Yes, that's him, Max Rockatansky, aka Mad Max, still wandering the Australian Wasteland, driving tricked-out vehicles while fighting off freaks, violent cultists, warlords and other killer humans. Thirty-six years after he was first introduced to the world in "Mad Max" (1979), and after two sequels ("The Road Warrior," 1981; and "Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome," 1985), the baddest post-apocalyptic survivor on the planet returns in "Mad Max: Fury Road," opening May 15.
Played previously by Mel Gibson, Max is now in the capable hands of Tom Hardy. And he's got plenty to deal with. George Miller, who co-wrote and directed all the films in the franchise, says this time out, Max gets involved with a group of women fleeing from one of the Wasteland's warlords. This puts him in contact with a rebel leader named Furiosa, played by Charlize Theron, who is helping the women escape. The film is essentially a two-hour chase, as the warlord's forces chase Furiosa and Max across the Australian desert.
Miller, 70, has had an eclectic career. Trained as a medical doctor, he segued into filmmaking, and in addition to the "Mad Max" franchise has directed "The Witches of Eastwick," the medical drama "Lorenzo's Oil," two "Happy Feet" animated films (one of which won an Oscar for best animated feature), and wrote the screenplay for the Oscar-nominated "Babe."
But it's the "Mad Max" films that put him on the map, and, despite the passage of time, they've been rolling around in his mind ever since. Which is why, even though the last segment came out 30 years ago, Miller decided to jump back into a post-civilization mentality.
"Once you've made three of these, the character lives in your head, and many years ago this idea popped into my mind, and as much as I tried to push it away it kept coming back, and it evolved," he says. "The story felt so compelling I had an obligation to tell it, and that's happened with every story I've ever told."
But first Miller had to replace Gibson, who had aged out of the role, and, in addition, Miller has said, "had turbulence in his life," referring to the actor's racist rant following an arrest for driving under the influence,as well as a highly publicized divorce from his wife of 26 years, and being accused of domestic violence by girlfriend Oksana Grigorieva.. The choice fell to Hardy, so impressive in films like "The Drop" and "Locke," who, says Miller, "has a lot of similarities to Mel, that charismatic energy, and both are very athletic. And he's got that animal charisma that all great movie stars have."
Then Miller had to deal with one of his biggest challenges, the film's production design. With their bizarre, motorized vehicles and futuristic fetish costuming, the "Mad Max" films have long been regarded as groundbreaking in their look, which has been imitated countless times. The question was, did Miller feel the need to top himself?
"I didn't feel we had to top ourselves because it [the new film] grew out of that world," he says. "But obviously it had to be familiar and connected to those movies, but also unique because in the intervening 30 years the world has changed, I've changed, and movies have changed. You have all these wonderful new technologies. So you're bringing to bear all the tools at your disposal."
"The look had been aped and degraded by countless Armageddon films welding barbed wire to a Camaro and calling it the future," adds Colin Gibson, the film's production designer. "So we had to be extremely careful to develop an internal logic and true history to what had brought the tribes of the Wasteland to this point. How to justify 1970s muscle cars and hot rods as the vehicles to rebuild? We needed to reference the past films, to work with what we all recognize [Volkswagen, Cadillac, Chevrolet, muscle car, hot rod, rat rod], but make us look at them anew."
So, in a sense, Miller stayed traditional in his approach. Which also affected his thinking about the stunt work in the film -- he decided to avoid CGI and keep it real.
"When you're dealing with a movie that's dealing with the real laws of physics, it would be crazy to reproduce those things [using] CGI," says Miller. "There is no purpose served, except comfort, so from the get-go we decided to do it old-school, because we could, really."
Miller knows his franchise is not the first to deal with the collapse of civilization, but the "Mad Max" films are certainly the most famous examples of their genre. And he also recognizes that the popularity of post-apocalyptic flicks says something about the society we live in.
"We're living in a fast-paced world getting faster, and we're looking to create some meaning out of that, and stories are what we rely on to do that," he says. "The attraction of a 'Mad Max' story, it's like forward into the past -- essentially we're in a reduced, more elemental world, like the American Western, which were simple elemental tales set in vast landscapes. Post-apocalyptic films are very allegorical. That's the attraction."
Warfare, plague, environmental disaster -- doesn't matter what the calamity is. Post-apocalyptic films have been with us for quite some time. Here are a few of the best:
Things to Come (1936) A global war destroys civilization, but a group of scientists survives and builds a culture that reaches for the stars. Screenplay by none other than H.G. Wells.
On the Beach (1959) After a nuclear war, Australians must face up to the fact that radiation will kill them in a few months. Gregory Peck, Ava Gardner and Fred Astaire star.
La Jetée (1962) In post-World War III Paris, a man is sent back in time to find a solution to the world's fate. This 28-minute short is the inspiration for the 1995 film "Twelve Monkeys."
Planet of the Apes (1968) Intelligent apes have taken over Earth after a war with homo sapiens. Charlton Heston looks great in a loincloth.
The Omega Man (1971) Heston again, fighting off the living dead, after a plague has decimated mankind.
The Road Warrior (1981) The best post-apocalyptic flick? Probably. Certainly the most influential in terms of story, set and costume design.
The Quiet Earth (1985) In this New Zealand film, a man wakes up to find he's the only person left alive on the planet.
28 Days Later (2002) A virus kills off most of humanity, and turns most of the rest into zombielike freaks.
The Road (2009) A father and son try to survive in a post-apocalyptic wasteland. Based on Cormac McCarthy's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel.
This Is the End (2013) Utterly outrageous black comedy about a group of friends trying to survive a global meltdown. With Seth Rogen, James Franco, Jonah Hill and Emma Watson as themselves.