Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Mad Max: Fury Road Review

Okay, so this has nothing to do with EDC, but its technically "commentary" and I love the Mad Max movies, I want to get my thoughts out, and I think some folks here like these movies too.  I won't do this again.  There are some of spoilers so proceed with caution, though at this point you really owe it to yourself to go see this movie.

I love Mad Max.  Its cruel vision of the future is unique, compelling, and thought provoking despite many imitators that are none of those things (Water World I am looking at you).  George Miller's direction and writing are spare and superb.  And its pretty easy to say that Fury Road, as good as the three previous films were, is the best of the bunch.  

Miller uses the post-apocalyptic setting to get at what drives us.  For those that propagate evil, it is control, as Miller's villains always control and exploit the populace, no opulent Godfather-style villains in a world of paltry resources.  For those that try to do good, it is about hope, hope that the world will eventually turn away from the madness caused by the collapse of society.  

Interestingly enough, Miller also turns to two driving forces, both good and bad or neither good or bad, in both films--religion and economics.  

Religion is a tool of control in Fury Road after being a source of hope in Beyond Thunderdome.  Immortan Joe needs his cult leader status to hew order out of chaos and keep his legion of amoral ghostly War Boys under his control.  The children in the Walker cargo cult, living in an Eden by Mad Max standards, need religion to give their lives order and meaning and some reason to continue on.  Religion is Miller's first answer to the question of why is there any order whatsoever in the wasteland.  

His second answer is economics.  The entire world is defined by scarcity--a lack of food, clean air, power, water, gasoline (guzzoline), and bullets.  It is put into stark terms in Fury Road--the three warlords each control something the others need--Immortan Joe has water and food, Gastown has gas, and Bullet Farm has bullets (apparently so many that the group's leader uses them as false teeth). 

Fury Road's key bit of commentary on this complex tapestry is that women will be the ones that eventually force society away from a war of each against all and back into some sort of beneficial social organism (note the silly "Men's Movement" call for a boycott of the film, and no I am not providing a link to that stream of pure hate).  Fury Road makes clear--women, because of their role as mothers, will necessarily be the ones that have hope, that are concerned with the next generation, and will be the ones that want to lift the crumbled shambles of society out of violence and into some semblence of order.  The female's role as the tip of the spear in this film is no better demonstrated than in a scene where Furiosa makes a sniper kill after Max twice failed.  Adding to the allegorical punch is the fact that Furiosa uses Max as a rest for the rifle. 

Furiosa is, simply put, one of the most amazing heroes in a movie in years.  If her gambit works, and society rises from the ashes, she would be a George Washington-type figure, a mother of a new nation, made possible by rescuing the literal mothers of that new nation.  Unlike Max, who seems to stumble through each movie doing good with a begrudging, whats-in-it-for-me outlook, Furiosa is a character driven beyond all measures to save society, to rescue the seeds (literally and figuratively) of the next generation from destruction.  Furiosa is just the latest in a fantastic lineage of awesome female action heroes.  Ripley, Lola, Buffy, Korra and now Furiosa.  If Ripley is the progenitor of the ur-Mother of Female Action Heroes, Furiosa is the group's Schopenhauerian Will.

The film's look is burned out and the cinematography is dreamy in that overstaturated and always slightly disturbing way.  But the gift we are given in this film is a degree of clarity not seen in an action blockbuster.  There is almost zero exposition, no rambling speeches about backstory or characters' motives. In Furiosa's big action scene the only thing we get as motive is her saying to Immortan Joe "Remember me?".  Its a great, spare, sparse script--devoid of words like Max's world is of greenery.  Despite stunts that make you flinch and outlandish vehicles, every single frame of the film is clear in communicating a specific bit of information.  The viewer is never confused, never lost in the explosions or the action and Miller's famous demand that his movies work even in Japanese and without subtitles is met here.  Even as Miller tinkers with the framerate (which is jarring, purposefully, at first) he feeds us just exactly what we need to follow what is going on and nothing more.  His visuals, like his script, is taut and devoid of bullshit.

