[Review] - Mad Max: Fury Road

Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

I saw two sequels this week, and every ounce of my adoration goes towards Mad Max, not just for being the superior of the two, but also breaking a long standing streak. Twenty-years-later sequels are not good. They never have been, and we are in the midst of a glut of nostalgia-driven franchise resurrections, none of which have produced a viable embryos. List me an example, and I will explain to you why the film you mentioned is not a good one. Usually is comes down to lack of passion or clear-cut greed diluting a film. As such, I did not get myself worked up about Fury Road. Any inclination to do so were tempered by the twin facts that 1) I'm not a big fan of the original trilogy, and b) Fury Road has been trapped in development (and later distribution) hell for so long, I've been hearing about it as though it were a myth, never meant for scientific classification.

It is good. Oh my dolly, is it ever. It exceeds it's mandate. It is the sheerest sign that there is hope for any story so long as those involved feel earnestly and completely for it. This is a film that shouldn't work, and shouldn't work in this way, and shouldn't work in today's landscape, and not only does it succeed in all those respects, it excels. It puts others to shame. We have a contender for best movie of the year in Fury Road, as well as one of the best action movies ever. And why does it succeed and excel and other adjectives? Because of it's brevity. A movie that took thirty years to make, filmed 400 hours of footage, run two hours long in what is essentially a single long scene and what makes it all work is it's minimalism. This movie is cut down to the haunches. There is no scrap. What is on screen works because it needs to be. There is flourish, but it is purposeful. In that respect, it is an incredibly restrained piece of film making. That is a hell of a lot of fun.

Hit the jump for the review, which contains spoilers that have twice been at the gates of Valhalla.

What is the worst thing about this film? The writing, by which I specifically mean the dialogue. What saves it from being noticeable is that there isn't much of it (the movie features only the very briefest of exposition, relying on world building and environmental acclimation to carry us through). The bulk of the spoken dialogue is done by over the top, maniacal and deranged individual, which hides the less then bountiful nature of the prose. When the film calls upon the lower key roles to expound at the mouth, the acting makes up from material that doesn't have much to provide. But, as I said, this movie doesn't waste a lot of time with talking. This is a look, don't listen sort of film (George Miller has admitted that the film would function as a black and white silent film better then as is).

And that's the worst thing that can be said about this film. Everything else is laudable and gorgeous. Made all the more so by the fact that is is all tangibly real. Every frame has a tactile sensation to it that highlights the fact that Miller took these people out into a desert and exploded things. There are, by my count, only two uses of CGI in this film: a sand storm and a cliff face. And they are extremely noticeable and disconcerting. Everything else pines with reality. It is an extremely visceral film. The grit, the fire, the speed is all communicated in a way that pulls you into the world, straps a chain around your leg and hauls you away. The pacification of action movies, where people get shot multiple times, with no blood, with no wear and tear and no sign of degradation equals no cost to the characters. Because Miller soaks his film in heavy realism, you feel every scratch carries weight. wounds physically slow the characters down, adding to the tension. Films are a visual medium, but it is rare for them to tell a visual story. Miller has succeeded in telling a thriving visual story.

As for the claim that it is a feminist tale, I think that is heavily reductionist. Looking at it from a great distance, with little understanding of what is actually occurring, I suppose that is a broad brush with which to paint this canvas, but is is all water colours. Yes, a harem of women are being transported by a warrior woman to a supposed female paradise. But even a cursory examination shows that it isn't feminist, any most than it is chauvinist. What it is is a humanist, morality tale. That the macguffins are women provides impetus for Immorten Joe to give chase, though it could just as easily be pure-bred children, or someone with miracle blood. Charlize Theron's Furiosa could just as easily be a man, or a mutant. The female commune could just as easily be anything else. That they are women is grand, but not required, which in fact does satisfy the most pure feminist ideal: they are equals, not specialized because of them femininity. Their specific genders are largely immaterial. The thrust of the intent is that, Furiosa is saving these people from inhuman treatment. They aren't seeking salvation from the divine (as Joe has installed an afterlife prophesy in his grunts), and they aren't giving up. they are taking agency over their treatment, refuse to be treated as objects or instruments, or to be corrupted into monsters. there is no civilization to flee to, or from, but in the wilds they at least have control over themselves.

Max continues to be an agent of anti-chaos. He is the embodiment of what Furiosa and the harem seek: self control. Max is seeking redemption yes, and exists on the borders of what remains of civilization, but he is master of only himself. He serves no one but his best intent. He helps those who requires it, and more often then not requires assistance from others. but he never sacrifices his free will to anything greater than what he can hold in his hand. So, while scenes like him wandering off into the darkness and coming back soaked in another person's blood may play like Big Damned Hero moments, but it isn't what Max is about. Max is about finding the best way to survive. The final gambit seems insane, but it also the path of least resistance. In a game of weights and measures, Max knows which would most likely lead to survival.

When I say this is a minimalist film, I say that with great revere. The plot is left without unnecessary complication or interruption. The execution is straight forward. The characters complex in so much as they behave as normal persons in extraordinary situations would, and remain true to their motivations, abilities and needs. The destination of the story is never elevated beyond anything more grandiose than simple survival and human decency. Movies feel the need to constantly try to outsmart their viewers, or to position themselves from lofty heights and preach down on the audience. Fury Road looks the audience straight in the eye, says, "this is what we're doing" and does it. then it takes all the time and energy it didn't waste in nailing every kitchen sink it could to the script, and expresses that through visually insane depictions of humanity run amok. Miller's vision of the future cannot be discounted when it features vice and self satisfaction taken to extremes, when societies exist on the furthest fringes of the social scale, when those in power express themselves though obnoxious and pointless demonstrations of luxury. Max's world is just a super extended metaphor for all the worst of the world's ills as is, and one that feels far more relatable and poignant than most of the scenarios that movies throw at us (see the Rock fighting an earthquake in San Andreas).
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About MR. Clark

Adopting the descriptor of "successfully unpublished author", MR. Clark began writing things on the internet in 2012, which he believed to be an entirely reputable and civilized place to find and deliver information. He regrets much.


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