I’m rolling up to the Mad Max party pretty late, I admit. I’ve had a lot on my plate recently, so it was certainly gratifying to sit down to a screening of Fury Road and enjoy the mind-numbing catharsis for a while, and if there was ever one word to perfectly describe this fourth installment of the franchise, “cathartic” would certainly be it.
Written, directed and produced by the famed Dr. George Miller (he actually does have a medical degree), Fury Road is undeniably biggest, most brash and in-your-face film of the year so far. The sheer density and scale of the world that Miller has managed to create is remarkable in itself, but becomes even more so when the film proceeds to deliver some of the most deliriously fun-to-watch action sequences that I remember seeing, full stop. Critics have described the direction, especially in regards to Miller’s action sequences, and practically balletic and, indeed, the marvelously fast-paced and beautifully impactful action all takes place at break-neck speeds as the combatants hurtle across the dessert at mach 10.
And can I just take a moment to say how damn gratifying it is to see an action film without a color palate consisting of mainly shit brown and dishwater grey? The rich, vibrant primaries offset with the oil blacks and stark whites are really a joy to see from a visual standpoint. Even more importantly, Miller internalizes the concept of “show, don’t tell,” and allows the rich and detailed mythos of the film to be communicated visually, rather than stop the action to shove exposition down the audience’s throats like Tomorrowland or Jupiter Ascending, to use recent examples. The fact that things aren’t out-and-out explained to us makes them all the more intriguing. From characters and costumes to settings and action-setpieces, everything in Fury Road’s universe is lovingly designed and detailed, yet it all makes sense within the context of the world. Nothing seems out of place, and everything is there that needs to be there.
Speaking of, I’m pleased to report that Miller brings back all of that delightful homoeroticism that characterized the series after the first Mad Max. You know: all these characters running around either S&M gear or mostly naked, a sort of fetishistic reverence for the leadership, and in this one, Nicholas Hoult and Tom Hardy spend the first forty-five minutes attached to one another with a chain and a hypodermic full of blood. Tell me that’s not somehow symbolic!
Regular readers will know that it almost killed me to say so many nice things about a movie, so now let’s move on to the shitty parts before I start hemorrhaging internally.
Some cretinous pleb on tumblr claimed that Fury Road was the pinnacle of cinematic storytelling, and I had a good old pretentious chuckle over that. The story deserves close examination because, as is the case with a lot of bombastic action films, the narrative is basically just an excuse to string together some barely connected action sequences that will (hopefully) distract the audience from how insipid the plot actually is. And that’s certainly the case with Fury Road, for what it’s worth. The story can basically be summarized thus: the good guys steal the bad guys’ mcguffin(s), and the bad guys are willing to expend virtually unlimited recourses to get them back. So far, so standard.
From there, it really is just your typical, loosely-connected string of setpieces serving as little more than an excuse to show off the high-octane action, most of which takes place in featureless desert, occasionally swapped out for a slightly different bit of featureless desert, but at night this time.
As is usually the case with these films, Max himself is by far the least interesting thing in it. Then again, the beauty of the Mad Max franchise has always been more about the insane world and less about Max’s more-or-less generic character. This does lead me to question, however, whether Max’s presence is strictly relevant to the plot. Realistically, you could take Max out all together and you’d be left with pretty much the same film. I assume the intention was to retain brand recognition, but if that’s the case, it’s a pretty cynical approach on Miller’s part.
On that note, I was actually kind of disappointed at how archetypical and one-dimensional Miller’s characters tuned out to be. We have Max, of course: the gruff, stoic action hero who thinks a sure-fire way of acting cool is to show as little emotion as possible. Then we have Charlize Theron’s Furiosa, who frequently reminds us that she’s seeking “redemption,” though never actually mentions what she wants to be redeemed for. We’re left with a weird scenario in which Furiosa is willing to risk life and limb to achieve her goal, but we don’t actually get a glimpse of her motivation for doing so. Sure, she want’s to be redeemed, but practically speaking, that’s little more than providing a perfunctory and slapdash justification for why the conflict exists at all. The whole story revolves around Furiosa and her decisions, but it’s a shame that she comes across as little more than the stereotypical supercilious bad-ass action chick.
To my mind, the character with the most potential for development was Nicholas Hoult’s Nux, a rather bumbling and inept War Boy, bred specifically to be a member of the main baddie’s personal army. Hoult gives quite an admirable performance, but his character, too, is marred by rushed development and an unfulfilling arc. Nux is originally a zealot, a War Boy obsessed and devoted to his leader, Immortan Joe. At the drop of a hat, however, and a casualness with which one might change a boring TV channel, Nux switches sides and joins Max and Furiosa on their quest for not-particularly-justified redemption. My point is that Nux’s realignment carries no emotional weight because it seems as though the only reason he made the choice that he did was because the plot demanded it, and not, as we might expect, because he felt remorseful or conflicted about his actions.
But there’s me going on and on about the minor flaws in what is otherwise an extremely well-made film. Sure, the characters are kind of flat, and their motivations and arcs don’t make a lot of sense, but the simple fact is that Mad Max: Fury Road is one of the most fun and all-around entertaining movies that I’ve seen in a really long time. In many ways, it serves as the perfect counterpoint to, say, Age of Ultron’s cold, superficial and ultimately boring action and story. Amazing, isn’t it? You put a bit of heart and passion into your film and, lo and behold people like it, and rant for way too long about it on a tin-pot movie blog that no one will ever read.
Rating: 4 out of 5