Taking another trip in the WABAC to the distant year of 2013, when zombies ruled the cinemas and Pepsi was worth dying for. What a dark and terrible time…
As I sit behind my keyboard, cursor flashing with impatience, I find myself at a rare loss for words. Such is the effect of a movie like Mad Max: Fury Road. There are innumerable reviewers who have touched upon pieces of the film—its gender politics, its exaggerated scale, its replacement Max, or its inclusion in the gradual return to practical effects—but the truth of the matter is, Fury Road is a movie too large to explore in a single conversation. So I’ll focus on the pieces that resonated with me, following my own tried-and-true(ish) formula, and leave the rest to other reviewers.
This would be the point where my other half would wrap his clumsy lips around some semblance of the movie’s story. I try to hold my tongue when he summarizes a movie, partly because a summer blockbuster’s plot is increasingly less essential to its success, and partly because Goon is actually pretty good at it. Don’t tell him I complimented him, though, or I’ll never hear the end of it.
Fury Road is a sequel to the original Miller-helmed trilogy of Mad Max films. I sat down this week to watch the original Mad Max and The Road Warrior (sorry, I couldn’t get Beyond Thunderdome, wakka-wakka), thinking that it would give me some insight into what this new film would be. And in terms of plot, those previous films couldn’t have mattered less: like The Road Warrior, Fury Road opens with a brief montage and voiceover explaining the state of the world and its post-crisis lack of traditional fuels. Like the other films, this one is set in the Australian outback, and doesn’t care much for the state of the rest of the world. Everyone living there is too busy looking for their next meal and their next fuel-up to worry about the rest of the globe.
We’re reintroduced to Max, recast with genre standby Tom Hardy, now the wasteland loner who spawned the dystopian protagonist archetype: vicious, survival-minded, but with his own set of ironclad morals and values which he would die before compromising. This limited idealism comes into play when he encounters a group of women fleeing the clutches of Immortan Joe, a local warlord who controls a triumvirate of fuel, ammo, and water that makes him a god in his little kingdom. Max finds himself the unwitting protector of these women who, led by a steampunk-limbed Charlize Theron and aided by a nearly unrecognizable Nicholas Hoult, are looking for the promise land that lies beyond the endless supply of freaks and monsters, who themselves have an endless supply of cobbled battle wagons.
Structurally the movie is a repeat of the final twenty minutes of The Road Warrior, making most of the two-hour runtime into a single chase sequence broken up by occasional reprieves. Such a long chase might become a slog in other movies—I’m looking at you, Matrix Reloaded—but Miller varies the obstacles encountered by Max and crew to keep the tension fresh. The constant threat of Joe and his war band creates a tension that never leaves the movie, an edge-of-the-seat experience as opposed to a traditional narrative. This leaves little time for narrative arcs or character development, but neither of those elements are missed. Fury Road isn’t a story, but an event, and if you can accept that, you’ll enjoy the hell out of it.
I haven’t heard a single word of complaint for the recasting of the titular role with Tom Hardy. This isn’t solely due to the fact that Mel Gibson has spent the last decade making himself an unbankable star with his off-camera antics. Hardy has slowly but surely built himself up as a source of legitimacy for genre films. Smaller, character-driven roles like his turn in The Drop afford him the legitimacy he needs to make a character as insane as Max Rockatansky seem grounded. For all of the cartoonish stunt work the character is subjected to (and most of it sublimely practical, eschewing summer blockbuster CGI in favor of wrecking real cars in the desert), Hardy makes Max feel like a real man who wants to survive, but won’t live with himself if he abandons others to the tender cruelties of Immortan Joe.
Theron’s presence is perhaps the most surprising, but it’s certainly not the oddest role an Oscar winner has ever taken. That honor still belongs to Ben Kingsley for any role he’s taken in the last ten years. But Theron takes her role as Furiosa seriously. The revelation that her character originated in a survivalist matriarchy adds a welcome twist of characterization to what is otherwise a powerful enigma of a character. We’re never told how she lost her arm, how she became one of Joe’s most trusted lieutenants, or even the events that led her to rescuing Joe’s breeding stock from under his nose, because none of those details are important. The character stands upon her immediate actions, and is a welcome counterpart to Max’s determination and implacability.
