“Mad Max: Fury Road” Review

I feel like I’m becoming the kind of person who manages to bring every topic back to their pet issue; mine, apparently, is gender representation in fiction. I’m not sure what that says about me, if anything, or if it just happens to be that the fiction that catches my eye does so in part due to successes or failures in the realm of gender relations. So I’m going to try to reel that in a bit from here on out.

Having said that, anyone who’s seen a trailer or read a review of the newest Mad Max knows that it deals with themes of female objectification and gender equality. So I obviously have to touch on it briefly, at least.

Let’s do that now, so we can tackle the rest of the movie. As far as gender representation goes in Fury Road, it’s…fine. Furiosa is fantastic (Furiosa gets more lines, more screentime, and more awesome moments, than the title character, and I have no complaints), women are allowed to be strong and cool, smart and resourceful, and individual. Women are allowed to get injured and killed in battle, and no punches are pulled when an enemy has them cornered. On the other hand, some shots and/or costuming are debatably exploitative, and a couple of particular shots are rife with male gaze (although I’m still undecided whether these weren’t in fact intentional and with purpose). It’s not perfect–no piece is–but it makes an honest, and I believe heartfelt, effort, which I always like to see.

Ok, on to the actual review.

Fury Road is one of the most insane movies I’ve ever seen. It’s insane enough that the war trucks have men with huge drums banging away, and a guy swings around an electric guitar that spouts a twenty-foot flame from the end. If you can’t sift through the insanity of that to find the awesome, this might not be the movie for you. For the first fifteen minutes, I myself was staring bug-eyed at the screen, trying to take it all in, trying to acclimate myself. After that, once the drive begins on Fury Road, I was hooked.

This is the first movie I’ve seen to take world-building in a post-apocalyptic wasteland seriously. The peoples of the wastes are almost unrecognizable sometimes, with a culture that is radically different than our own. Built upon the sub-bleached bones of our world, the wastes leave everyone mad.

Everyone, including Max (played excellently by Tom Hardy). Howard Tayler commented that the previous Mad Max films showed us the ANGRY side of Mad Max, while Fury Road shows us the INSANE side, and I think I agree. He’s a very different Max than what we’ve seen from Mel Gibson–the same character, but at a very differet time in his life. You don’t think of existential crises when you go to a summer blockbuster action flick, but that’s where Max starts. He has to be pushed, dragged, and chained onto the front of a speeding car, toward his destiny. He is haunted by his failures, and has given up the hope of ever being able to save anyone in this post-apocalyptic world. Because of this, he has stopped trying.

Furiosa (played with equal gusto by Charlize Theron) has no such inner debate. By the time we meet her, she has made the important decision, started on her path of her own will. She’s a wonderful character, deep, dynamic, capable. She is the one with the information, with the plan, while Max scrambles–albeit impressively–for survival and freedom.

Almost all of the characters are compelling, in their own way. Every one of them has a place in the story, a purpose, but is not ruled by that purpose to the detriment of the characters’ individuality. Even the guitarist (did I mention the flaming guitar?) is unique in the absolute abandon, the maniacal gleee, he displays in playing soundtrack to the war machines.

Speaking of which, the soundtrack is world-class. Possibly the best soundtrack I’ve heard since the original Lord of the Rings trilogy. The music is iconic, effective, and beautiful, in its own way. It captures the insanity of the world and the frentic feel of the movie, which is impressive, considering a good deal of the music is composed of the guitar and drums that the people are playing in the movie. I’m a sucker for in-world music serving as soundtrack.

Something I’m not a sucker for are car chase scenes. I hate them. Well, chase scenes in general, but car chases a hundred times more. I’ve always found them mundane, tedious. So how did I feel about Fury Road, a movie renowned for being one big, glorified car chase? I loved it. This was the first movie I’ve seen in the longest time to make action not only interesting, but essential to the plot down to the last moment.

The action is FANTASTIC. They use very little shaky-cam and resist the urge to cut so often that the action is indecipherable. Nearly every frame is clear and well-staged, well-shot, well-edited. And surprisingly, the first two thirds of the movie manage to avoid most of the gore you’d expect from such a movie. It’s only in the last third that I noticed the movie revving up its gore.

The villain is MENACING. He’s monstrous, but in a very human way. He’s weakness disguising itself as strength. He’s sickness disguising itself as health. He’s wickedness disguising itself as righteousness. He’s not someone you’d want to meet on a bad day, and he doesn’t look like the sort of guy who has very many good days. The day on which we meet him is a VERY bad day for him. But there are still moments that allow you to see how he got to the top in the first place. He’s smart, cunning, makes quick decisions, and has a clear set of priorities. These qualities, added to the monstrous nature of the man, create a dangerous villain that is a legitimate threat to the strong heroes.

Now time for the few small weaknesses of the movie. The many secondary villains are rather one-note, memorable-but-static stepping stones. The plot is predictable in places; I saw one of the main deaths and the third act twist coming from half the movie away. However, the movie doesn’t rely too hard on either of these things, so they don’t have a huge impact. I also find that the insanity of the film strays into gratuity that, while entertaining, does make the movie hard to settle into at first. But that’s a theme of the film, so it makes sense.

Mad Max: Fury Road is loud, bombastic, and action-packed. It keeps adrenaline pumping for the whole 2 hour runtime, and I left feeling both wired and NEEDING to talk about the film, and exhausted, ready for something quieter, time to calm down. You should know by my description of the movie whether it interests you. If it does, go see it. This is a great experience to have in theaters. If it doesn’t, I don’t blame you. This movie was almost too much for me, and I came into it with open eyes. But for me, at the end of the day, I find myself regretting that I probably won’t be able to catch it again in theaters. It’s an 8.5 out of 10.

SPOILERS

The death I saw coming was Nux, who I thought was going to die in the climax from the moment it looked like he might turn to the heroes’ side.

The plot twist I saw coming was that the Green Place didn’t exist. Although I had thought Furiosa was lying about it, when in fact she was remembering something that was no longer there. Only half right.

It occurred to me after the movie ended that the movie is named Fury Road, despite the fact that the road itself features in the movie for less than five minutes, if I’m not mistaken.

I wanted to see Joe picked apart, exposed as the half-dead fool he was, before he died. However, I can’t complain about how he actually goes out. So satisfying.

——————————

The review I mentioned from Howard Tayler is here: http://www.schlockmercenary.com/blog/mad-max-fury-road-movie-review

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