The Maddest Most Maximum Force of the Future

Listen, there’s no way to go around this.

What is about to follow is hardcore gushing.

If my Hit Me With Your Best Shot video where I am spitting so many praises I accidentally make the bone-headed mistake of saying “teal and blue” like a fuckhead was any sign of how restrained I could be, I’m going to be a little more restrained than that, but it’s not gonna be objective. I mean, have you seen any of my reviews being wholly objective? Basically, it’s obvious that I love Mad Max: Fury Road. I really do. I’ve seen it four times by now, the last time being willing to sit through Liemax and watch it through 3D that did the movie no favors just to have a friend watch it (I later discovered this sacrifice was unnecessary as he watched it days before). Another of those screenings was also forcing a caravan to witness how Kamekrazy the film is.

No, not sold on how much I loved it?

Having watched all four movies in a row, I was able to put all of them side-by-side and I consider Mad Max: Fury Road my favorite of the franchise yet. Even while acknowledging The Road Warrior is also a hardcore masterpiece.

Not enough, eh?

I have Mad Max: Fury Road sit in my Top Ten movies of the decade so far. Like, right? It just came out like four months ago…

I don’t care. I understand if this is overhyping it and I hope if you haven’t seen the movie, you go close this review and go watch the movie yourself before continuing so that you don’t have too high expectations for the movie. I mean, I had high as fuck expectations for the movie to begin with and it surpassed them, but hey… it’s not perfect. As Pauline Kael, the best movies are rarely perfect.

You know who was probably hyped as hell about this movie more than I am now? The director George Miller who spent a good 15 years developing what he wanted to do with the franchise from the trenches of Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome. 15 years, that’s enough time to sketch out the narrative scope of a film that is kind of well-known for being very minimalist with communicating its narrative. Where does the character of Max now stand emotionally, physically, and psychologically? Well, they weren’t using Mel Gibson anymore – between his growing disinterest with the project in the time it was taking to get off the ground, his obvious aging, and his even more obvious public image being tarnished by his many unfortunate racist and sexist rants. After the consideration of fellow Aussie actor Heath Ledger shortly before his untimely death, the Englishman Tom Hardy was cast as the character Gibson originated as. In this switch in casting, we’ve went from a wounded and morally confused warrior man to Hardy crafting a muted scavenger, not as able a combatant as Gibson’s Max as Hardy’s Max is just lucky and primal enough to make his strikes count and his words refuse to spare what little identity is left of Max to Charlize Theron’s co-starring performance as the militaristic survivalist Imperator Furiosa. Hardy’s grunts and manner reminds me extensively of Eli Wallach’s brilliant performance as Tuco in The Good, the Bad, the Ugly in a middle scene where he tersely demands items for his survival upon surviving a deadly desert heat in a similar manner to how Max has been living (I’d link the scene in question, but I honestly think if you haven’t seen THAT movie, it’s certainly more essential than Mad Max: Fury Road).

Or how about that 15 years to think about developing further the atmospheric post-apocalypse wasteland that was once Australia – how has it slowly moved on from its meltdown that occurred so far back in the history of Mad Max? Well, now the day-drenched environment is divided neatly into steely blue skies and searing yellow-orange dirt ground to split the horizon violently as the primary War Rig armored truck pushes through the hot desert air away from its pursuers through the Namibia desert playing the role of the Australian outback (it’s particularly beautiful how its night scenes are shot, in a darker blue that could easily allow every object on screen to melt into a whole if it weren’t for how boldly defined the shapes of the objects on screen are – trees, our heroes, the War Rig, et al. – credit to Miller and cinematographer John Seale for keeping a sharp eye for such a delicate composition). It’s not fully washed out this time around, it’s a long way from a complete world and the lack of balance in the sky and ground says it all. In the meantime, we see hints of three communities developed in their own dysfunctional manner that manages to make its perversity beyond Thunderdome‘s Bartertown feel like absolute law by manipulating distribution of resources to create desperate slaves of people. And we witness how one of them gets away with it in the form of Immortan Joe’s (Hugh Keays-Byrne returning for his second time as primary antagonist in a Mad Max picture) death cult and the War Boys that follow him into oblivion disguised as Valhalla and worship the steel chrome machines that accelerate them to their death.

The real devil in establishing this world rebuilt from civilization’s implosion comes in the details that production designer Colin Gibson and costume designer Jenny Beavan’s work in composing the visual elements of the Citadel’s twisted construction, the vehicles’ worn and hungry provision of glimmering fire to the chase, and the many clans we witness (and my, there’s a hell of a lot of different clans within this one movie, each one feeling like it has its own story to tell)… illustrating widely enough to as make us know damn sure there is more to the world beyond Seale’s frame with which he captures this massive vision.

But my oh my, look how I’ve gone without fully summing up the main premise of Miller, Brendan McCathy, and Nico Lathouris’ screenplay attempting to pack as much character and personality within the actual inner lives of some of the front-and-center characters. See, the movie is essentially a giant two-hour long chase with certain divisions in direction and subjects to the chases, but it does matter why the main chase exists. Which is that Furiosa herself is defecting from Immortan Joe and taking along with her five of Joe’s prized “Wives” – those ellipses used in the most cynical manner by me, I assure you – to help them all escape to an old land of Furiosa’s childhood memories; a dream of safety from the most literal form of the patriarchy you can provide in a post-apocalyptic atmosphere. In this sketching of Furiosa’s dreams as well as shaded hints of her regrets (when asked what she’s looking for by Max, she responds “redemption” – an inner struggle of hers that Max silently shares with sudden visions of dead faces Max is implied to have failed to save from violent fates), we see a vulnerability of Furiosa underneath her honestly hardened exterior and it anchors her emotionally as the most human character in the film without ever once underwriting how hard-boiled a motherfucker she is. This is essentially her story as told through Max’s eyes (and in this, we also still watch a dynamic story live within Max as the two’s interactions grow more and more instinctual and in sync without ever falling into the pitfalls of a romantic relationship).