If there’s a tenderness to the movie, it’s supplied by Nicholas Hoult, who is deeply practiced in the art (I still love him in About A Boy, and even that dumb zombie rom com he was in can’t change that). His character, the war boy Nux, is perhaps the most complete character with the closest thing to a narrative arc in the film. His values are questioned and eventually reshaped by the events of the film, turning him from a raving berzerker to a heroic figure. Such sentimentality might otherwise feel hokey amidst all of the explosions, but Hoult’s natural sensitivity and doe eyes make it work.
There is perhaps no villain more terrifying in recent memory than Immortan Joe, played by Australian actor Hugh Keays-Byrne and a ton of makeup and prosthetics that transform him into the wasteland equivalent of Darth Vader. And like the Lucasian dark lord (pre-prequels), much of Joe is an enigma wrapped in body armor and a breath mask. His sheer will to see the return of his wives and unborn children reflect the force of personality necessary to reshape a nation of crusty Outback survivors into the bizarre cult we see in the film, which in turn informs the pageantry he’s cultivated around him. The character of Immortan Joe isn’t only crafted by Keays-Byrne, but by every facet of weirdness around him: the ghost-faced kamikaze soldiers he commands, and the fleet of hodgepodge death machines they drive, complete with a drummer barge led by a live electric guitarist. Joe is the only villain I can think of who actually travels with his own soundtrack, an aspect of the movie that should be too ridiculous to swallow, but is instead exactly the kind of excess that makes the film memorable.
Though easy to forget while watching the film, Fury Road is a sequel, and belongs to a series credited with inventing the modern concept of the cinematic dystopian film. Here, of course, I speak of The Road Warrior; the original Mad Max had some interesting political allegory, but was lost amidst a muddied plot, plodding pacing, and abysmal sound editing that makes the film nigh-unwatchable by today’s standards. It’s somewhat forgivable, as it was Miller’s first feature-length project, but it also highlights just how much improved his talents as a filmmaker became with The Road Warrior, a film that still holds up as deserving of its praise and its place as the definitive modern post-apocalyptic movie.
As I stated above, the plot to Fury Road is more or less the same as the final chase scene from The Road Warrior. Does this, then, make Fury Road derivative? Only if you believe the story matters, and I would argue that it doesn’t. Dystopian film doesn’t hinge on guiding its audience through a single narrative, but instead the imagined meta-narrative of the collapse of modern society. In our previous review, The Rover (man, what is it with Australia and socioeconomic collapse?), the movie emphasized the cavernous spaces that grow between dwindling points of civilization, depicted through its sprawling, silent landscapes. In a large scale production like Fury Road, that collapse is instead communicated in terms of spectacle. When the world ends, the people living in it go insane, trying to make sense of the crumbs of society they’re forced to live on. They disguise that crumbling sense of self and society through pageantry, reinventing themselves as the monsters they fear to assert control over their increasingly-inhospitable environment.
This theme was present in The Road Warrior, and was what made the film so iconic. So does Fury Road’s continuation of the film make it derivative? Again, I’m forced to say “no,” because the new difference is scale. The costumes, vehicles, and pursuit that made the previous film so iconic is juiced to herculean proportions until the seams of the silver screen all but strain to hold it in check. Each vehicle is its own unique deadly junkpile, each weapon a cobbled masterpiece of improvisation and murder, and the leaders of the cult-like gang (gang-like cult?) are singularly gruesome. I predict there will be a slew of imitators in short order, themselves derivative of Miller’s self-reinvention of spectacle dystopia.
THE BEST PART?
Nothing in the film felt so iconic of the sense of excess and lunacy evoked by Immortan Joe and his war boys as the drummer barge and its guitarist masthead. No matter the stakes of the pursuit, the drums and guitar played on, spurring each painted warrior to fling themselves into the jaws of death for their Vader-esque god. The fact that the guitar spews a jet of flame only adds to that sense, making any sane viewer gleefully suspend their disbelief in anticipation of cinematic mayhem.
