The confusion: Reboot, sequel, or something else?

Maximum madness

There has been a lot of debate recently as to whether George Miller's new film is going to be a direct sequel or a reboot. Miller and the studio have stated on several occasions that the film is going to be a sequel, though many film-news sources have muddled up the information by stating it will be a reboot [1]. With a gap of some thirty years since the last film, the replacement of the lead actor with another, as well as blatant continuity errors in the little footage we've seen (Max's younger appearance, reclaimed jacket), - it would seem foolish to call this movie anything but a reboot, right? Well, not exactly.

You see, Fury Road has a long history, its initial screenplay was written not that long after Mad Max 3 with the intention of becoming the 4th movie, and has been reworked several times over the years. Ultimately, the main story has survived reworkings, resulting in the tale taking place some time after Max's third adventure. [2].

Bearing these two things in mind we're left questioning: can a film be both a sequel AND a reboot? Mad Max: Fury Road certainly has features of both after all. Conventional film-making would probably say a movie cannot be both, especially when we take into account aesthetics and visual continuity; but what of conventional story-telling? Is there a way in literary tradition where stories can be reworked, and at the same time - continued, and can they apply here?

Breaking the cipher

Tom Hardy on set

The key to unlocking this perplexing contradiction lies with comments made by both the new Fury Road actor who's playing Max, Tom Hardy, and the game studio: Avalanche studios, who have been busy developing the new Mad Max game for the PS4 & Xbox One.

Let's start with the game studio, how does Avalanche Studios' work on the Mad Max game tie in with the development of the film, especially now that it's been established that the two projects are NOT connected in anything but concept? Well it's precisely that - it's the concept. To unravel that into a more poetic entity - it's the world and tone of Max Rockatansky and his adventures. Avalanche have stated that their Mad Max world in no way indicates that it's set in Australia any more than it's set in any other English-speaking area of the globe [3]. They have based their game off the tone and tales of the post-apocalyptic pursuit officer we've all come to adore. They don't claim they're making a sequel, nor that they're rebooting the franchise in video-game format - just that this tale of Max Rockatansky happens at some point, in some way, in an undisclosed post-apocalyptic location. Max: the legendary hero.

Tom Hardy has spoken up about Fury Road in a similar manner:

"We have to take it differently as George is taking it. It’s a relaunch and revisit to the world. An entire restructuring. That’s not to say that it’s not picking up or leaving off from the Mad Max you know already, but it’s a nice re-take on the entire world using the same character, depositing him in the same world but bringing him up to date by 30 years."

Rather than calling it a reboot, he describes it as a "relaunch", "revisit" or "retake" of the world we already know and love, one that continues past the events of the previous trilogy.

Returning to my original question: is there a literary format that parallels this ability to reshape a world, yet continue its story? There is indeed, within the arena of mythology and legend. Like the storytellers who told tales of the cold Norse pantheon or those Ancient Egyptian scribes who wrote of their desert gods - Max is the equivalent legend of post-apocalyptic narrative. Back in the 1980s, the Mad Max films set the stage for many post-apocalyptic movies and parodies to come, having created a unique aesthetic. But it works both ways - MM created a mythos in our world, yet the same can be said of his fictional one.

Storyteller #1

By the closure of the third film he has become a mysterious hero in an age where records crumble and word of mouth prevails - Max the myth. There's a strong theme of tales being told in the Mad Max films, in Mad Max 2 the Feral Kid - then an elderly storyteller - tells the tale of Max's heroism against Lord Humungus's siege. In Mad Max 3, Savannah Nix and her tribe resettled the Sydney ruins and tell tales of the man called Max.

Storyteller #2

A while back, a character called Drifter was cast in Fury Road. At the time this drew the interest of many fans, especially when it was listed that Mel Gibson himself was playing him. Messageboards and article comment-sections began speculating that The Drifter might be the real Mad Max, and that Hardy's incarnation was another "mad hero", or perhaps a descendant - therefore, the sequel's continuity can be saved. As intriguing as that was, another momentum of comments interested me more and connects with George Miller's ethos of film-making. Some were pondering whether the drifter was cast to perhaps retell his story (albeit anonymously), similar to Feral Kid & Savannah Nix have done. What we view in Fury Road are Max's earlier tales told this time by himself, to listeners' ears who have mythologised the man. After all, Miller has stated quite beautifully that the movie is "based on the Word Burgers of the History Men and eyewitness accounts of those who survived." As exciting as that might be, Miller has now confirmed Mel Gibson will not be playing the Drifter - and never was; of course this wouldn't be the first time a filmmaker has denied something which has leaked, only for us to then discover said thing was in the film. [4]. Regardless, whether Mel is the drifter or not, or whether the drifter tells the tale or doesn't, it doesn't render the Mad Max Mythos argument void in any way.

Ultimately, Max's appearance being different and the tale's continuity varying? All that doesn't matter; as wastelanders have come together to barter and trade, many bring with them similar tales of a heroic road-warrior: some tales note a leather jacket, some do not; some tales claim he was old, some that he was younger. The exact details are lost, but the events still happened, some small grain of truth exists somewhere, and I believe that is what we are dealing with with this new movie. We will be witnessing the re-envisioning of Max's character (reboot), sometime after Beyond Thunderdome (sequel).


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