Mad Max: Fury Road, 2015
dir. George Miller
Recently on the Filmology blog we had a lovely article about feminism and strong women like Imperator Furiosa taking the world by a storm, that’s not what this is. Whilst I have caught a strong case of Mad Max fever in the past couple of months and Charlize Theron’s bad-ass amputee was inevitably a large part of that we have explored in depth what she means for testosterone fuelled tales and now I’m going to take a look at the rest of the film; possible minor spoilers ahead.
A heavy metal music video with incredible characters and an unexpected undertone of feminism, Mad Max: Fury Road has turned out to be the surprise hit of the 2015 Summer season. In a year with more flashbacks to the past than madmen in a post-apocalyptic desert (Star Wars, Jurassic Park, The Terminator, The Fast and the Furious & Cinderella) very few people were expecting anything standout from the new Mad Max film. Well, except for those who had seen the pulse-pounding trailers.
The Mad Max trilogy is an oddity in movie history; about the greatest export from Australia besides their controversial star Mad Mel the series had ups and downs. Mad Max is micro-budget, borderline student film held up by the inspiration and practical effects work of its “visionary director” George Miller. The Road Warrior is a classic of its time, with a brilliant chase scene and character designs worthy of the science-fiction fascination brought about in a post-Star Wars world the film is somewhat let down by the fact that it appears to be made by someone who has only read a fag-packet summation of the previous film. Beyond Thunderdome is another matter, it features all of the memorable characters and post-apocalyptic action of a Mad Max film but a death behind the scenes clearly had an effect on George Miller for he only directs the action scenes rendering the rest of the film bewildering and a little dull. The connective tissue between all of these films, the place from where the greatness stems is George Miller so what do you get when George Miller has been given 30 years-worth of advanced technology and time for his ideas to develop?
Fury Road opens with a many competing voice-overs woven together to give the viewer an impression of the catastrophes that turned our world into a desolate wasteland, we then hone in on a bearded, long haired Max and we see that it is to be his story that we follow. Max is captured by an anarchic, berserker war-band, the War Boys led by Immortan Joe who uses human beings for most anything from live-stock to sex slaves or blood bags. Max eventually joins forces, amid high-octane chase scenes and a huge amount of violence with the Imperator Furiosa a traitor to the false-God Joe.
The voice overs are used to great effect consistently throughout the film. To begin with it gives the viewer the impression that this is a kind of myth passed down for years after the fall of civilisation. It plays upon the fact that each Mad Max film consists of many contradictory pieces of information and recurring motifs. This is the second Mad max to feature the destruction of his iconic car; it is the second to feature the music box; the previous two instalments to the franchise featured the same actor playing two different pilots. Max is painted as this figure painted in the minds of generations by nothing more than words. He is Robin Hood, he is Batman and he is King Arthur, a heroic figure who can be whatever the storyteller needs him to be. It adds such colour to the incredible story unfolding before our eyes without undermining it for in every legend there is a grain of truth.
That truth is the reason Miller’s vision is such a lasting one. The post-apocalyptic wasteland overrun by insane punks desperate for nothing more than the “guzzle-ine” to keep their God-forsaken vehicles running is an image that expresses something very real at the heart of our society – to a world full of people dependant on the black stuff to deliver us food, to transport us to work, to make plastic that keeps our dinners fresh there is an authenticity to Max’s world. What is human life, compared to that last barrel of fuel?
The irradiated wasteland is a vivid and terrifying setting for the story where every character’s basic traits are blown up and hyper-expressed in their costumes, their actions and words. Immortan Joe spreads false words about his right to rule so he wears a ferocious mask that covers his pathetic mouth. In his introductory scene his existence is shown to depend on a kind of shell that covers up his aging body, a visual metaphor about the nature of his power, perhaps. The War Boys are pale, their scrawny, bloodless bodies covered in white face-paint. Besides the practicality of white skin that will reflect heat in an unforgiving desert the paint is reminiscent of tribal war-paint expressing how far we have devolved. They are an interesting representation of masculinity. They are aggressive, yes but their bark is backed up by neither a strong body nor a sound mind.
The War Boys are strongly contrasted with The Wives, Joe’s escaped sex-slaves and “breeders.” Dressed like super-models and occupying the roles of distressed damsels – relying on Furiosa and later Max to save them – they subvert the trope by displaying throughout the film a great deal of inner strength; an appreciation and affection for living things like plants or a distressed War Boy and great loyalty to each other. These commendable traits ultimately serve them far better than the War Boys’ unrestrained, dog-like aggression.
The contrast between the male and female collectives is embodied in one of our heroes, Furiosa. It is telling that the opening card credits both Charlize Theron and Tom Hardy at once. Hardy’s name is on the left but Theron’s is further up the screen. Neither is more important than the other, they play around each other in the narrative, contrasting and complimenting each other. Within Furiosa we see a combination of the War Boy’s rabid nature and the Wives’ compassion which pretty much makes her the most interesting figure in the film. In Max we see very little of either. He is a figure of a law-keeper in a lawless world, he has had his security and his purpose removed to the point where he is nothing but the basest of instincts thinking of the most pressing problem only, fleeing from the past thinking nothing of his uncertain future. Neither character quite belongs to either extreme and they find an equal match in each other.
Fury Road delivers exquisite action, brutal and brilliant. From a claustrophobic pre-credit chase through a shadowy, industrial mountain to the climactic battle through a canyon with pole-vaulting madmen dancing to the tune of a flame-throwing guitar each scene takes the last action-packed set piece and goes further, from the end of the world to what waits beyond. Miller reaffirms his place as the visionary director that captured our parents’ imaginations and brings a perfectly crafted example of what action cinema should be.
review by Stephen Higham