My wife was again up for another action film so we went to see Mad Max: Fury Road, maybe in part because I pitched to her that it was sitting at an incredible 98% on the Rotten Tomatoes tomato-meter, with over 200 reviews (including from magazines like Vanity Fair and the New Yorker ).
My wife cautioned that I might be disappointed with that level of hype, and I agreed. I tried to drop my expectations a notch, although admittedly they were still pretty darn high.
A plot summary may be read here at IMDb.
Sure enough, Mad Max: Fury Road is topnotch for what it is: a post-apocalyptic thrill ride and a visual extravaganza. The direction is just about as good as one could hope for this type of film–George Miller outdid himself. And it easily passed my most basic litmus test of whether I cared what happened to the protagonists. The acting performances are all great.
I was happy for Thomas Hardy that he turned in a rock solid performance that no one will make fun of (after his The Dark Knight Rises ‘ Bane–although I’m in the minority of fans that loved his portrayal of the character–and his Dr. Evil-like Shinzon in Star Trek: Nemesis).
But Charlize Theron’s character Imperator Furiosa is as much the star of this film as Max is. It is as much her story as it is Max’s.
Zoe Kravitz gives a standout performance as one of the spunkier “breeder” women that Furiosa and Max are protecting. And Melissa Jaffer is memorable as the Keeper of the Seeds. Nicholas Hoult it fine as Nux, although I’m not sure that the film really needed the Nux character.
This movie is all about maintaining tension visually, and it succeeds at that brilliantly–and lavishly. It is strung extremely taut throughout; and the film manages to actually increase the tension in the final act, which is pretty amazing in hindsight. Tension-wise, this movie like watching a horse race in which the lead changes hands several times, and it ends in a near photo-finish.
Also with respect to the visual spectacle, the film is replete with the freakishly grotesque characters that we’re used to from the earlier Mad Max films; although I’m can’t quite say that we get any to top Lord Humungus, Wez, the Gyro Captain, and the Feral Kid from Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior. In this film Imortann Joe is certainly very imposing, though. Rictus Erectus, on the other hand, basically seems to be interchangeable with Wez (although Wez was more colorful).
I guess there was a slight letdown for me in that for very dark, oppressive, bleak dystopian fictional settings (I’m not particularly a fan of them), I need a story or characters that truly surprise me to make it a five star experience. There has to be something innovative about that for me to like the film tremendously. I did not really get that here. The feminist theme that enslaved women (although it seems everyone in Imortann Joe’s enclave is his slave) were taking charge to free themselves was nice to see, but there was nothing particularly inspired about it. Then again, that was really just an added benefit for a film like this–which is not so much about depth of story, but rather blowing us away with the visual experience.
Anyway, it was a good time and the film was enjoyable. My wife and I both enjoyed Mad Max: Fury Road. I doubt it’s a film that I’ll watch again. But it was pretty neat to see on the big screen in 3D. A fun night out.
Addednum: Spoiler to follow:
My wife had an interesting observation to make: Furiosa and her party end up right where they started–although in order for change to occur Furiosa clearly needed to do what she did. My wife was not prepared to assign a possible meaning to this, such as may be intended by the director. But she did note the irony.
Furiosa cannot quite be said to be seeking a paradise, but the longed for “Green Place” virtually is that in contrast with the psychotically nightmarish hell-on-earth Imortann Joe has created. There was also the theme of warriors’ belief in Valhalla. So we see in this film an overpowering motivation to seek a Utopian vision: either in the afterlife (on the part of the bad guys) or on earth (sought by this film’s heroes). Max of course would never put stock in any either vision. As he says in the opening narration, he has become the embodiment of the survival instinct, pure and simple. (Although that said, it is interesting to note that Max clearly favors prosocial order and individual freedom.)
A movie like this does not really need a “deeper message” (and it already has a laudable feminist twist). But perhaps if there is one to be drawn from it, perhaps it is that we must never give up in striving to do what is right to make the world a saner, more egalitarian, prosocially nurturing, free, and peaceful place, even when the odds seem insurmountable. We will thereby meaningfully change the world we actually inhabit, rather than transform it into something altogether different. The trick is to identify what you actually can do something about, envision what you wish to do with it, and put a plan into action. It does seem that the impulse to imagine a grand vision of ‘an ideal world that could be’ ironically drives us forward, though. (Unless you’re like Max. Which is, um, not desirable! Better that we be Furiosa!)