Most of the time when franchises "reboot" it feels like a studio gave up on trying and grabbed the closest idea that was available to option. People know this. They'll probably pay to see it since it feels familiar. Here's $100 million! But with Mad Max: Fury Road, George Miller has awakened a slumbering action giant to give us everything we didn't know we needed from a summer blockbuster in 2015. That's right: The creator and writer/director of all three Max flicks is back to shepherd his hero into the new millennium.
But the last time we saw Max Rockatansky, it was 1985. Back then, Mel Gibson was young, beautiful and not at all a pariah. He was facing down a villain in the form of Tina Turner and fighting for his life in the Thunderdome. His story felt like it had reached its logical conclusion. A forever broken-hearted, noble man wandering in the desert was left to wander some more. But George Miller, Max's creator, never stopped thinking about him, and now has a whole new set of adventures for this solitary warrior, the first of which (or rather, the fourth) is this weekend's Fury Road.
That means that if you haven't seen the original trio of movies—or maybe you just haven't seen them in three decades—you have some catching up to do. We're here for you. Cue up Verdi's "Requiem, Dies irae" and get ready for a crash course in Max. Here are all the answers you'll need before blazing down Fury Road.
Who Is Max Rockatansky?
The Max we'll see in Fury Road really appeared for the first time in The Road Warrior, Miller's second installment in the Mad chronicles. But before the world turned to dust and he became a "burned out shell of a man," Max was a father, a husband, and the most valuable member of the Main Force Patrol—a kind of Highway Patrol existing to enforce what remains of the law in a decaying society. In the first Mad Max movie, Rockatansky loses his partner, Jim "Goose" Rains, then his wife, Jessie, and his infant son, called only Sprog, thanks to a tangle with a nasty motorcycle gang. It's from these events that the Max we know today is brought forth, a man with nothing and no one, but armed with a preternatural ability to survive. Max is no hero, but somehow he always ends up doing hero's work: defending the defenseless. It's something he proved in Road Warrior and again in Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome.
Considering the catalyst for *Fury Road'*s epic chase is the rescuing of a group of sex slaves from Immortan Joe's psychotic clutches, Max is once again thrust into the role of reluctant savior in this latest chapter. As much as he projects the absence of a conscience to the cold, cruel world around him—and as much as he fears he has truly lost his soul—Max always comes through with a getaway car when the fires are burning hot and the weak need saving. Just don't expect him to make a big deal of it.
What Caused Earth to Become a Wasteland?
The voiceovers in the trailers for Fury Road actually give a more explicit description of what happened to Earth than any of the previous Max movies ever did. Max says his world is "fire and blood" and a newscaster's voice mentions "the water wars."
In the original Mad Max, the setting doesn't look like our elaborate dystopias of today with everyone wearing tattered yet fashionable knits and dictators living in luxury amidst the general squalor. It's mostly like the Wild West reborn in Australia. Lawmen play judge, jury, and executioner, and small-town folk keep to themselves, trying to get by while defending against invading gangs (just replace men on horseback with men on motor bikes). Infrastructure is crumbling and some sort of energy crisis has forced everyone into a competition for resources, hence all the raiding parties. But people still wear proper clothes and can go home and wash their hands, so it hasn't all gone to hell just yet.
By Road Warrior, five years after the events of the first movie, everything has gotten considerably worse. Towns have disappeared and society consists of isolated collectives scrounging for fuel and water. Humanity has divided into three types of people: marauders, people living in small groups just trying to get by, and solo wanderers like Max. There are no more bars or ice cream shops like in Mad Max, and the clothing, cars, and homes all look like they've been salvaged from some sort of wreckage. If humanity is to carry on, we seem to have lost all hope of looking like the first world ever again.
Then came Beyond Thunderdome. At this point, we are 20 years removed from the events of the first movie and people have organized in the wasteland enough to form Barter Town, a walled-off city of sorts where people can trade and indulge in countless forms of vice. (The Atoll commerce hub in Waterworld probably took its cues from Barter Town.) Even though it's populated by rapists, thieves, and pillagers, the Town is the closest thing we've seen to civilization since the world was sent on a path to hell decades before. And in a trilogy set mostly in rural Australia, we finally get to see what remains of the cities at the end of Beyond Thunderdome. It's not good. Everything looks like a volcano erupted and blew it apart, leaving behind nothing but an ash-covered husk. We can only assume that by Fury Road things have gotten even worse.
So Where Has George Miller Been the Last 30 Years?
If you haven't been keeping up on the MaxVerse, Miller has strung together an eclectic career since Thunderdome in 1985, directing The Witches of Eastwick, Babe: Pig in the City, and both Happy Feet movies. Not what you'd expect, right? But Miller also has been mulling over Max since he finished up with Gibson all those years ago. But it had to be right if he was going to resurrect his landmark franchise, and it took more than 30 years for all the creative and financial pieces to fall into place. The massive upside to this is that Miller already has two more Max movies living inside his head. So if Fury Road is successful enough to warrant sequels, the saga could go on for at least two more movies. (The prospect is so exciting we almost don't want to say it out loud for fear of jinxing the whole thing, but here we are.)
Is Mel Gibson in This Movie at All?
The original plan did include Gibson climbing back into the Interceptor, but the original plan also had Fury Road coming out a decade ago. When Miller first tried to get his movie off the ground around 2000, Gibson was still his guy, his road warrior, if you will. But after 9/11, the economy vaporized. The budget ballooned and production was forced to a halt. By the time Miller was able to get the wheels turning again, Gibson had fallen out of the public's favor for allegedly saying anti-Semitic/racist/sexist things, and as Miller told the Huffington Post at South by Southwest, "it also definitely got to the stage where it wasn't like Unforgiven, where it plays with an older guy. It was definitely the younger guy, the same guy."
And so we get Tom Hardy as our new Viking of the Outback. And thank God. Never mind the fact that Gibson is a non-starter these days, Hardy has that cool, quiet, man-with-a-code aura that made Max such a charismatic, enduring figure all those decades ago. Max has always been a man of few words, and last year Hardy made a movie that took place entirely in the driver's seat of an SUV and turned in one of the most compelling performances of 2014. Give this guy a chair in front of a camera and he'll bleed for you, so imagine the presence he'll command with more than $100 million in resources backing him up.
What's with the Crazy Names?
If you've been reading about Fury Road you've seen some pretty weird character names, like Imperator Furiosa, Immortan Joe (above), Toast the Knowing, The People Eater, and Rictus Erectus, to name only a few. Miller created this world in his head from scratch, and distinctive character names are a signature of the franchise, with highlights like Mudguts, Clunk, and Toecutter showing up in Mad Max; The Humumgus, Wez and Curmudgeon appearing in Road Warrior; and Aunty Entity (the incomparable Tina Turner), Pig Killer, Dr. Dealgood, and Scrooloose in Beyond Thunderdome. It's just how the world works.
Are These Movies Just a Bunch of CGI?
Nope. Miller has a rich history of real people doing real stunts throughout his Mad Max movies. He kept with tradition for Fury Road, executing the vast majority what you'll see in-camera—no CGI necessary. We've got a big old story here that will tell you all about it.
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