A small part of this might have been Miller's insistence on doing things the old fashioned way as there is very little CG in the film.  In an age when computers can allow directors to do ANYTHING, everything seems like it ends up on screen.  And that jumble is both confusing and strips the narrative of his power and tension.  You can't be in suspense if you can't follow what's going on.  One way to see what I mean is to watch Fury Road's battle scenes and compare the to the fight scene in King Kong (the Peter Jackson version) between Kong and the T-Rexes.  There is just too much visual information on the screen in the Kong fight for us to feel frightened for Ann Darrow as she is perilously (apparently) tossed from hand to foot as the Great Ape battles one, no, two, no three T-Rexes.  The thread is lost in one spectacular shot after another until, at some point we give up and just need to know if she made it.  There is never a scene of confusion in Fury Road, chaos, yes, but confusion, not even for a second, even as the silly Doof Warrior (the Guitar Guy) gets hammered by Max.

In the end, this film takes us to new places in the Mad Max universe and I wish they would have spent some more time there, but this is a fast movie, even at two hours of run time.  The Swamp Walkers looked really great.  When the film ended, I walked out feeling like I just got off a roller coaster that had a car break off during the ride.  It was an exhilarating experience and a great movie.  Adhering to the show don't tell mantra George Miller raised the bar for the series and for action movies in the future.  When I saw the Matrix the first time I knew things were going to have to be different for a movie to catch my eye.  I felt the same way after Lord of the Rings.  And now I feel that way again--the stunts will have to be insane, the characters powerful, and acting superb.  Charlize Theron is truly one of the most gifted actors of the day.  She is Meryl Streep with real range (whoa, whoa, whoa--Fashion magazine editor and Witch are the same character Ms. Streep...).  In the ultimate test--I have been thinking about this movie since the credits rolled.  Its amazing.

Side Notes

It seems given from Miller's point of view that anarchy and violence are a necessary outcome of the collapse of society.  Why?  I get that it makes for a more compelling story, but it seems just as probable that some tight knit group of interdependent folks would make for a viable social unity.  The Shakers did it in early America and propelled technology forward with far less than what the folks in Mad Max have.

It seems odd that there are so many people so long after the collapse and nuclear war.  Infertility is the most common side effect of radiation after tumors, so where are all the kids coming from?  Children of Men's depiction of this is far more convincing for me.  Again, its not as compelling narratively though.  What's scarier than a War Pup, a kid that looks like a skeleton comfortable among pure savagery?

Why still use combustion engines?  At some point Immortan Joe has got to realize that his land armada of a 1959 Cadillac, a Big Rig, a Monster Truck, and a bunch of crazy hot rods is not the most fuel efficient war party, especially when gasoline is at a premium.  There is lots of human powered stuff in Mad Max's world--gates, refineries, pumps, etc. but very few human powered vehicles.  That seems very unrealistic.  More to the point, why not make some wind powered sail type land vehicles.  I get that part of the shock of the film comes from seeing familiar things ravaged into nightmare vehicles, but it is a little bit silly.   

No more dirty baby doll heads.  I get it--childhood is destroyed, innocence is gone, whatever.  In an interview with some media outlet for the film Miller said that he was tired of seeing rusting vehicles, noting that everyone has done rust.  And it is true.  Post-apocalyse is like a Chevy dealer with lots more rust.  But the burned or dirty or mutiliated baby doll head, one prominent shot in the film, is equally trite.  The empty swing from Children of Men was stunning and somewhat less cliche (just a tad).

Wouldn't it be crazy, super awesome crazy if in a future movie, the story revealed that there were people living perfectly normal, technologically advanced lives while others in the world lived like Max?  What if beyond the Salt Flat there were Jetson or Star Trek TNG levels of technological comfort?  Inequality in our world is very bad, not as bad as that would be, but the metaphor would be compelling and interesting.  There are hints of this--Max's story is supposedly told by the enigmatic "History Men" who lived after the Wastelands.  The Arc of the Arts in Children of Men was a great portrayal of inequality and Miller has the tools in his world to do something even more powerful.

Nathan Jones just HAD to be in a Mad Max movie.  His look, his size, his history and his Australian heritage all but made it fate that he'd show up fight Max at some point.

