MAD MAX: FURY ROAD Review – An Action Masterpiece, and a Masterclass In Economic Storytelling…

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It’s a real rarity when a film’s trailer is actually an honest representation of what a movie is going to be; especially when it comes to genre spectacle flicks. Most of the time trailers can be pretty misleading, as if the powers that be are trying to sell you a movie that they wish they had, rather than the one they actually produced. The feelings that trailers engender in the audience are often times no different than the feelings a person would get from watching a commercial on tv, wherein a happy, healthy person is chowing down on a Big Mac, smiling the whole time. But we know the reality of that situation; you’re going to feel terrible, and the end result is more likely to inspire a violent bowel movement than an honest feeling of satisfaction. The trailers for Mad Max: Fury Road may be the most accurate representation of a movie I’ve ever seen. All of the promises made, how excited it made us feel, actually gets paid off, and, to be honest, that doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface.

I can’t remember the last time I walked out of a theater and just felt happy; my cinephile heart filled with actual joy and happiness, leaving no room for cynicism. Even an hour later, after I actually started thinking about the movie -the place where my barbed whip holding. logic demanding conscience lies in wait to tear at the flesh of my personified enjoyment- still I had nothing bad to say. Could Fury Road actually be as good as people say? Even I was taken aback by this notion, but after rolling my thoughts around for about 12 hours I think I can answer that question: A resounding yes.

The elevator pitch for this movie would go something like “Hey, did you like The Road Warrior? I bet the chase in the last act was your favorite part, right? Well, what if we just did that for a whole movie? That would be cool. Hey, did you just fart? Christ, what floor are you getting off on?” but even that is selling it kind of short. It manages to take what is essentially an extended chase sequence, and infuse every scene with directed purpose. Nothing is superfluous in Fury Road, it takes every opportunity to enrich the characters by combining the propulsive scenes with purposeful action. The movie is pretty sparse in the dialogue department, so instead of telling you who these people are, the kind of moral foundations they have and  so on, they just show it to you. It’s how they act in the moment that defines them, the risks they’re willing to take, the trust they put in each other. They begin to develop bonds of friendship based on their mutual desire for survival, their desire for freedom and respect. It’s not about what they say, it’s about what they do that defines them.

From the moment the movie begins it starts filling in the world with visual information. Sure, there’s a little bit of narration to kind of catch you up on the desperate nature of the world’s inhabitants, and you hear some old radio broadcasts telling you that there were something called “water wars,” but other than that no one explains anything about the world through dialogue. It doesn’t really have to either, because, even if we were completely unaware of the earlier films, we know what a post apocalyptic world would look like, and we intuitively know in broad strokes what people would be facing, in terms of survival. That’s not to say that the setting doesn’t feel original.

A viking tinged monarchy has developed out in this part of the wasteland, and they rule not by iron fist, but by perception. They’ve positioned themselves as gracious war-lord gods; the groups leader, Immorten Joe, being the embodiment of a living god; his mere existence as proof of his powers.He manipulates his army of freakish lackeys by promising them entrance into Valhalla for their faithful service, which there is no greater honor. All the other denizens of this kingdom, The Citadel, are basically slaves, but the vast majority of them are complicit in their servitude. They believe in this system, there adulation of Immorten Joe and his family is almost religious in nature, as gifts of life in the form of brief cavalcades of water fall from their fortress up on high.

The film sets all these things up without ever exposition dumping. Yes, there’s dialogue, but it’s all in context to the world. Even though we don’t understand everything, if it’s important it comes back around a few times, and by the second or third instance of it being mentioned you fully understand, It’s kind of like hearing a word you don’t have a firm grasp of the definition of in a sentence. You understand everything you need to know about this societies structure by the juxtapositions; there’s haves and have not’s, in the most basic sense. There’s a lot to read into it if you so desire, but I can’t imagine anyone really getting confused, even with the most superficial reading.

The most prominent theme of Fury Road  is that of breaking down modes of oppression, most notably female oppression. Their form of bondage is specific to their gender. They’re used for procreation, creating new members of the upper-class, and new mini warlords. They seem to be mostly used as caretakers, as The Citadel is filled with future cannon fodder. Hell, they even hoard breast milk, with lines of obese women hooked to giant breast-pumps that collect this nutrient filled substance into giant vats.(I’m assuming they’re well feed to ensure the best quality breast milk. The finest of breast milks! Like the kind from Cambodia!). It’s as odd and irk inducing as it sounds. I was sincerely unnerved by the images, and it made the film’s thesis statement\mantra “We are not things” all the more powerful.

