Mad Max: Fury Road is an apocalyptic rumination mixed with a gender-role deliberation fueled by a body-centric economic system augmented with religiosity as tribal accouterment all wrapped up in a franchise extension with a violence-as-spectacle bow on top. In other words, it’s the movie “of the moment” with enough somethings included to make anyone’s eyes light up who likes to have anything to say about movies.
Writer/director/maestro of mayhem George Miller is a master of action choreography and production design. He always has been, and he even finds ways to bring those skills to unlikely movie properties like the glorious Babe: Pig in the City. Seriously. Watch it.
Fury Road returns Miller’s own palate to him again, and he splashes his canvas with rust, blood, mud, smoke, silver spray paint, motor oil, and bodily fluids you’re best off discovering for yourself. There’s a beautifully twisted sensibility at work behind this film, one that understands both the frailty and the resilience of people’s bodies and spirits. The darkness of George Miller’s post-apocalyptic world demonstrates both.
As dark as Miller’s movie universes can get, he always cracks open the sky just enough to let the light break through. In Fury Road, that light shines on the way these beleaguered captives of this post-apocalyptic wasteland mourn the loss of those they care about. Even the film’s villain, the ironically named Immortan Joe, sincerely mourns his losses (even as he contributes to the grief of many others by using others’ bodies to perpetuate his own family line). Joe may be a monster, but he’s a monster with a heart. The heroes have bigger hearts, of course, and Miller is glad to give them all room to grieve in this movie.
This is a feat considering the energy of Fury Road’s action set pieces. The three chase scenes that begin, energize the middle, and end this film are among the most frantic chase scenes I’ve seen since Buster Keaton climbed aboard his trusty locomotive in The General, which is to say, what you see in Fury Road has been done before. It’s just been a while since we’ve seen it. In the wasteland of overly-plotted, incomprehensible “action” spectacles that is our current cinema-scape, our hearts have apparently grown fond of the kinds of films we enjoyed a century ago. The awesomeness of Mad Max: Fury Road is an indictment as much as it is an inspiration.
What Fury Road’s chases scenes lack in scale—it is impossible to judge size and distance when the only reference points are other moving objects of similar size on a featureless expanse—they make up for in visceral impact. Whatever else Fury Road is, it is spectacle of the highest sort spread generously over the thinnest of plots, like clotted cream on a crêpe.
As many are saying, including Kent Webber and Steve Vredenburgh for us, there’s a lot of interesting aspects to the world and culture George Miller and team have created in this film. Unlike some science-fiction stories which exist to argue for the rightness of a certain ideological perspective, Fury Road simply includes ideologies as aspects of its characters and world. The filmmakers clearly think certain things about how society should work, and those thoughts have worked their way into this story, but those thoughts are not the point of this story. If Fury Road is “about” anything, it is about being awesome to behold. It is certainly that. Fury Road is a “B” movie with an inflated budget. It doesn’t need to be anything else.
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