Movie Review: Mad Max: Fury Road

TRIGGER WARNING FOR ALL AUSTRALIAN READERS

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The idea movies like the Wrymwood: Road of the Dead, The Rover, the Saw series, and Daybreakers could come out of a country so borderline fascist and inept in every possible way of being a sensible government in an attempt to emulate the worst parts of America as Australia, is a bigger mystery than how Somalia is a utopia in comparison. I suppose the Ozploitation genre is a result of repressed emotions while living in a nanny state of gun prohibition, negative gearing, a refugee crisis (Nauru Detention Centre), a Liberal Party that makes our Democrats look like decent people, media censorship regulations that seem to be run by Jack Thompson and a cabal of dumb Christian mothers, a fishing industry with no idea how conservation works in tandem with hunting, and more fracking of the country’s primary water source (the Great Artesian Basin) than the entire run of the new Battlestar Galactica. At this point, Australia, I am torn between making fun of you for being the poster child for terrible government or thanking you for creating Mad Max and setting the standard for the post-apocalyptic genre.

In retrospect, the Mad Max trilogy is more charming than revolutionary. It brought to life the what-if scenarios of a world bereft of resources after a war or series of wars waged over what little remained, a future better suited for today’s Australia. However, director George Miller did not foresee the emergence of renewable resources and the end of the Cold War in the decades that followed.

In that way, the films provide an interesting insight into what could be if the world lost its mind and reverted back into barbarism, with the added benefit of modern transportation and firearms. Furthermore, I see the trilogy as a microcosm of Australia’s burgeoning film industry of the 70s, with Miller making the first film from scratch and improving with each installment. He sped up the footage to make the vehicles move faster than they were, used cameras in ways that became dogma by which all cars should be filmed, and used practical stunts and dummies for most of the crash scenes, a lost art in a world of CGI. The films’ treatment of narrative is also important to note. Though Max is the title character, he is mostly a silent, passive protagonist throughout. It allowed him to be a surrogate for the audience to which the world of the Wasteland could be built and experienced from the relative perceptive of a newcomer.

30 years later, George Miller has returned to the series he created with Fury Road. In its development came talk of practical effects and the potential it was indeed a sequel and not another reboot in the long list of unnecessary remakes that have plagued theaters for years. Does Mad Max: Fury Road jumpstart the genre or did it come a few decades too late?

If you are a fan of The Walking Dead, Fury Road will make you hate it and all the other gritty depressing post-apocalyptic titles that have come out since The Road. In place of gloom and predictable power struggles between rival survivor groups comes a vibrant creative aesthetic splashed in color, a fully realized world, and a tsunami of vehicular violence and slaughter that makes the CGI zombie gore look like child’s play. Rick Grimes has nothing on Max Rockatansky or Imperator Furiosa.

After getting captured by a band of zealots called the War Boys, Max, played by Bronson (yep, doing the name thing again), becomes a part in a plot by Furiosa, played by Charlize Theron, to escape her commander with his five wives in tow. Immortan Joe, played by Hugh Keays-Byrne, gives chase with a gathered horde of his allies to reclaim his women.

Fury Road feels like a faithful continuation rather than a complete rebuild of tropes that have become synonymous with the post-apocalypse. What could have been a run-of-the-mill story about the protagonist trying to get an objective from Point A to Point B, George Miller stuck to what he knew and made the best possible follow-up to Beyond Thunderdome. There are no deep character moments that require constant emphasis, complex relationships, or sequences of contemplation on a world driven insane and the nature of mankind. Fury Road takes those elements, ties them to the back of a Pursuit Special, and drags them across the Outback until they are but shredded husks of mediocrity.

If the trailers were not clear enough, Fury Road is beautiful beyond measure. Every frame is steeped in color and a level of detail so small and complex, it rivals Blade Runner. The scale to which everything was crafted is mindboggling as the most minute of props and set pieces has incredible detail and depth not seen often in major releases. On top of that, larger elements like the cars and structures show hard thoughtful work was put into practice to make them look as detailed on a macro level as micro. They give the world flesh and a sense of the culture and character.

Action gushes at the seams with a nonstop pace as the stakes rise, stunts become more complex, and style changes. With the exception of a few moments where CGI was necessary, every stunt appears to be practical as cars speed across the desert with teams of actors clinging and climbing between them. Slow motion has never looked so good when vehicles smash into each other, blanketed in flame and dust as actors are tossed about like ragdolls.

Technically, anyone could play Max. As stated before, his character is mostly passive with no real effect on the plot. He serves as an observer, a lone wanderer that happens upon situations in the Wasteland before moving on after the conclusion. Eames did a good job of picking up where Mel Gibson left off. He goes for a more savage performance, creating a sense that Max has become severely transformed by the world around him. Bane’s dialog is relegated to grunts and gestures, with little to no lines throughout, and it works without betraying the character.

Leo Demidov’s subdued performance allows the other actors to stand out. Theron carries the film as the defiant and strong Furiosa, the best example of a great female character in recent memory. While not an entirely emotional role, there is more than enough physical as Theron handles herself as well as the men in action. Nicholas Hoult makes an interesting turn as Nux, a War Boy driven by his desire to die in service to Immortan. He provides the comedy and heart of the film as his character grows and changes.

The problem with Fury Road is one of accessibility. In many ways, it is a fans only experience. If you have seen the other films, everything will feel natural. For the uninitiated, Max’s passive character, insane villains, impractically decorated vehicles, and the way in which the story is told will be difficult to understand. If this is your first Mad Max movie, pay attention to everything on screen so you know what is going on, and most of all, try to enjoy it.

Fury Road is amazing. Definitely go see it this weekend. It is beautiful, fun, and packed to the brim with a kind of action that has laid dormant for far too long. The film is so good I have decided to skip Pitch Perfect 2 in favor of a second viewing.

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On a side note, if you want to know where I learned about Australia’s incompetent government, look no further than FriendlyJordies, an up-and-coming political comedian on YouTube:

https://youtu.be/eSuUPo_Kf78

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