Every now and again a movie comes along that redefines visual spectacle. A film that will by and large take the mundane act of cinematic action and twist it into an orgasmic Pablo Picasso painting come alive on the big screen. It doesn’t happen every often, but every time we are appreciative of how in a medium filled with explosions, bullets and flames something can push the envelope. And in this case even deliver a strong and enticing plot.
I am not going to lie to you, my pinnacle of movie action (and coincidentally my guilty pleasure of a film) was always the Fast and Furious series. Ever since they abandoned any pretence of realism. I am still waiting for Fast and Furious 12 (12 Furious? Furious 12? Fast Midnight?) where Dominic Torretto sits down and has a long and drawn out soliloquy about how he went from racing against Ja Rule (with braids none the less) for $2,000 to jumping multi-million dollar cars from sky-scrapers. It’s fantastic. If someone ever asks me what I picture my career path development like I will always say similar to Vin Diesel’s character arc in Fast & Furious franchise. You just can’t beat that.
Anyways, why do I love that series? Because it simply doesn’t bother with such minor annoyances such as plot, story line, dialogue (good dialogue) or even any kind of subtlety. It exists simply for the sake of existing and providing us with enough visual stimulation to go “holy crap, don’t try that at home!” and up until now it was the leader in the beautifully shot but entirely not-realistic action genre. Until Mad Max Fury Road came out.
Think as if your favourite expressionist artist and 2Chainz had a baby, threw it on screen and added some of Michael Bay’s visual effect budget. This is what this feels like. This feels over the top in every single way. Ridiculous almost to no end. It’s what I believe it would feel like if men could have multiple orgasms same as women (I actually came pretty close while watching Mad Max).
The Doof Warrior is the hero we need
It’s a movie made almost entirely of gigantic action set-pieces and even when it pauses to advance the story it never sacrifices the action for it. It tells its story through action, making it so much more meaningful than any other movie. You don’t see any other way to resolve conflict over what we’re seeing on screen (half the Fast & Furious issues could have been settled over a game of bridge). The plot and the story elevate the action and vice versa.
What’s more, what makes Mad Max such a testament is that it never sacrifices one for the other. It is able to tell a very succinct and intriguing plot with minimal dialogue. It is able to create strong, believable characters (and one of the best action heroines I remember ever) and a captivating setting. It uses the action entirely to advance the plot, to enhance the characters, to show that this is what they are this violence, much like in Clockwork Orange has made these people WHO THEY ARE and governs everything they do. The plot is so strong it rivals some drams.
But back to the action, because in the end it props everything up. From the opening moment until the end, you rarely get a moment to breath, when they do come (so rare they are) the timing is appropriate and it’s akin taking a small breather before running again. The pacing is terrifyingly on point that it makes me question the creator’s sanity to understand how much is to much and how much is not enough. There is never a mistake or a missed beat. Imagine Black Swan ballet scenes but with guns, flamethrowers and demolition derby vehicles then multiply that by a 100 and you might get remotely close to what Mad Max action actually is.
And like a great painting or work of art, it’s almost impossible to justice with words, so you should probably just go see it.
What a lovely day indeed!
I’m not going to lie; when I heard that they were making another Mad Max movie, my first thought was “not another goddamned reboot.” I quite enjoyed the original Mad Max trilogy, even if Beyond Thunderdome went a little too off the rails for my preferences. They’re an industry-defining set of movies for Australian cinema, and a good example of how immaculate set and prop design can tell as much story as tedious, drawn-out dialogue and voiceovers. But in an age of spinoffs and reboots and remakes and sequels, I just was not ready for another movie in a universe that already existed
And then Fury Road started getting good reviews. Like, ludicrously good reviews. When I went to see it two weeks ago, it was hovering at a 99% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, with the consensus that this was the greatest action movie of the 21st century. I’m not sure how much of that is down to this movie and how much is down to the 2000s having been pretty bad for actually good action movies, but regardless: the critics were not wrong. This movie is incredible. I had the urge to write EXCLUSIVELY IN ALL CAPS for about a week after seeing it. It’s basically the Dakar Rally if everyone had to consume a bucket of meth before starting and was armed with flamethrowers. It is ridiculous; there’s a guy in a bungee suit and spandex strapped to an amp-covered battletruck wielding a dual-necked guitar with a flamethrower attached, there’s more absurdly outfitted car-truck-tanker hybrids and dudes swaying back and forth on poles and a badass as hell one-armed Charlize Theron and Tom Hardy adding to his wonderful oeuvre of strange, barely decipherable movie voices. It is so over the top that I don’t even know where the top is anymore. And it doesn’t ever stop; it only briefly relents.
But, amidst what is effectively the tank chase from Indiana Jones turned up to 11 and filmed for two hours, it is a spectacularly well-made film. Roughly 90% of the special effects are actual stuntwork, meaning that Fury Road lacks a lot of the flabbiness that, say, Michael Bay films have. In a way that’s kind of reminiscent of the first Portal game, the editing is immaculate, to the point where I don’t really feel as if the movie is any shorter or longer than it needs to be. Every scene feels important and deep and rich and filled with flamethrowers and amped-up cars. The setpiece design is fantastic, and the fact that they made all vehicles really adds to the authenticity of the film.
But I think what surprised me the most is the writing: this is superbly-written film with a great, deep, complex plot. It’s been slagged off by the MRA community as sleeper-agent feminist propaganda (because apparently “having interesting female characters who aren’t just eye candy” and “women shouldn’t be sex slave breeding machines” are now dangerous ideas. It’s a weird world we live in.) but the strength and complexity of its female characters is part of what makes it such a good movie: there are decades of backstory in Theron’s eyes, and you can see so much of their pasts, their struggles, and their torments in even the slightest movements. The story arc of Nux, one of Immortan Joe’s warboyz, is such a great detail that I totally did not see coming. This movie sat in development hell for more than a decade, and it shows in how polished and deep its storytelling is. That so much is shown, and not told, makes it even better.
This movie has been so many things to so many people, and I think that speaks highly of the amount of complexity within it. It’s a balls-to-the-wall adrenaline-filled over-the-top action movie, “a Krakatoan eruption of craziness”
. It’s a wonderfully-written story of the fight to overcome patriarchy (by both men and women)
. It’s a stunning rebuke to every other action movie that has come out since probably The Matrix
. It’s a fine case study in how to do reboots/sequels correctly (take notes, Jurassic World
). But most of all, it’s just really, really, really, ridiculously good. Go see it immediately.