THE WORST PART…
I have no qualms about the gender politics of the film. Men and women both were exploited in Immortan Joe’s war engine, cast in the Paleolithic roles of warrior and mother. But for the love of Joe, couldn’t someone have gotten the smuggled women some actual pants at some point in the film? Even after they encounter a gun-toting matriarchy, no one thinks to give them clothes that will actually let them survive the Outback. It’s a small complaint, but it bothered me.
AND LO, THE THUMBS
Without hesitation, and without hyperbole, I believe that I have just seen the best film of Summer 2015.
Avengers was entertaining, and I still have high hopes for Ant-Man and Jurassic World (ridiculous though both of those appear), but Mad Max: Fury Road accentuated all of the best parts of the summer blockbuster: the spectacle, the scale, the excitement, and the simple storytelling. But even better, the film had its own sense of style that elevated it from a too-late sequel into its own sensational movie. I haven’t seen a film this visually engaging in a long, long time.
Best of all, though? Fury Road didn’t merely stave off boredom for a couple of hours. It actually got my blood pumping. I left the theater feeling excited.
Two thumbs. Now go see it again.
So, as you should have noticed, due to some difficulties me and my “friend” Snooty are providing you with words for eyes this week, instead words for your ear holes. Understandable to be upset, but blame Snooty. I’m sure its his fault somehow.
So, because this is a different format for reviews, things are gonna be done a bit different. For those of you who read my written reviews of tv shows (which yes, have been lacking lately for reasons yet to be divulged) this review is going to be in roughly the same format as that. If a bit briefer. Alright, enough talk, time to hit that Fury Road!
The movie opens with some exposition by Max, giving the viewers some context for the world. I would assume that this makes references to the original Mad Max movies, but I have not seen them, so I can’t say for certain. When he is nabbed by the minions of the baddie for the film, Immortan Joe. He is taken to their base and branded with his pertinent medical information, blood type and the what, and after a failed, if daring, escape attempt, he is caged up. Cut to a celebration of sorts, as Joe is sending his war rig out to Gas Town and the Bullet Farm, to get gas and bullets. Driving this rig is Furiosa, played by Charlize Theron. However she has an alternate plan. She goes off course and starts heading East. Joe sends his minions after her, including Nux who is using Max as blood donor to replace his crappy blood. What follows is a pretty amazing action sequence centered around car to car combat. At the end Max is able to break free, and we discover that Furiosa has rescued Joe’s sex slaves and is taking them to safety. Furiosa and Max have a rough introduction, but the two eventually team up, at first out of a need for survival, but before long Max finds himself dedicated to her cause. After several more car based fights, and Nux having another failed attempt to stop them before being convinced to help them, admittedly the pretty red head may have helped with that, the group arrives at their destination. More sand. Furiosa meets up with the people she was taken from as a child, only to learn that the “Green Place” they were seeking is no more, instead its a polluted wasteland they drove through earlier. Furiosa and the other ladies, plus Nux, decide to take off across the salt flats, hoping to find safety while Max looks to be going off on
his own. Max has spent the movie being haunted by visions of his past, and after another less than ideal trip down memory lane, he changes his mind and goes after Furiosa with a plan to take Joe’s stronghold due to it being empty of all his warriors as they are hunting for the lost ladies. The group heads back, and after one more epic battle sequence, where Nux sacrifices himself to save them and stop the bad guy cars, they kill Joe and claim his fortress for their own. Furiosa is praised as a hero by the people and Max departs, slipping off in the crowd and confusion to parts unknown.
Damn this movie was awesome. Hand down, super freaking, awesome. There was a lot of somethings and very little of others. Granted, there were some, we shall call them shortcomings in the movie, but nothing that made it bad. The story was a simple one, didn’t have much depth or content to it, and was lacking in any subplots. This was not bad. A lot can be done with a simple idea, and that is what was done here. Max doesn’t talk much, and when he does, its mostly in short sentences or barked orders to the group, his longest speech was when he detailed his plan to take Joe’s fort to Furiosa. He was portrayed as a man of action instead of a man words, and this was good. Again, don’t know much about him from the first movies, but here this worked. Max was less a hero and more just a man trying to survive. His lack of trust of Furiosa and confrontation with her at first was easily understandable given his history and the world they live in, but it also showed his pragmatism. He quickly saw that he needed Furiosa to survive, and was able to easily fall into a working relationship with her, eventually even growing to respect her skills and ideals. His arch was simple but well handled, and enjoyable to watch. Max was a fantastic hero for a summer action movie.
