I didn’t expect George Miller’s Mad: Fury Road to be all things to all people. But we’re through the Looking Glass people and it just might be, if you don’t mind explosions, vehicle chases and violence along with everything else.
If Avengers: Age of Ultron was occasionally visually annoying, in its fast moving CGI-ness, Mad Max was overwhelming and real. There are no cultured speeches by the bad dudes, in fact little dialogue at all. Lives are at risk and there is no time for jokes. The stakes felt higher for Max, if you want to compare two completely different blockbuster action flicks.
Fury Road is a sequel in as much as a kind of Max continues his lone lifestyle in a post apocalyptic non-specific desert world. There are allusions to the first three films in terms of the aesthetics, technology and violence and some of the characterisations (ahem, over acting). This film revels in its almost medieval grotesqueries and stupendous beauty as well as its complete silliness.
This film is probably closer to the third film, Beyond Thunderdome, than the first two, regarding themes and aspects of the plot, except without whimsy. This may explain why some reviewers are not so crazy about it as a sequel. They didn’t much like Thunderdome either. That’s ok. I still think much the acting in the first Max film especially, was painfully awful.
Tom Hardy’s Max lacks a bit of that special something that made Mel Gibson’s Max feel edgy. We could speculate about this – insert something, something about Gibson and life imitating art. Basically, I don’t get that feeling about Hardy, although his Max’s ‘episodes’ were quite well done and did lend another layer to the film. It’s his road movie to find himself (again).
My un-mediated visceral reaction to most of the film and for a while afterwards, was open-mouthed shock. It was later that I considered it a meditation on the role of the individual in a post-society society. It’s a discussion on the ability of the ‘possessed’ to rise up against their ‘possessors’. It presents the simultaneous commodification and valorisation of women in a masculine world where powerful few control the means of (re)production. It was about the value of water, milk and blood in a dry landscape and how all values can be upended when people decide to take action. I thought, through it all, few (American) people could take issue with any of this.
Even if some think this some sort of critique of American culture, it has never been an American film series. It was (and still kinda is) Australian. An Australia obsessed by vehicles (check), vast distances to get stuff (check), odd ball characters dwarfed by the landscape (check) and dry as (ahem, check).
It was also, and I quote my Twitter reaction, the maddest music video ever.
It was of the above and more.
There is a sense of the quest for the chosen land about it (although this quest is spread over a couple of days). If you like it is Women on the Namibian Trail. It is about class warfare, about the beautiful versus the damned and how whoever ‘killed the world’ had damaged everything that survived. It is about the myths we feed society in order to control people (like the War Boys).
This film is ridiculous. If it was feminist, then half-clad, slightly weak-kneed escapees from a repressive regime (that reminded me a little of The Handmaid’s Tale), didn’t prepare very well for their trek through the vasty desert and, mostly start out pretty useless. No sun smarts for these muses. Yet, if it wasn’t entirely feminist, then it wasn’t the opposite either it, as it demonstrates even the most driven men can change, while men who think they are nothing beyond instinct are more than they seem.
Max remains a post-nuclear John Wayne type, the every man, ‘universal’ no man, the tortured rugged individual bent on little more than survival and whose allegiance is only to that one instinct. At least initially. Charlize Theron’s Imperator Furiosa becomes his conscience, she does have a purpose beyond survival and she is in a word, awesome. Meanwhile, they battle the War Boys, who are kids that don’t get to grow up like they are out of some demented mechanical version of Peter Pan.
Each character is a caricature, writ large against the stunning Namibian desert back drop because to be merely human is to be swallowed whole.
Props go to the supporting case of Australian actors. I thought Angus Sampson brought relish to his Organic Mechanic, while Hugh Keays-Byrne got to relive his younger days in another Mad Max film. Plus, there was Quentin Kenihan! Yay for Melissa Jaffer too, who has been on Australian TV since 1960. She brought all the feelings along for the ride.
Mainly though, this film is about choice. It is about the sides we take and the direction we travel and whether we stand for freedom or settle for slavery no matter gender, age, or ability.