I’ve been too busy till now editing a film supplement to comment on Mad Max: Fury Road, though I saw it on opening night ten days ago. But despite all the coverage (most of it ecstatic), one thing still hasn’t been said.
Fury Road is not actually a reboot of Mad Max at all. It’s a reboot of Tank Girl.
It’s obvious when you think about it. Mad Max scarcely has any role in his own film: he seldom speaks, and seldom acts unless prompted by the spirit of his dead daughter. Imperator Furiosa, played by Charlize Theron, is clearly the lead. [Incidentally, what kind of a name is that to give your daughter? “Furiosa”. Fine for a badass warrior woman, but when she meets up with family from whom she was separated as a child, they call her by that name, too.]
Theron has Tank Girl’s shaved head, that lost Emily Lloyd the role in the 1995 Tank Girl movie when she wouldn’t shave her locks (or so the director says; Lloyd disputes this version of events). She has, if not a tank, then a ‘War Rig’ on wheels. And if she has a grunting Tom Hardy for a sidekick instead of a priapic mutant kangaroo, and if she lacks Tank Girl’s gleeful anarchy (that’s passed on instead to “War Boy”, who cackles “What a lovely day!” as they ride into the mother of all sand storms which picks up a car full of people and blows it up above his head), and has instead a very Hollywood desire for “redemption”, these are small quibbles.
The whole world is like Tank Girl’s world: post-apocalyptic and full of crazies. You could argue Tank Girl borrowed from Mad Max in the first place, and you’d be right. But the tone and especially the look of Fury Road is very much more comic-book than the original films, and that is down to one key added ingredient: the marvellous Brendan McCarthy.
Brendan is a British comics illustrator who I recall propping up the bar with writer Pete MIlligan and Tank Girl creator Jamie Hewlett at Comics Conventions in the ‘80s. He has worked as a concept designer and storyboard artist in Hollywood for nearly three decades now, and was encouraged to sue Kevin Costner’s Waterworld for its striking similarities with his comic Freakwave. In the end, Brendan “couldn’t be arsed” to launch lengthy legal action, but it led directly to his collaborating with Mad Max supremo George Miller.
The original Tank Girl movie was a) not good, b) not funny, c) had little of anything that made the original comics so popular. It was so bad, in fact, that Jamie Hewlett disowned it. Check out the specially commissioned Time Out cover Jamie drew for us when I was editor (right) as an example of how not to sell a movie!
I like to see Mad Max: Fury Road, which Brendan co-wrote as well as steering the concept designs, as seizing the chance to right these wrongs.
Fury Road is not so much Mad Max, as Mad Maxine. It’s Tank Girl in all but name.