In the meantime, we also have an arc in the form of Nicholas Hoult’s work as Nux, a particularly enthusiastic War Boy who stands out amongst the rest of their hordes in that he is the vessel through which Max is literally thrown into Furiosa’s scenario and then we see how his perspectives of the many sides of the primary conflict force him to reconsider his stance in this world gone wrong. It’s the sort of writing that basically does a lot of the actor’s work for him, but Hoult uses that spare energy to both let Nux feel in tune with the aggressive kineticism with which the movie smashes its way through its plot and setpieces and yet allowing Nux to feel almost just as much human an anchor to all the chaotic bombast of the film as Theron’s performance as Furiosa. There is no doubt about it, those two are best in show and not just because the script favors them.

It’s kind of easy by now to pick at the two major themes of the film – One being providing a commentary on patriarchal civilization and the prospect of gender equality in a world where it’s much easier to be savagely tyrannical and selfish than here and now, the other being a commentary on how religion is used to manipulate the desperate and huddled masses into subversion or self-sacrifice and how that reflects on both the monarch and his subjects. There’s a lot of other stuff I could point out, but those two are the obvious ones where you know I’m not grasping for straws to make Mad Max: Fury Road seem deeper than it is.

But in the meantime, maybe the one tick I’d have against Fury Road is noting that, while I don’t exactly hold against people’s consideration of the movie as feminist, I never personally found myself fully subscribing to the movie as portraying that ideal effectively. Certainly one that still has a very loud and clear declaration that all sexes are equal, but not one that celebrates the idea of femininity standing out in spite of suppression. And the reason for that is inherent enough in its premise that it’s hard to change without outright changing the movie essentially.

See, those five wives – played by Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Riley Keough, Zoe Kravitz, Abbey Lee, and Courtney Eaton in a manner that despite the actresses valiant and worthwhile efforts are just barely distinguishable from each other – they still play a reductive role as damsels in distress. They’re not entirely helpless and if anyone has any right to be in hysterics for a time being, I’d expect it’d be victims of continuous rape in constant peril for the entirety of the film, and for a movie that only has so much to tell in a short amount of time, not everyone is going to be granted the amount of life in them that Max, Furiosa, and Nux have, but I do find it still reductive and a bit hard-hitting against any feminist intent (There is a third act revelation that I think actually foils this well enough to make me dismiss it afterwards, but I don’t think I can go into it without spoiling more than I want to. Damn it!).

OK, one more tick against the movie, some of the dialogue, in its effort to pick and choose what it can say before the movie goes “fuck it! This is too fucking slow!” is stilted and unnatural.

“Bullet farmers! They’re coming from the bullet farm!” No fucking shit. I would not hold it against anyone who makes that out to be the “NO MOAR DED CAWPS!” of 2015.

OK, I’m pushing 2000 words and I just feel like there’s two more things I need to point out – both having to do with how the story is told rather than what it’s telling now. Bear with me.

The first one, I’ve already been dropping hints about all around and that is the amount of aggressive momentum the movie has to it thanks to the editing work of Margaret Sixel while Junkie XL pounds an incredible bit of percussionary gunfire-sounding blasts that you’d have to call a score in that it seems to attach the movie’s speed as a action-driven ride and forces your heartbeat to catch the fuck up.

And the second thing. The really big thing that absolutely is why I love this movie as a masterpiece – the scale. Sure, we’ve seen big movies, we see them all the fucking time, but not this damn big. When you give money to somebody like George Miller, who has proved with his previous work in this shoestring franchise that Mad Max once was that he is efficient and wants that money to not just show up on the screen but to trick you into thinking there was more money to this than there actually was… oof! You’re gonna see where the hell it was put. 150 million dollars in order to bring out this universe popping out in chrome and rust have it fly around in setpieces that require the most deviant imagination to dream of pulling off, like a car chase in a sandstorm with a character forced at the exterior, the famous Doof Warrior bard for Joe’s hordes, the giant monstrous designs of the vehicles as they growl along with Junkie XL in the soundmix, oh man, my head hurts just imagining how Beavan and Gibson were able to stand strong amongst the demands a more of this operatic conceit without killing the fucking party or betraying the idea that we are meant to believe in this world the entire time and live in it.

But then again, they all had a man who believed he could create it. He had 15 years to think about how he wanted to do it. Miller was undoubtedly more hyped about this movie than anybody, myself included, could ever have been. Byron would have been proud to see how far their imagination had gone.

OK, well, I’m done gushing. Hope that came off restrained enough for you. And like I said, maybe one day it will die down and I’ll look at the movie with less admiration like my love for The Dark KnightThe Social Network, and many others have fallen (even though I still love both of those movies in particular with no small love).

But I doubt it. I really do doubt it. In the back of my mind right now I’m thinking about going to watch the movie in black and white with just the sound design. And it’s 5 fucking am that I am completing this. Just ’cause.

I mean, let me tell you guys something, I had a bad run of days coming to this point. And I think I deserve a chance to gush over a movie as amazing as Mad Max: Fury Road for the time being. Life’s too short not to enjoy the great experiences you have and it’s very rare that I can actually call a movie in itself an experience (as opposed to say seeing a movie with friends and how we interact with it).

That’s how Mad Max: Fury Road registered to me more than any other movie this year so far. A propelling, persistent experience. A raw one. An unforgettable one and yet I’m eager to revisit it right then and there.


One thought on “The Maddest Most Maximum Force of the Future

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