Soundtrack review: Mad Max: Fury Road

This is pure diesel opera: a rip-roaring spectacle with heart, soul, and believe it or not, intelligence in abundance.

Mad Max: Fury Road is perhaps the best movie you’ll see all year. There, I said it. To brand George Miller’s anarchistic, nihilistic ode to the post-nuclear wasteland a mere action romp, however, is to do it a huge injustice. This is pure diesel opera: a rip-roaring spectacle with heart, soul, and believe it or not, intelligence in abundance.

It’s difficult to believe that anyone, including Miller himself, could’ve imagined Fury Road would be so well received. But with the film attracting unfathomable amounts of praise from old fans and new, it seems the Happy Feet and Babe: Pig in the City director – yes, seriously – was right to return to the ravaged Aussie outback for another petrol-soaked hurrah.

If Fury Road marks a glorious return for Miller, it also ushers in an era of change for the franchise, with Tom Hardy replacing the now tarnished Mel Gibson as the titular Road Warrior, and Tom Holkenborg, a.k.a. electronic music producer Junkie XL, handling scoring duties in place of series regular, Brian May.

Fresh meat

Having listened to the score countless times, it’d be a crime to paint the hiring of Holkenborg as anything other than an inspired decision. Miller clearly saw the need to freshen up the series by taking it in a new direction, and in Holkenborg – long time friend and collaborator of Hans Zimmer – he found the man to do just that.

Teeming with pyroclastic, all-consuming drums, sweeping string movements, and explosive guitar riffs – sure to please everyone’s favourite, flamethrower-axe wielding Doof Warrior – Holkenborg’s score is a triumph on every single level.

As an out-and-out action soundtrack, it’s a breath of fresh air, framing Miller’s beautifully realised action sequences with manic, tribal percussion, grandiose horns, and wild, ravenous string work. It’s clear that, rather than attempt to make sense of the carnage unfolding on-screen, Holkenborg was happy to simply go along for the ride, fanning the flames of Miller’s unique genius by refusing to hold back.

Of course, that’s not to say that the fledgling maestro lacks restraint, with the Black Mass composer proving time and time again that he’s able to imbue a score, even one with as much punch as this, with real, tangible emotion when the need arises.

It’d be easy to argue that, thanks to Miller’s rather conservative script, Holkenborg has perhaps unintentionally been handed the task of humanising Fury Road’s leading women and men. Fortunately – as if there was ever any doubt – it’s a challenge the up-and-coming composer takes in his stride, demonstrating his emotional range by highlighting the underlying frailties of the movie’s hardened, world-weary characters during Fury Road’s few subtle moments.

“Holkenborg simply goes along for the ride, fanning the flames of Miller’s mad-genius by refusing to hold back.”

Indeed, stand out tracks such as Redemption, Many Mothers, and My Name is Max allow viewers to step through the looking glass and take a glimpse at the human plight hidden at the core of Miller’s non-stop action sequence.

It’s in these brief pit stops where the movie really begins to shine, and by lending some much needed weight to proceedings Holkenborg helps elevate Fury Road above it’s brain-dead forebears into the halls of Valhalla, where only the best, most deserving action movies are born again.

The only real criticism I can level at Holkenborg’s door is that, for some, the score might be a little too repetitive, with the baying action cues echoed throughout the soundtrack sure to wear down some listeners. If, though, you can’t get enough of Miller’s wonderfully mad world, you’ll find yourself absorbing every glorious drop of Fury Road’s score time and time again.

Shiny and chrome, indeed.