Saying Mad Max: Fury Road (dir. Miller, 2015) would’ve been better with Mel Gibson, sounds like the bitter and delusional cry of an older fan, whose sentimental attachment to the original trilogy is blinding him from the true awesomeness of the movie. I mean, it’s got 98% on Rotten Tomatoes, dude, what are you talking about? Well, okay, there are obvious reasons for not casting Mel, which we won’t go into detail about here, but let’s just say certain events have resulted in him becoming far from the huge box office draw he once was. Casting Mel in the movie could’ve possibly resulted in a commercial disaster, and a fresh start was likely needed for the series to appeal to a younger generation. However, if we ignore these issues (and the fact that it should’ve been a Furiosa film, not a Mad Max one), casting Mel would’ve undoubtedly been the right decision, made far more narrative and thematic sense, and resulted in a far better movie.
George Miller has said in interviews that Fury Road was “never meant to be a story about an older warrior”, but everything about it suggests it should’ve been. You may ask how can you tell a story of an older Max still haunted by the death of his family, didn’t he move on in the second and third films? Well, how about this:
In his final days, an aged Max is still wandering the cruel wasteland. Reflecting on his life, he again becomes haunted by his past and visions of his lost family and begins to question whether he really has made a difference.
If Max was nearing death, it makes perfect sense that he would be remembering the loved ones he’s lost and questioning the meaning of his life – which is a neat progression of the themes of Mad Max 2 (dir. Miller, 1981). At the start of the film, we see Max’s (Tom Hardy) blood forcibly taken via transfusion. This would’ve undoubtedly weakened an older Max and resulted in him moving ever closer to death throughout the film. Having Max gripping onto life from the very start of the film – desperate to prove once more he can make a difference – would really increase the tension and up the dramatic stakes (whilst channelling the classic Doctor Who – The Caves of Androzani. If you haven’t seen it, get off my blog!). Max’s age and weak condition would also explain his lack of involvement and Furiosa (Charlize Theron) handling most of the action (which some fans have criticised), and his brief spells of action would be all the more heroic with him struggling to hold onto life.
A stronger connection between Max and Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Bryne) would exist if Mel were in the role. Joe is played by the actor who played Toecutter in Mad Max (dir. Miller, 1979), the character who killed Max’s family. Just having Mel come face to face with Hugh again would resonate with older fans, but it’s also possible that Joe could be an older Toecutter, who unknown to Max, survived his collision at the end of the first film – accounting for his breathing apparatus and deformity. Max, again encountering the murderer of his family, could result in him being torn between his desire for vengeance and his duty to help those escaping in the War Rig. This could perhaps be too much continuity for new fans, but even without it, there are definite parallels to be formed between Joe and an older Max. Nearing death, both men are seeking meaning to their lives – Joe selfishly wants to leave a legacy with a son and heir, while Max, altruistically, wishes to create a better place for the generation he’s leaving behind by helping those on the War Rig escape. The Many Mothers joining Max near the end of the film connects to this theme, as we see an older generation, who had lost hope, finding purpose by fighting for a new generation.
My favourite aspect of Fury Road was its subversion of the plots of the second and third films, which involve Max assisting characters to flee damaged societies so they can create a new paradise elsewhere. Fury Road is set up this way with Furiosa leading the War Rig to the Green Place, but upon discovering it no longer exists, Max makes the decision to return to Immortan Joe’s Citadel and mend the society they’ve left behind instead of running away. It’s a powerful moment, but would be all the more effective if it was made by a Max who had made the decision to flee from trouble in the two previous films and originally in the first film after the death of his family. A major flaw of Fury Road is that from the moment Max makes the decision to return, there are no surprises left; of course they’ll succeed with their plan, they’re the good guys! What’s missing is one of the main characteristics of the two previous films, ‘Max’s heroic sacrifice’. In both Mad Max 2 and Beyond Thunderdome (dir. Miller & Ogilvie, 1985), Max allows characters to escape danger by sacrificing himself. This does not happen in Fury Road and is a major oversight. Max’s plan is to return to the Citadel, charging through Joe’s war party and blocking the canyon so they cannot pursue. This succeeds, as Nux (Nicholas Hoult) sacrifices himself by blocking the canyon with the War Rig, causing Joe’s war party to crash into it. This clearly should’ve been Max’s responsibility, resulting in him being trapped outside the citadel and left to wander the wasteland once more, or if this were a film about an older Max, his death! Max making such a noble sacrifice (perhaps instead of taking revenge on Toecutter/Joe – if we wanna go with that storyline) would result in a far more emotional ending and a perfect send off for Mel. Max could finally have closure on the death of his family, and his life could be given purpose, as he finally makes the decision not to run from his problems and helps create a peaceful society to be left behind when he’s gone, discovering just one man ‘really’ can make a difference.
More Mad Max!