It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad Max World
I’m going to make a confession that might sound a little crazy. I’ve never seen an entire Mad Max film. Ever. I’ve seen bits and pieces here and there, and I’m pretty well aware of it in pop culture, but I’ve never sat through the entirety of any of them. I know it’s young Mel Gibson, writer/director George Miller, Tina Turner, and a Thunderdome. But all that’s going to change. Because if they’re anything like the superb Mad Max: Fury Road, I will be seeking them out with great fervor.
I can’t imagine anyone who’s not going to like this movie. There’s a reason it has had such a high score on Rotten Tomatoes (99% “fresh” going into opening weekend). There’s a whole lot to like, and not much to dislike. This movie is all at once very simple, and filled with excess. Remember the trailer and how it was filled with crashing cars, loud music, almost no dialogue, and of course- splosions? Yeah, make that a two hour long car chase, and there’s the movie.
Might not sound too enticing as I’ve written it, but I will guarantee you there is more “high-octane,” testosterone fueled, action achieved in this picture than almost all of those Fast and Furious movies combined. Quite a few elements come together to achieve the spectacle, and I found real, honest to God, pure joy as a result.
What there is of a story is this…Mad Max is captured and made a blood bag for Nux, a half-life war boy in the employ of evil warlord Immortan Joe. Max gets mixed up with one-armed Furiosa after she has taken on the task of stealing and delivering Joe’s breeders (a bevy of good looking, smart, feisty babes with varying degrees of sanity) to the “green place.” Joe and his disfigured minions pursue, and all sorts of hell breaks loose in an already hellish landscape.
It’s a simple story with very little explained, and it benefits greatly from it. This movie treats the audience with respect and intelligence, and that is the main reason Miller is able to do what he does. There isn’t much time given to explaining how this world works except for a brief monologue by Max in the beginning. Other than that, we see these people exist in the world, and are lead to draw conclusions by what is going on. As the story progresses we get more information that helps complete the world, further the plot, and answer any questions.
One big difference between this and most movies these days is the use of practical effects. PRACTICAL. EFFECTS. Actual people in real vehicles on location amid large balls of fire and wreckage. This feels real, and that may be one of the most important pieces to this cray-cray puzzle. Is there use of CGI? Sure, you can spot some of it. But where most filmmakers would construct a model in the computer and insert it onto a film plate, Miller said let’s build the thing, go there, and blow that shit up. Seek out behind the scenes footage online for some real appreciation of the filming of Fury Road.
I don’t want to give the impression that the stunt work and choreography are all this movie has to offer. Despite long stretches with no dialogue, what is said has that much more impact, especially for Max (whose voice reminds me of a throaty Mr. Bean). Here’s a guy who’s never in situations where he needs to use speech, and here are a bunch of women whose words matter little to those around them despite how revered they are. They do end up rallying against the world around them despite previous assertions that hope is a mistake.
Early on in the picture, Joe tells the subjugated masses that he is the one to deliver them through the aftermath of whatever apocalypse crumbled society and the earth. Like a good dictator he rations water like a drug dealer doling out the goods, all the while instructing them to not become addicted to it (though, he has limitless quantities of it for himself). Yet the ones to prevail and lead the people through will indeed be his wives, fighting against the way things are and not wanting their unborn children to perpetuate the social norms everyone is living under.
I suppose this could be the root cause of some criticism people have about the film (men’s groups?), annoyed that the picture seems to be a feminist propaganda machine wrapped inside a heavy metal demo derby. And with Eve Ensler, who wrote The Vagina Monologues, brought in by Miller to consult on the film, it shouldn’t be a surprise that the flick has female empowerment in it. But I would pose the question- does it? Is it so overtly feminist in what is being done? I’d say no.
The reason I don’t agree with the sentiment that this is some type of women’s lib think piece is because I really can’t describe anything in it that seems to be promoting any gender-specific agenda outright. Are there strong female characters? Yup, but should that be the barometer by which we label something feminism? I don’t think so. Is there a clan comprised entirely of women, who seem to be smarter than many men in the film? Yup, but I could surmise such a clan would exist in this situation, and beyond the main characters of the bad guy groups, we don’t really get a chance to see any other clans. Besides, it’s not like the women haven’t done some of the same misdeeds as the men.
The fact that people are shocked by sentiments such as “women are not things” baffles the hell out of me. When did not seeing women as objects become feminism in the 21st effing century? That the ladies have every bit of screen time, if not more, and more interesting things to do shouldn’t be the basis of any kind of outrage. Especially when they too are kicking all sorts of ass. Unless we are still back in the Stone Age of movies where we like our men in charge, and our women for looks and something to fight for? I tend to doubt it.
It doesn’t shock me one bit that the lead women characters in the film are the ones to do exactly what it is Joe claims he can do, and is the only one to do it. There can be metaphor abound found in Fury Road. One benefit of little dialogue in the movie is that it could very well instigate dialogue outside the movie among the audience. One of many things that occurred to me was that women would be the ones to deliver human beings through these circumstances, if for no other reason than they are the “breeders.” Women birth babies, and in this movie it is the women who are birthing humanity in a sense.
However, to do that, they need seeds. One of the female clan members collects the seeds of all varieties to keep trying to “repopulate” the planet. Obviously, men are seeds and women are the earth. Or something like that. Hell, I could be way off-base, but the beauty of Fury Road is that, even as an action picture, I was thinking about this kind of stuff. There are many more interpretations of many other aspects to this movie, and I doubt fans of this picture are going to tire of talking about all of them.
In a summer where I figured one of my favorite movies was coming in the form of a Marvel adaptation, I have had the distinct pleasure of catching up to a new franchise. I’ve already eyeballed that DVD double feature of Road Warrior and Thunderdome. No special features, but if they’re half as good as Fury Road that’s special enough for me.
Oh, P.S. – the soundtrack to this flick is awesome. The way in which the music and sound effects are combined is great, and the mixture of diegetic and non-diegetic (film terms!) music is pretty cool. But when you have a war vehicle made up of speakers and sub woofers, manned by a bunch of giant percussion drummers and a flame throwing guitar player (like Slipknot decided to make a car chase movie), well…you have yourself a lovely day indeed.