It's always a worry to see a director returning to their roots after so much time, whether the results are something passable like Drag Me To Hell, or embarrassing let downs like Land of the Dead or Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. People change over time, their attitudes change and as storytellers they mature - for better or worse. It can also be a problem trying to recapture the old magic if their reasons for going back are simply a lack of imagination during a time when they have more of a budget and less pressure. In the case of Mad Max this really shouldn't work, even without considering the third installment didn't turn out to be very good, George Miller has spent a long time in the decades since making family entertainment. But in the case of Fury Road all those years away from action cinema have actually worked out to be a blessing with a film that is brimming with detail, in both the world building and the action sequences.
Decades on from Mad Max 2, the Road Warrior represents something that doesn't get seen in film very often - a purer kind of action adventure in which plot and character motivation has been stripped right down, and you have to take in visual information since the exposition is sparse. Here the same style is repeated, the devil is in the details as characters are shown to need live blood donors or oxygen tubes to survive in the wasteland but explicit hints at the culture which has been created are only shown and not discussed. And there is a lot of great stuff to be absorbed with some amazing production design, from the sets to the costumes, and most importantly the vehicles. In what seems to be an even more deranged setting to that found in the earlier movies, religious cults have been built around the gasoline fueled war machines which take up much of the screen. An alliance between the communes which serve as sources of fuel, water and ammunition sees most of the people in servitude or being used as brainwashed cannon fodder. In spite of the high contrast digital colours this is a grim state of affairs, even if the local dictator tells everyone he is rebuilding society.
In that role we have Hugh Keays-Byrne, who played the original Mad Max villain and was the best part of the 1979 film. Here he returns as a new wild eyed, crazy haired antagonist; the self made god Immortan Joe, chasing the other characters with his band of suicidal war boys with their dune buggies and exploding javelins. These guys and their scenery chewing allies get all the best outfits; Joe's hosed breathing mask and deformity hiding body armour are a sign of things to come later on. The rest of the cast all do a fine job, with Tom Hardy taking the title role and giving an understated performance which convinces as someone who has been living away from society for some time; his powers of articulation replaced with a basic survival instinct. Charlize Theron propels the story as a military turncoat who decides to escape from the Immortan's service taking his enslaved wives with her, and it's up to these few characters to give a human element to the crazy set pieces which follow. Max himself might just be the passenger in some sequences but it works in the way it had in earlier installments, he's just a wanderer that is occasionally motivated to help others.
The action itself is spectacular with a lot of real location work, stunts and practical effects. Even the biggest visual effect, a sequence involving a digital sandstorm looks amazing, and the colour choices throughout really make a difference from the desaturated look that might have been expected. At times there are a lot of vehicles on the screen and a repeat viewing may be required to catch everything during the finale, but this is all crafted with such care. The hellish production which began in the early 2000s, moving from Australia to Africa (but had been brewing for years before) pays off. Besides, you will probably want to see it twice anyway. For me the first sequel still edges in it terms of gritty thrills, with its low tech meets high skill action movie making, but this is an adventure in which that is out done by the amount of style and polish.
THE DOUBLE (2013)
Richard Ayoade's second feature moves from the real life melancholy of Submarine into what is a decidedly stranger story about a socially awkward admin worker meeting his far more confident duplicate in a rather Brazil inspired workplace. Huge noisy machines seem to perform the most simplistic tasks, and most of the normal people are all strangely rude and dismissive to the central character. Once the titular doppelganger makes his appearance things start to work out a little better for him. With someone understanding to give him pointers on boosting his effect in the office and being able to help with tips on romance it seems as though it might go his way; but predictably things start to go bad as the more outgoing of the two takes over the life of the other. It's a visually interesting spin on the evil twin story line which doesn't do anything new in terms of that kind of plot but makes up for it with the amount of character and strange charm. The atmosphere is very bleak and the finale might be a little too ambiguous, but it's worth sticking with.