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Embracing the Madness of MAD MAX: FURY ROAD

May 27, 2015

I was born in a post-Mad Max world. To me, the first three movies; Mad Max (1979), The Road Warrior (1981), and Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome (1985), were historical documents. They were oddities both quaint, because of their fable-like plots, and sophisticated, because of their detail-savvy action sequences. The new film, Mad Max: Fury Road is truly a breath of fresh air among its contemporary peers, but the blueprint for its success is hardly something that’s been cooked up by the latest hotshot director.

Mad Max Fury Road

Courtesy JoBlo.com

George Miller is a septuagenarian (he’s 70, in case you haven’t heard), and he has written and directed all four Mad Max films. While Tom Hardy has replaced Mel Gibson as Max Rockatansky, the formula is the same. This is a film about anarchy, redemption, survival, and family, with a two-hour epic desert chase at its core. While The Road Warrior is often cited as being one of the all time great actioners, Fury Road  tops it in about every way imaginable.

Max (Hardy) is back as the survivalist just trying to make his way in a world where gasoline and water are hard to come by. Each Mad Max film involves Max running into the colorful villains of Australia’s future wasteland. Max is a loner, with an established history of not playing well with others, but you can’t avoid people for ever… it’s a small world. Captured by the War Boy clan, it looks like Max will spend the rest of his days as a human “blood-bag.” But when Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) commandeers a war rig, Max is dragged into the chase by the War Boy (Nicholas Hoult) who’s refueling on Max’s “high-octane crazy blood.”

That’s only the setup. Max once again becomes a reluctant ally to someone who could desperately use his help. Furiosa has stashed War Boy ruler Immortan Joe’s five wives in the rig, and intends to deliver them to the freedom of her childhood home. Trouble is, Joe wants his women back.

The action is endlessly inventive, definitely peaking with the Polecats. It’s so deliriously awesome to see War Boys swinging high above the speeding battlefield, dealing high-velocity death from above. Miller has stated that he put the visuals first, and they are indeed striking from start to finish. It is well-documented that Miller intended for Fury Road to be so intensely visual that Japanese audiences would be able to follow the story perfectly without subtitles. I’m not Japanese, but I suspect that he accomplished this. Action may come first, but in Fury Road, it is never without consequence.

Mad Max Polecats

Courtesy Slashfilm

The story has a powerful and nuanced feminist core. The rugged Furiosa frees the harem wives and and not-so-symbolically removes the tyrannical men from power. It sounds political in a recap, but I think the film’s agenda may be overblown. After all, who in their right mind would argue against the mantra that “people are not things?” It’s actually refreshing and honorable for a movie to adopt a specific stance that isn’t generically left or right. Fury Road joins the proud ranks of feminist science fiction, headlined by films from the Alien and Terminator series.

Fury Road should be commended for the morality of its story, but it should be flat-out revered for its mastery of action. Over the past twenty years, CGI has evolved from a cutting-edge tool to a crutch. It seems that people love to fawn over how real CGI effects look these days. The problem with that brand of comment is that, if you know something is CGI, then it doesn’t look real at all. Fury Road uses CGI, and not always great CGI, but this is also an action movie that knows real honest-to-goodness stunts are more exciting than digital effects. The vehicular mayhem is all legitimate stuntwork, with little-to-no CGI outside of environmental touches. Miller has proved that he knows how to direct thrilling action, as The Road Warrior was a similar long-form chase movie featuring large vehicle convoys. His steady hand as an action director is on clear display in Fury Road. Even in increasingly complex sequences, the action is crystal clear with none of the frustrating quick-cutting popular in some circles. Miller knows that with sophisticated action choreography, the more easily digestible the shots are, the easier it is for the action to truly shine in the final product.

To say Mad Max: Fury Road has been a long time coming would be a laughable understatement. By premiere day a few weeks ago, Tom Hardy had been attached to the new film for more than six years, and writer/director George Miller had been kicking the tires on his dormant franchise for the better part of two decades. In fact, he came close to shooting this film in 2001, with Mel Gibson who was still a viable movie star. Since Hardy came onboard, I had followed the development with interest, gathering tidbits here and there as the production slogged along a fury road of its own. Expectations usually need to be tempered when a film gets strung along for so long. Now that I’ve finally seen it, I couldn’t be happier.

As far as I’m concerned, the only elephant in the room for Fury Road is that it’s a sequel. I have spoken ill of blockbuster franchises on several occasions. Mad Max: Fury Road checks boxes that Avengers: Age of Ultron and Furious 7 fail to. Fury Road is neither beholden to any prior film, nor weighed down by the responsibility of setting up a future film. Fury Road is perfectly enjoyable on its own merits. While the latest Avengers movie and its brethren are generally enjoyable entertainments, they don’t offer much beyond the promise of more. We already know there will be two more Avengers team-up films featuring the current cast, and we already know their titles and even release dates. I readily concede that I enjoy the movies of the Marvel-verse. The problem is that the restraints of continuity make it all but impossible to enjoy any single Marvel film without being forced to consider the films that came immediately before or after. It’s still an impressive achievement, but one that reeks of big business rather than art.

Mad Max has been doing big business at the box office, but it owes nothing to pre, post, or mid-credit scenes. With little more than tenuous back story linking the four Max films, Mad Max has thus far achieved a James Bond-ian level of eschewing continuity (and successfully too!). The four stories are just that, four individual stories that happen to feature the same protagonist. The timeline seems to work fine in some ways, while not in others. There’s no point in breaking it down because it’s all beside the point. There are four Mad Max films simply because George Miller had at least that many stories to tell within the demented fantasy world he created. Fury Road is a sequel in the classical sense. Max is a loner, wandering about the wasteland until he runs into trouble. What nihilistic monstrosity will he run into next? As long as George Miller has more stories to tell, I will continue to be interested in Max.

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From → Film Reviews

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