Hardy was perfect as Max.  He knew who the real star was and did a great job making her look amazing.  He was quite good here, in Inception, and in Batman.  The guy is a good action actor.  I am not sure if he is more than that, but he is about as good as it comes for action flicks.

Dear Academy Awards A-Holes, you mother fuckers better not forget Charlize Theron come March 2016.  No its not some foreign film or some movie about movies.  Yes, it was an action film, but her performance is easily worthy of any Oscar won by Julia Roberts, Halle Berry, or Natalie Portman.  This is the kind of role that makes people think and would attract attention to an award's ceremony so boring that is bordering on violating the Geneva Convention's ban on torture. 


  1. Completely agree. This movie was incredibly refreshing and the pure craftsmanship of the entire film was breathtaking.

  2. If you don't know about Tom Hardy's dramatic chops, check out Locke (drama role), Warrior (drama + physicality) and Bronson (pure screen presence).

  3. Great post - I loved the movie. I think the use of fuel inefficient vehicles probably comes down to something as simple as "gas guzzlers are and always will be badass."

    The call for boycott was on a website that explicitly states it is "against" the men's movement; the media was just stirring up shit with the "men's activists boycott" headline. Here's an article (written by a woman) on the issue. http://judgybitch.com/2015/05/19/how-much-does-the-media-hate-people-who-dont-want-to-see-feminist-films-mad-max-and-feminist-fury/

    The review I read on a men's movement website describes the movie very positively, as "humanist" and a film that brings the human race together.

    1. Aaron Clarey of the website Return of Kings, a "Men's Movement" website, called for the boycott in his May 11, 2015 post. That, not the article you linked to, was the source of the boycott.

      Either way, the boycott is stupid. As are the reasons for the boycott.

    2. The website Return of Kings has the following quote on its "about" page:

      "We are generally against men’s rights and how they portray men as victims in need of state assistance (see: The Men’s Rights Movement Is No Place For Men)."

      The article I linked discusses the the media framing this as a "men's rights activist boycott" and pulling info from the Return of Kings "about link" while ignoring Return of Kings' affirmative disassociation with the movement.

      I didn't want to mention the website directly because of your comments about not linking to it in this post.

      The men's rights activist review (Red Fields of the website A Voice for Men, May 19, 2015) I read lauded the movie.

      I agree, the boycott and the reasons are stupid, though I find it fascinatingly ironic that so many "alpha" "red pill" guys blindly join a boycott based on an article written by someone who hasn't even seen the movie.

    3. I saw that post, but whatever he calls himself, Men's Rights or whatever, he definitely called for a boycott and he did so because of some dumb personal agenda about sex roles.

  4. Mad Max was a footnote in the movie. He was the sidekick. I wouldn't have cared which actor played him even if it was Mel Gibson AGAIN. The movie was all Furiosa. If the movie had no talking in it.... none whatsoever.... it would have been perfectly poignant. The rest of the music and sounds from the carnage and mayhem would have carried the movie all on it's own. Whenever ANYBODY talked I cringed. Visually it was exhilarating. Other than that there were no other redeeming qualities for the movie unto itself. It was a banquet served up of pure unadulterated shlock and ultraviolence. No more - no less. *thumbs up*

    1. I actually thought Furiosa's dialogue was well written and acted quite well. Max is NEVER the center of the movie, other than in the first one. He is the lens for the audience, the Watson, in every subsequent film. And that's a great way to do it. But I disagree about the dialogue. I also think Nux was quite well done...great in fact. The naming of his tumors with their little smiley faces was very interesting.

  5. Well that's a nice review but what does it score out of 20?

  6. So....what did you carry to the theater?

  7. Popcorn. And every knife Sal Glesser has designed for the past 15 years.

    Because preparedness.

  8. In a nutshell this is how I would categorize the movie in homage to this old article....


    .... like the ugly EDC individuals may have once owned, handled, or even somewhat admired everybody enjoys aspects of the movie as a secret indulgent guilty pleasure. But nobody will knowingly admit to ever remember actually seeing or even liking it.

    And denial is not a euphemism for a river in Egypt. 'Nuff said.