Welcome to Reboot Court, where we drag an upcoming film remake in front of the judge — that would be me — and determine whether or not a do-over is a good idea. Court is now in session …
The original film: Mad Max (d. George Miller, 1979)
The story: In a dystopian world bled dry of its natural resources, one man fights to survive against the increasing onslaught of lawless hooligans raping and pillaging their way across what’s left of society. Good thing that man is played by Mel Gibson, who, before we went nuts in real life, was moviedom’s top guy for taking out crazy bad guys by being even crazier than they were. Also, Mel is blessed with one of the best character names of all time: Max Rockatansky.
Existing permutations: There’s the original film, shot on a shoestring budget in Miller’s native Australia. It was followed by 1981’s Mad Max 2, more commonly known by its U.S. title — The Road Warrior, which ups the post-apocalyptic quotient and is rightly considered the best of the series. Next was 1985’s Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, a big-budget threequel that bizarrely co-starred Tina Turner, added “two men enter, one man leaves” to the geek lexicon and is actually better than most people give it credit for.
Proposed incarnation: Fury Road, set for release in 2014, is supposedly a rebootquel. It’s expected to tell a new Max Rockatansky story that won’t contradict or attempt to reboot the original films, though it will feature a brand new Max — Tom Hardy, best known as Bane from The Dark Knight Rises.
Argument for: This is a movie Miller has been trying to make for a long time, as word got out a full decade ago that he had completed the script for a fourth film. However, he hit a string of roadblocks over the years, from Mel Gibson’s career-killing public breakdowns (which likely ended his chances of starring in the film) to numerous production delays resulting from things like the Iraq War (which scuttled an early version) and weather that proved to be too good. So the fact that he just didn’t throw his hands in the air and give up shows that he’s at least passionate about making the film. This is not a cash-grab sequel. Meanwhile, if we can’t have Mel back, Hardy, who is a proven badass, makes for a pretty good back-up plan, and the supporting cast, which features Charlize Theron and Nicholas Hoult among others, is solid. Miller is a master at staging elaborate vehicle chases and smash-ups using nothing but real cars and practical effects, which would be a breath of fresh air in today’s CGI-heavy blockbuster environment.
Argument against: As much as everyone likes Hardy, Mel Gibson IS Max Rockatansky. It’s just going to be weird seeing some other guy going by that name. Miller’s last four non-documentary films as a director, dating back over 20 years, are Lorenzo’s Oil, Babe: Pig in the City, Happy Feet and Happy Feet 2. So it’s not like we have any recent evidence at all that the 68-year-old Miller can still, you know, PULL THIS OFF. The market’s been flooded with post-apocalyptic movies since Mad Max last appeared on screen, ranging from the great (Children of Men) to the bad (The Book of Eli) to the trippy (12 Monkeys). This is not exactly an under-represented genre at this point, so Miller really needs to bring the goods if he’s going to make Fury Road feel like a necessary entry rather than a reliving of past glories.
The verdict: I got to be honest — for me, it’s no Mel Gibson, then no sale. Look, I understand that Gibson is basically a mess of a human being at this point and maybe doesn’t even deserve to star in something that would be celebrated in the geek community as much as the return of Mad Max will. But the guy was rightfully catapulted to super-stardom by the original three movies, of which he owns every moment he appears on screen. This doesn’t seem like a Batman/James Bond situation, where it’s fine when the role changes hands. It’s more like trying to make a new Indiana Jones movie with someone who’s not Harrison Ford playing Indy. It just does not compute. Couple that with serious questions over whether Miller, who’s been dallying about in kids films forever, can pull off a Max revival nearly 30 years later, and it may have been better to just leave well enough alone.