REVIEW: Mad Max: Fury Road

13 05 2015

George Miller certainly trusts his audience.  30 years after the last entry in his cult franchise, he throws us into a fully realized dystopian society with little spoon-fed exposition in “Mad Max: Fury Road.”  It’s a nice gear shift in the Marvel Cinematic Universe age, where the minutiae of everything require spelling out in excruciatingly explicit terms.

He also respects his audience, giving them plenty of what they want: high-octane, well-choreographed motorized action.  Miller, no doubt aided by the spectacular lensing of John Seale and the precise editing rhythms of Jason Ballantine, conducts an orchestra of crashing contraptions in the desert sands.  These complex sequences flow effortlessly, and only when the following scene began in silence did I realize how rapidly and loudly Miller made my heart beat.

These thrilling sequences also gain some emotional heft since “Mad Max: Fury Road” gives them actual human stakes within the narrative.  For once, a film does not equate adrenaline with testosterone – “men’s rights” activists be damned.  Despite the character’s name in the title, Tom Hardy’s Max Rockatansky hardly sits in the driver’s seat to guide the film forward.  That honor belongs to Charlize Theron’s Furiosa, a warrior fleeing the tyrannical kingdom to lead several of the leader’s concubines to freedom.

Strength through silence is a fairly common method for males to assert dominance on screen, though it only works partially for Hardy here.  Perhaps my limited knowledge of “Mad Max” lore plays into this, but Max’s ambivalence seems rooted in a lack of character development and background.  Miller doles out flashes of Max’s clairvoyant mental state here and there, although the uninitiated like myself are left to wonder if they are alluding to the past or setting up future installments.

Mad Max

The film does not suffer from an improper or underdeveloped conception of masculinity, either.  Max serves as a “blood bank” to Nicholas Hoult’s Nux, a jittery young soldier for the empire ready to wage war on the traitorous Furiosa.  But once he meets “The Wives,” as Immortan Joe’s sex slaves are called, he becomes motivated by conscience to help them.  Max seems to help them simply … because.  Maybe this will all get explained later, but in “Mad Max: Fury Road,” I found it moderately displeasing to get behind a character who just moves from plot point to battle sequence to plot point.

Or maybe there is no explanation and no psychology behind Max, locking us out of his hardened heart for good.  A lack of storytelling depth would not necessarily be surprising given the series’ roots in exploitation cinema.  Even in slick A-grade packaging, some of the corny B-movie elements of “Mad Max: Fury Road” still shone through.  When dealing with heavy themes like maintaining power through the sexual abuse of women, perhaps it is best to leave footage of a grotesquely large warrior caressing his nipple on the cutting room floor.  B / 2halfstars

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6 responses

19 05 2015
Paul S

Amidst the hype it’s refreshing to read a considered review of “Mad Max: Fury Road”.
I’m not sure how it will compare to the well-oiled machine that is Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior, but I’m looking forward to finding out.

19 05 2015
Marshall

I’m glad you can appreciate a take that isn’t just effusive praise! The movie blogosphere generally can’t tolerate any sort of criticism towards the few films a year for which they go completely bonkers.

27 05 2015
polarbears16

I agree with you about the character problems in this movie, although I will say I was still won over by the beautifully done action sequences. In recent memory, Snowpiercer and Mad Max are two refreshing and creative action movies, and I appreciate how different they are from everything else we get.

Really really liked it overall, although the praise I’ve been seeing is a bit hyperbolic.

27 05 2015
Marshall

I’m glad you can appreciate a take that isn’t singing nothing but the film’s praises! I’ve gotten into extended verbal debates with friends who won’t budge on it. Have to wonder if maybe I’ve become too jaded and/or critical to enjoy a movie fully anymore…

3 07 2015
Elizabeth

Personally I felt like I knew everything I needed to know about Max Rockatansky, which was approximately the same amount as I knew about everyone else. Max specifically stated at the beginning of the film what his purpose and goals were: to survive. Joining with Furiosa’s band seemed the best way to do that, so he did. The rest seemed like him slowly regaining his humanity, leading to the moment he decides to help because it’s the right thing to do.
Having said that, Furiosa was a hell of a lot more interesting as a character and the movie would have been very little the lesser for just leaving Max out altogether.
(and the juxtaposition of a well dressed ‘businessman’ wearing nipple clamps was hilarious, but ymmv I guess)

3 07 2015
Marshall

I agree that the movie might have been better without Max.

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