I went to see Mad Max: Fury Road last week, and I was pleasantly surprised. I’ll try to discuss it without spoiling the movie, for once.
I wasn’t expecting very much, given the ongoing string of terrible remakes/reboots like Total Recall and The Amazing Spiderman. In those movies, the producers took surface elements from the original movies, stuffed a new generic script underneath, then shaved off all the possibly offensive edges for broadest appeal. For Fury Road, George Miller took the spark that made Mad Max 2 such a fun movie to watch, put a good script beneath it, then shaped it to one unified creative vision.
The result is a movie that is violent, possibly offensive, but great to watch if you like post-apocalyptic action road movies.
The plot is straightforward, with no big surprises, but without any big holes either. The world has degenerated into chaos after a series of gasoline wars followed by water wars. Max is a lone man out in the wasteland, simmering on his guilt of letting his family get murdered. The movie starts with him getting captured, branded, and used as a ‘blood bag’ by a cult leader called Immortan Joe. Furiosa, one of Immortan Joe’s drivers, rebels and tries to take Joe’s female slaves to freedom. Joe goes after them with his troops, including the blood bag Max.
‘Cut to the chase’ is a phrase from the old days of movies, when executives would want to cut from whatever ‘boring’ build-up was going on in a movie to the chase scene. Fury Road holds to this saying, cutting to the chase roughly ten minutes in, then not stopping until the movie’s end. Actually, that isn’t quite true. There are points of relative rest, but it feels as if the movie is one big chase because the heroes are continually on the move and trying to outpace the bad guys. The pressure is constantly on, making it seem as if it’s just action, but actually there’s a lot more going on.
The main characters are Max and Furiosa. Then there are a number of supporting characters who each have their own story. As I wrote above, the heroes are constantly being hounded by Immortan Joe, and there is a lot of action, leaving less time for dialogue. However, there are more ways of doing characterization than just dialogue, and those are used here to great effect. The looks shared between Furiosa and Max, for example, the way Immortan Joe dresses, or the way his warriors cheer their own when they kamikazi onto enemy vehicles. Much of the characterization is done through visuals, subtle hints, and non-verbal acting. When the characters do speak, the things they say enforce that characterisation.
All in all, the characters and the world come alive through a thousand tiny details, showing that you can do characterization without having to spell it out. The viewer is not coddled, but has to pay attention to see it, which I personally enjoy.
The movie has been both praised and condemned for its feminism. Praised because it has strong female characters and condemned because it’s about women stepping into the violent role of men, and still uses objectifying ways to portray women. From the other end of the spectrum it’s condemned for side-lining Max in favour of Furiosa, just to pander to the social justice crowd.
Personally, I think this movie has exactly the right idea: a story where both the male and the female leads and male and female supporting characters work together as equals. The men and the women all have their own strengths and weaknesses, and they are all people. If there is anything we should strive for in movies, books, and other creative works, it is that. Yes, there are some beautiful scantily-dressed women in this movie, but also quite a lot of beautiful scantily-dressed men, and it’s never about that, it’s about a group of people trying to escape a life of being property – and that includes not just women, but also Mad Max being used as a blood bag.
All in all, if you had not already concluded as much, I liked this movie a lot. If you like action, cars, and don’t mind violence, this is the movie for you.