The action in this movie. Dear god, the action in this movie! Like I said before, this is ostensibly a two hour chase scene, and what’s more impressive than just the logistical nature of the practical stunts is how it never gets boring. Every scene is like a series of increasingly amazing gifts; every new area changing the dynamics of the action. From sandy dunes, deep canyon paths, and muddy plains, the film makers take advantage of the constantly shifting terrain to keep everything fresh and unique. It’s not just cars smashing into each other on desert roads. Watching how the characters deal with their constantly changing circumstances keeps the dramatic tension high. They gain a little ground on their pursuers, then they get stuck, or have to cool down the engines of their “war machine” truck. It keeps upping the stakes, as their desperation becomes more and more palpable.

Scene after scene I was kept in a constant state of awe. “How the hell did they film this?” was a notion that popped into my brain more than once in the theater. It’s not just that the practical stunts are amazing, because they really are god damn impressive, it’s how beautifully shot it is. I don’t even mean that it’s “amazing for an action movie,” it’s amazing relative to the entire spectrum of films that have ever been shot. The shot compositions are impeccable, and every frame of this movie is there in service to the amazing art direction. The attention to detail in terms of vehicles, costumes, and character design is nothing short of incredible, and it tells the entire story of these people and this world without ever have to utter a word. The logistical aspects of this movie are so strong that it could have been a silent film and almost nothing would be lost on the audience. A lot of spectacle driven movies forget, or don’t know how to do this. It’s a simple story in an interesting world that manages to never feel overwhelming or convoluted.

Fury Road is populated with some really diverse and interesting characters. Even though the plot is pretty straightforward, nothing ever feels stayed. It has some familiar tropes, but the weirdness of the characters keep you on the edge of your seat, and keep you guessing as to what is going to happen. Seriously, I was constantly surprised, and sometimes even flat out shocked by what goes down in this movie. I kind of could assume the broad strokes of the story, but the moment to moment stuff left me completely thrilled.

Even though this is a Mad Max movie, the heart of the film really belongs to Charilze Theron’s character, Furiosa. It’s really her story, which is par for the course when it comes to this franchise. Max is a hero due to circumstance more than heroic inclination. His involvement with the characters is born out of a desire for survival and escaping his current circumstances; not because he feels sympathy for their plight. Well, not at first anyways. His arc in this movie is in line with the rest of the series. It’s Furiosa who has the real journey. She’s on a quest for redemption and by saving the breeder brides she feels that she might find some solace, and do something of worth with her life. She wants to break the system of bondage that everyone lives under, and her story is one of going from slave to legitimate hero and leader. The most impactful story beats involve her.

Tom Hardy’s take on Max is really fun. He’s not attempting to do a Mel Gibson impression, or anything, but the spirit of Gibson’s characterization is definitely present. He’s a man of few words, he only has a handful of lines throughout the whole movie, only really speaking when it matters. It makes sense, they are being violently chased down after all, and he has more pressing concerns than getting to know everyone. His characterization, like in the previous incarnations of the character, are through his physical actions, the way he carries himself, the things he does, and, just as important, the things he doesn’t do. Every set piece informs you a little bit more about the kind of man he is. Yes, he is a survivor, but that doesn’t mean he’s willing to do that at the cost of those that he shares mutual goals. He’s pragmatic, but not an asshole, basically.

I’m just going to stop there, as not to ruin the surprises that this movie has in store. Yeah, there’s other characters and scenes I could delve into, but I feel like I would be doing you a disservice.

Mad Max: Fury Road has already kind of won the year for me, honestly. I can’t imagine being as satisfied walking out of a theater this year as I was with it. I judge movies based on how well it executes it’s desired goal, and under this criteria it may be a perfect movie. I know that sounds like hyperbole, but it’s honestly how I feel. At 70 years old, George Miller has made a movie that is more thrilling, vibrant, visceral and fun than anything I’ve seen in recent memory. It’s pretty much cemented itself as an “all timer,” for me. It’s the kind of film that in the future people will tell the uninitiated about, with the same reverence given to classic flicks like RoboCop. The difference being that there isn’t anyway to oversell this one, one can only hope to not fuck it up when describing how great it is. So, just be safe about it, and show off the trailer. If that doesn’t get a person on board, I think it’s safe to assume that you will have on less friend.

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I'm starting this blog in an effort to become a better writer, and thinker.

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One comment on “MAD MAX: FURY ROAD Review – An Action Masterpiece, and a Masterclass In Economic Storytelling…
  1. […] characters, are just distracting, to be honest. Especially coming off of watching something like Mad Max: Fury Road. Yeah, even in that movie, intellectually, you know they’re going to persevere, but what […]

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