The Mad Max canon is shaky at best, and there’s really no set chronology that’s ever explicitly established (or really needed) over the course of the four film series.
That being said, the original trilogy of films do sort of follow one after the other. The first Mad Mad introduces Max Rockatansky, a police officer in a world that’s rapidly falling apart. The second film picks up or more or less right after the end of that one, although it’s a little bit inconsistent in how it portrays the state of society. Finally, the third installment can be reasonably assumed to take place a decade or more after the events of the second.
Then comes Fury Road, and all of that falls apart. Not only is Max portrayed by a new actor, but his characterization feels much different, and there are a couple of events in the movie that make it really difficult to fit it into the previous timeline.
What breaks the timeline?
For one, the flashbacks Max has don’t really line up with what we know about the character. We assume the recurring hallucination that Max has is his daughter being killed. While Max does lose his wife and child in the original film, he actually had a son, who was an infant at the time. Additionally, his kid is not run over by a truck, as we see in those visions. Instead, he was killed by a biker gang.
Additionally, early into Fury Road, Max gets a tattoo on his back listing his blood type among other health related details.
It flashes by too quickly to see much else, but a piece of concept art for the tattoo reveals a very interesting stat:
It reads “Day 12045,” which may put Max’s age at around 32 years old. That works for actor Tom Hardy, but not for the series’ timeline.
George Miller has stated that Fury Road takes place “45-50 years” after the apocalypse, which hasn’t yet happened in the original Mad Max film. That means the Mel Gibson version of the character would need to be 70+ years old during the events of Fury Road, and he is clearly not.
So together, what does this all mean?
It basically means that it’s very possible that the “Max” we see in Fury Road is not the same guy from the original trilogy.
Instead, fans have been speculating online that Tom Hardy’s character is actually someone we met during the second film. Namely, this guy:
That’s the Feral Kid from Mad Max 2, and since that movie takes place after the apocalypse as well, it’s reasonable to assume that he could be Tom Hardy’s age during the events of Fury Road.
Why that character?
While this is just a loose fan theory (George Miller himself has said that chronology is not something he ever worried about with these movies), there are a few interesting bits of supporting evidence.
One big clue is the appearance of a music box in Fury Road, which looks remarkably similar to the one that Max gives to the Feral Kid in the second film. If Max has this here, that means it either takes place before Mad Max 2, or according to this theory, Tom Hardy’s character is simply using the name.
Additionally, a weird character quirk Max has in Fury Road is his hesitance to use his own name. He finally says it towards the end of the movie, but only because he thinks Furiosa might be dying. Why would he be so weird about his own name? Maybe because it’s not his.
Likewise, Max seems to really dislike speaking in Fury Road, and most of his “dialogue” feels more like grunting. This would make a lot of sense if he’s actually the adult version of the Feral Kid, who spoke entirely in growls and grunts in Mad Max 2.
What does this add to the movie?
So why would he be doing this? Well the Feral Kid clearly came to idolize Max over the course of that story, and the end of that film reveals that an adult Kid had been narrating the story, mythologizing the adventures of the “Road Warrior.” It’s possible that he picked up the identity into his adulthood, imitating the look and mannerisms of the only positive role model he had growing up.
However, I think there’s a much more interesting angle. The end of Mad Max 2 reveals that the Feral Kid accompanied a group that would later become the “Great Northern Tribe.” After reaching adulthood, the Kid eventually became the chief of the tribe. Many fans have been pointing at this as evidence that he couldn’t be the character we saw in Fury Road… but what if his time as the tribe’s leader was temporary? What if they all died, and it was somehow his fault?
We see a lot of people in Max’s hallucinations in addition to his daughter. Why does he have so much guilt on his conscience, and why aren’t these characters who died in the previous three movies? I believe these people were members of Max’s tribe, who were killed while he was their leader.
This would explain a ton about the character, including why he has a daughter instead of a son, his strange mannerisms, and how this movie fits into the timeline. It would also really add to Max’s apparent insanity. Now instead of just losing his family, this Max lost an entire tribe of people; people who trusted him to lead and protect them.
Perhaps after losing everything, the Kid took to wandering. When asked his name, maybe it wasn’t reluctance, maybe he genuinely didn’t know what to say. Telling Furiosa that his name is Max could be more than just him trusting her, it could be his arc as a character, finally embracing his new role as the mythological Road Warrior, destined to wander the wasteland alone, protecting the weak.
It would also just be a neat link to the rest of the series in an installment that feels very far removed.
All of that being said, it’s just a fan theory, and George Miller clearly couldn’t care less about establishing a canon. He’s always viewed Max as less of a fully fleshed-out character, and more of a legendary archetype. In my mind though, that makes this theory work even better.
Max isn’t a flesh-and-blood person, he’s an idea. He’s a story that’s passed into legend, and one that doesn’t have to be tied to any one character.
We’ve heard rumors that the next two Mad Max movies may be prequels, so they may totally debunk this theory; but for now, I think it’s a pretty original idea that actually adds some interesting elements to an already awesome film.