Mad Max: Fury Road (dir. George Miller)

Posted: May 19, 2015 in Uncategorized

“Mad Max: Fury Road”, if nothing else, shows that practical effects augmented by CGI are always more interesting and exciting to watch than action sequences that are almost entirely CGI.  While the film is ultimately a series of beautiful, immaculately staged car chase and gun fire sequences, it remains far more entertaining and exciting than anything I saw in “Avengers: Age of Ultron”, simply because I actually felt like I was watching human beings in a life or death struggle, and not cartoons fighting cartoons.  The sheer thrill of seeing actual cars crash and explode as actual stunt actors jump from car to car and swing to and fro from poles is worth more than a million Iron Mans fighting a million Hulks.  That thrill, which “Fury” provides us, does a lot to make up for paper thin characters and a threadbare script.

This is, of course, the fourth film in almost forty-year-old series, so I can forgive the film for not developing the character of Max (Tom Hardy, in a role originated by Mel Gibson).  The other main character, Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron), however…well, let’s just say that the film doesn’t provide us with important information about her character that, instead, I went into the film knowing from the promotional material.  Her character can’t have children, and that’s why she’s not used as a breeder or chattel by the feudal warlord villain, Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne).  If you simply watched this movie without reading anything about it earlier, this would fit into the category of plot hole.  After all, she’s the only female Joe allows to be part of his army of young men brainwashed by a false religion. Oh yeah, that parallel to young, male Islamic jihadist is pretty surface in this film.  Perhaps Joe’s five “wives” (really captive property and rape victims) would make him a stand-in for Muhammad, but I doubt the filmmakers would ever admit that in public.

This isn’t a film that slows down for things like character nuance or dialogue, and we have a pretty simple plot. Joe is dictator of a place called the Citadel.  He has access to water, pumped out of the Earth, and some plants that he’s able to grow for food.  This is a post-apocalyptic world in which oil ran out, nuclear weapons have been detonated, and water is scarce, so by controlling these resources, he has a lot of power.  His army consists mainly of the aforementioned brainwashed young males, who dream of going to Valhalla (Viking afterlife, indicating Joe is old and learned).  Many of these males are sick with radiation poisoning.  There are lower classes which seem to serve little-to-no purpose, but he sporadically gives them water, so he must keep them alive for some reason.  In addition, he has a number of women whom he milks, the milk being a beverage treat reserved for him and his inner circle, including a hulking son named Rictus (Nathan Jones).  Plus, Joe keeps five wives, who are thinner, cleaner, and prettier than any other female in this universe, locked in a bank vault with books.  They seem to lead lives as comfortable sex slaves as Joe attempts to sire many sons.

As the film begins, Joe is sending a convoy of soldiers, including Furiosa, to pick up ammunition from Bullet Town, and gasoline from Gas Town.  It seems one town is run by a dictator who controls weapons Capital, one town is run by a dictator who controls oil and gas Capital, and Joe controls Food, Water, and perhaps Human Capital.  These three towns seem to have a symbiotic relationship in keeping each other afloat while a few other, smaller civilizations we see, like Bikers in the mountains, live on the outskirts and are hostile to the big three.

What Joe doesn’t know is that Furiosa has a plan to detour off convoy and escape with his “wives”.  She hopes to take them to the female-run “green place” from where she was born and stolen from “7000 days ago”.  When Joe finds out she’s gone off the reservation, he himself, and a large army, go after her.

So how does Max fit into this?  Well, he’s a universal blood donor, and at the beginning of the film he is captured by Joe’s forces and is being used to donate blood to soliders with radiation sickness, including Nux (Nicholas Holt), a particularly sick and brainwashed dolt who decides to drag Max along with him as his “blood bag” because he doesn’t want to miss out on fighting and perhaps dying in glorious combat, thus finding his way to Valhalla where he’ll be as shiny as chrome.  Hey, it’s not any more or less stupid than 72 virgins, or partying with Jesus, so don’t act all superior any non-atheists reading this.

After some time, Max ends up with Furiosa and the ladies running from Joe and his forces, and that’s pretty much the plot. The plot is simple, whereas the world itself is a social commentary on our world’s finite resources, radical Islam, and patriarchy.  Much has been made in the press about “Fury” being a feminist film.  I’m not actually sure how feminist this thing is.  Yes, the film is about women who are property and used and exploited for their woman-ness (sex, reproduction, milk production).  Their savior is another woman in Furiosa, who is often a more capable and smarter character than Max.  The wives are sometimes damsels in distress, but each one also seems to get a t least one opportunity to do something useful in the course of the film.  My issue with calling the film feminist is that Furiosa is a female character, but she is pretty much drained of any femininity within the film.  It is ultimately Max who comes up with the brilliant plan that launches the third act and leads to the womens’ salvation, whereas Furiosa was going to take them on a fool’s errand.  Hell, even Nux is the one who ultimately makes sure that final plan of Max’s work with an act of self-sacrifice.  Look, the film is more feminist than most action films (I didn’t pay attention to see if it would pass the Bechdel Test), and despite the wives being half-naked, the film doesn’t linger on their supermodel bodies or gaze at them in an overtly sexual manner.  Any ways in which the film is not feminist could potential be excused by practical plot matters and realism, and the film does go out of its way on occasion to not be stereotypical, like a scene where Max is using a sniper rifle, but has to hand it over to Furiosa when there’s only one bullet left because she’s just better with it than he is.

I kind of wish the film was saying more things, or at least less obvious things, given that the world of the film is so rich and the opportunities to explore everything from the economy to environmental issues to war and religion are abundant.  In the end, what we have is a smarter-than-average film which deals with women in a better-than-average manner for an action film.  The practical effects make the action scenes more exciting and the weight and gravity of the action makes it feel like there’s more at stake.  The costumes and production design are fabulous and really bring this dying, scavenger-based world to life, and the harsh environment they exist in (the movie was filmed in Namibia) FEELS harsh.  Everything in this film is covered in dirt and sand and muck.  If the film had smell-o-vision, the theater would reek with the scent of body odor.  The mise-en-scene is often times gorgeous as red, almost Martian sand populates the frame, and the hopelessness of life in this world constantly frames the film with dread and hopelessness.  This is a post-apocalyptic world few will secretly yearn to exist in, unlike many zombie apocalypses portrayed in films today.

“Fury Road” is highly entertaining, contains better action than most films these days thanks to its sparing use of CGI when practical effects can be utilized, and is pretty much wall-to-wall excitement for its entire running time. If I have issues with things like character development and a shoestring story, they are drowned out by the awesome score and how damn entertaining this thing is. If we see a better action film all summer, I’ll be shocked. B+

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