbelts off reviewers’ frazzled minds. The plot concerns Rockatansky’s skills being utilized by Charlize Theron’s Furiosa, who is fleeing the might of Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne) in order to save five “brides” who the villain intends to use as breeding stock.
By all accounts the movie is a triumphant comeback for Max after a lengthy period where it appeared he’d never get his engine going again. Judge for yourself – it’s out in cinemas now!
This feature appeared on The Hollywood News.