Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) Review
The hype surrounding this one is palpable: You have two amazing leads, the director of the original Mad Max films at the helm, a gorgeous colour palette, and practical effects up the wazoo. In a summer drowning in vapid, industrialized storytelling and fetishistic CGI, Fury Road has been exalted as the underdog of blockbusters. But is it? What did it take for it to get to this point, and what exactly is so different about it? And does this justify the hype?
Let’s take stock of the facts. First of all, this is a sequel in a very popular franchise. Second, the two leads are incredibly popular actors who have contributed to their fair share of vapid industrialized films. Third, its budget was roughly 150 million dollars—now, that’s about half of what the Avengers sequel cost, but still, it’s nothing to sneeze at. Finally, action sequences make up 95% of the story, and plot is negligible. Seriously, characters come out of nowhere, are singularly motivated, spit out crap-tastic lines, and resume chasing each other down with chainsaws and dirtbikes before we have a chance to catch our collective breath. So let’s not kid ourselves by hailing this one as an underdog just because it looks a little exotic. In my view, all of these factors place a film like this firmly in the camp of Avengers 2, Jurassic Park 4, and Mission Impossible 5. But here’s why it’s better.
This is the product of a singular vision. Since the early 2000’s, director George Miller’s conceptualization for the film has shuffled from prequel to animated feature to sequel, but he has always been at the wheel, so to speak. This level of passion, originality, and commitment on the part of the director is something industrialized films tend to lack appreciation for; it’s how great directors such as Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz) can leave a project like Ant-Man over “creative differences,” and how such a project can turn out looking and sounding exactly the same as every other superhero blockbuster. But here you’ll find no assembly line. Miller set two standards for his team: gorgeous art direction and colorful cinematography. And they delivered.
These are by far the best aspects of the film, and the key to why it’s so enjoyable. The grandiose design of the locations completely transports you, and the intimate detail on each individual character completely grounds you. The inventive reappropriation of modern-day items into future wasteland logic is thought-provoking. The difficulty and scale of the physical stunts is mind-blowing. You are in another world, and it’s a beautiful escape. Yet the film doesn’t let its beauty get to its head. Even with all this serious craft and labor, the energy is light. It’s a world of play and hyper-performance! A swinging creature plays a flaming guitar atop a speeding vehicle for the entire film, for Christ’s sake. It’s fun!
And the fun is shared equally. The aspect I had perhaps the most respect for was the way women were treated in the script. Yes, there are images of women being breast-pumped to provide milk, a precious resource. Yes, there are a number of model-esque virgins scantily clad in white. But these are the realities of Miller’s post-apocalyptic world. The departure this film takes from others is that this is not all these women are. They think, they speak their minds. At one point we encounter an entire crew of old roving biker women. They are as badass as Charlize Theron’s character, and they still retain their feminine power as the bearers of seeds for vegetation and as mother figures. We have feminist writer Eve Ensler (The Vagina Monologues), who was brought in as a consultant, to thank for this service.
Now for the real hook of most blockbuster sequels: Do I need to see the rest of the franchise (translation: shell out more cash) to get what’s going on? The answer is no! Do I need to wait to see another sequel (translation: shell out more cash) to know how things turn out? The answer is no! Do I have to see it in 3D (translation: shell out more cash) to ultimately appreciate it? The answer is no! You’re probably better off without it, in fact.
In the end what you’re left with is a riotous stand-alone film which is basically a long balletic car chase. If you go in without expecting a standout story, meaty dialogue, or interesting acting choices, you'll likely have a good time. What you’ll owe that to most is the spirit of the filmmaking, an infectious disease which industry giants like Disney Marvel, DC, Amblin, and the rest just can’t seem to catch.