Furiosa, equally as awesome as Max, which I am lead to believe really pissed off some MRA’s online, which makes her even more awesome, because fuck those guys. Like Max, and most people in this movie, she was a fairly simple character, but it worked for her. In a world full of chaos and evil, she had a clear set of morals and stuck to them extra hard. She also possessed the same early distrust that Max had, but again, this is completely believable, and like Max, could see the value of working with him and the help he could offer. Later on when she learned that her home, the “Green Place” she was desperately trying to reach was nothing more than a stinking cesspool, her breakdown there was not a sign of weakness, but rather a completely understandable response. More to her strength, she pulled herself together quickly and moved on to seek safety for her and her friends. In a twist, she was even praised as the hero at the end, which was a surprise given that the movie is called “Mad Max” you’d think it would be a bit different. But again not bad. Honestly, kinda awesome.
The final character to talk about, Nux. He had the most growth. Starting as a brainwashed weapon of Immortan Joe, ready to die for him and claim his place in Valhalla, he grows to be a valuable ally for Max and Furiosa, and even has an almost romantic subplot with one of the liberated sex slaves. He was a fun character who went from being hated, to pitied, to respected. At first he sees Max as nothing more than a blood bag, even referring to him as such, and wanting nothing more than to take out Furiosa to appease his master. But after failing in front of Joe, he breaks down, questions everything, becoming a man without a cause or purpose, until he finds a new one, to stand with, and help Max. We got some legitimate touching
moments with him and one of the girls, Capable I think her name was, honestly had trouble catching them all. His death was fantastic, I love nothing more than a heroic sacrifice, and that is exactly what we got here.
The villains were all one note baddies, there to be intimidating and to a challenge to overcome. Again basic but not bad. They were there, they looked badass, and served their purpose well.
The visual design of this movie was amazing, the cars and trucks looked like something you would find in a post apocalyptic, raider run, badland. Different cars welded together on top of each other, spikes and blades, and flamethrowers jutting out, and lets not forget guitar guy. That’s right, there is a guy whose only purpose in this movie is to play a guitar that shoots flames for the war party. That is how crazy badass this movie is.
The only real downside to this movie I found, was the lack of explanation at times left me a bit confused at times, but not bad. I get the feeling that a lot of this was built around viewers having some knowledge of the previous films, but this wasn’t terrible. I think this could have been resolved with taking a few minutes for Max to give out some exposition, maybe in an exchange with Furiosa as part of the team bonding process, but that’s just me.
Overall, Mad Max: Fury Road is a fantastic example of the summer action movie. While basic and simple at times, the movie played it up as strengths. The visuals were top notch and nothing short of delightful. The characters were simple but strong, and the whole concept of almost making Max a supporting character in his own movie, instead of the amazing over the top hero was an unseen, but neat idea. There is nothing wrong with a hero stepping out of the spotlight to offer help and support to others instead, and I feel that is what was done here.
Go see this movie, I can’t stress that enough. Sure, if your reading this you have probably already seen it, but go again, tell your friends to see it, take your boy/girlfriend, just help this movie make money so we can get more, because we need more.
Be sure to keep an eye out for Snooty’s review, it should be along before too long.
Due to some unforeseen death-worshipping, gas-guzzling, exploding-spear-throwing difficulties, Snooty and Goon are going textual this week. Expect a couple of written reviews in lieu of a podcast. Our dulcet tones will return next week!
All units, we have a 3507 in progress: unfunny movie reported at the corner of Mediocre and Generic. All moviegoers are advised to maintain their distance, as the suspect is armed with what appear to be dusty, ancient jokes. Proceed with extreme boredom.
These fugitives are most definitely not wanted.
Spring may be in swing, but as far as the theaters are concerned, summer has officially begun! And it’s come out of the gate swinging with a major Marvel Studios sequel that promises to change the face of the MCU as we know it FOREVER! …just like every other MCU movie has.
End Song: Fight as One by Bad City (remix by reggiecheng328)
Ted 2 (Red Band Trailer)