Published on May 22nd, 2015 | by Craig Silliphant0
Mad Max: Fury Road
Mad Max: Fury Road drops us into the bonkers action of George Miller’s post-apocalyptic wasteland. Is it great? Too thin? Too feminist? Not feminist enough?
The look of a post-apocalyptic world had been so well defined by George Miller’s Mad Max series that it had slipped into utter cliché over the last 30 years. If you wanted to show that a society had embraced its primal nature, you outfitted your wacky mutants with mohawks and banged up football equipment. From movies like Doomsday and Waterworld to the fashion world itself, people have long been imitating the look of Mad Max as a sort of shorthand for a dystopian punk future. References to Mad Max have even crossed the line into lampoon in movies like Weird Science, where Vernon Wells played a hilarious nod to his character Wez from The Road Warrior.
So I have to admit that I wasn’t as lit up as the Internet seemed to be when I saw the trailer for Mad Max: Fury Road. It just looked like a tired attempt to capitalize on yet another franchise, this time hurling it into a fanboy’s wet dream CGI bonanza, while simultaneously going against the low budget and practical nature of the first two films in the series. The day before I screened the film, I went back to the beginning and rewatched the original trilogy, trying to set aside history in my mind so I could see them again for the first time. I’m so glad I did that. Thunderdome aside, Mad Max and Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior are both excellent, creative action movies with a lot of great subtext and iconic scenes and characters. And the Road Warrior has some of the best-staged action ever committed to celluloid.
I was happy find that Mad Max: Fury Road may be a modern and technologically savvy update to the franchise, but it hasn’t lost any of the fun. In fact, it’s quite mad. It is the cinematic experience of driving your monster truck into the howling mouth of hellfire, the sound of crunching and screaming metal filling your ears, while burning corpses and shards of death fly from your vehicle. Gimmie More! More! More! More bodies and metal into the furnace to stoke the excess! More! More! More! Fury Road even has a vehicle that features a guitar player suspended in front of a wall of amps, bashing a flame-throwing guitar like Flea on bath salts. That really shouldn’t work. But it does.
There’s not a huge plot to speak of, but it’s extremely workmanlike in the way it propels the action forward and sends our characters spiraling into the story. A local warlord, Immortan Joe, who controls everyone through water and violence, captures Max. Charlize Theron plays Furiosa, one of Joe’s top lieutenants that has turned traitor, stealing the warlord’s sex slaves/breeders/wives and driving her war rig semi truck towards her childhood home. Through circumstances I’ll let you witness in the film itself, Max and Furiosa align and fight together to escape the many factions converging on them. It’s basically a hot-blooded two-hour chase movie.
In terms of the action, it’s a spectacle to behold. I loved that it mixed the practical effects with well-done CGI. CGI gets a bum rap because we rarely see it used well. Here it merges seamlessly with the practical action. There was also some amazing stunt work and design employed to add to the insanity. I especially liked the guys on poles. This was not only fun to watch, but it seemed like something that could be real (well, in this unreal setting). It was something that developed out of necessity in a world where most battles happen in fast moving vehicles. You need to jump on a speeding truck? What better way than to do it from above like that?
As a side note, Kevin Lincoln wrote a great piece for The Dissolve about how a lot of lessons can be learned from the action of the original Mad Max. On The Dissolve podcast, one of the commenter talked about the huge canvass of indiscernible action and destruction porn in today’s cinema. What he finds really exciting is a scaled down situation, like Indiana Jones grabbing the hood ornament on the front of the truck in Raiders. Would it hold Indy’s weight? That’s good tension. Fury Road is mostly bonkers, but it does bonkers better than most of the big tent pole movies out there, because Miller himself is one of the great stagers of action on film.
After a lot of time and some questionable decisions by Mel Gibson, the original Max Rockatansky had to be recast, so Tom Hardy has picked up the iconic leather jacket. While all the characters are cool and used well, especially some of the freaky ass villains and Max and Furiosa themselves, there’s not really much characterization to speak of. The villains are relentless, but they don’t really have much motivation beyond pride of ownership. Arguably, the only real character development is had by Nux, one of Joe’s War Boys, played by Nicholas Hoult, who stumbles into a redemption of sorts.
A lot of ballyhoo has been made about Charlize Theron’s character, but she doesn’t really grow either. Perhaps her real arc happens before the movie starts, because she is already halfway through the inciting incident when we catch up with her. I’m not saying that all of this makes it a bad movie — if anything, it cut away the fat so Miller could be efficient with the high-octane chase. But I will go on record as saying that you’ll never convince me a movie wouldn’t be better without stronger characters.
Speaking of Furiosa, there was a furor-osa over the perceived feminist nature of the film, because it features a strong female protagonist. Idiots were calling for boycotts of the movie lest we men admit that women are capable of being heroes too or some such nonsense. This inspired a whole bunch of think pieces about the film being a kick ass feminist film, but I’m not overly convinced of that either. While they didn’t make the Game of Thrones mistake of showing rapes on screen to make it more lurid and supposedly more interesting, Joe’s wives are still being raped. It’s implied, and our imaginations works just as well, if not better, than what is portrayed on the screen. They want the same shocking notions in our heads, that this gross mutant is raping these women. It’s meant to drive our feelings about Joe and Furiosa. Don’t get me wrong, Furiosa is a step in the right direction for women in action movies, but let’s not get carried away with declaring it a feminist masterpiece. In fact, Logan, one of my co-hosts on CFCR’s Reel to Reel expressed it best when he said that we are so unused to seeing women in this capacity, that we mistake a strong female character for a feminist revolution in film. I agree with him. We’re not there yet. Hell, even Ripley still had to suffer through the obligatory panty shot.
I’ve zigzagged like a war rig trying to outrun a convoy of polecats here, so let’s refocus. All my woolgathering aside, Mad Max: Fury Road was fucking awesome. It was a balls out action thriller with efficient storytelling and clever design, from the action to the world itself. If someday, the society we live in succumbs to nuclear war or peak oil, I’m going to shave my head and get me some football equipment, because that’s how the new world will know I’m one of the badasses.
Actually, I’ll probably find the strongest woman I can and cower behind her.