Saturday, August 22, 2015

Mad Max: Fury Road review

    I'm a huge post-apocalypse fan. I'm not a fan of "realistic" apocalypse stories but I do love stories where it transforms the world into a pseudo-Wild West scavenger society full of bandits. As such, I'm a huge fan of Mad Max but not necessarily for the same reasons many other fans are. I've always been invested in the world-building more than the action itself. Which is good for this film since it has copious amounts of both.

    The premise of the film is simple and it's better for the fact it builds everything around its simplicity versus trying to bring people to something more complex. Immorten Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne) is the dictator of a Wasteland community called the Citadel. He exploits and abuses his population, male as well as female, with the latter being forced to serve as his harem. His conspicuously female general, Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron), proceeds to help Joe's slaves escape in hopes of taking them to a land called "The Green Place." Max (Tom Hardy) gets caught up in this conflict the same way he's caught up in every movie: he tries to do something selfish and ends up having to do something selfless.

Joe is a sick old man who rules over a society of misled warriors.
    The first thing to know about this movie is it's a fantasy film. This is a very odd thing to say but it's a fantasy film in the science-fiction/fantasy sort of way.

    It's not got magic or elves or so on but what really-really works for me is the fact this is a movie which is heavily invested in transporting you into another universe. Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome gets a lot of flack for mostly justified reasons but part of why I'll always defend that movie is the director was heavily invested in the world-building and you can tell that's the same case here.

    There's a scene early in the movie where Immorten Joe has a big "Hitler cam" moment where he goes out onto a balcony before thousands of starving subjects holding up jugs and plates before spouting a bunch of pseudo-mystical nonsense before he proceeds to pull on a chain which causes the people below to be showered in water for a few seconds. He then tells them not to become addicted to water. That's one of the defining moments of the movie for me because it pretty much spells out how this society works, what kind of leader Joe is, and what sort of story we're going to get.

Max's life never gets any better. This is how the universe treats him.
    Indeed, you also get a bunch of insight into how Immorten Joe runs his society in a way which people have been commenting on in the whole "is this film feminist or misogynist?" Joe takes the most attractive women as breeders and then raises the young boys to be his suicidal death-seeking soldiers. Joe teaches them that they'll go to Valhalla when they die and that a worthy death is the only thing they're good for.

    I'm actually not so sure the villains are misogynist so much as generically evil w/ misogyny as just aspect of their cruelty. The young men are exploited every bit as much as the women in Joe's society. I inferred Joe is getting rid of young rivals for both women as well as position in his society (dominated by old men like himself) by sending the "War Boys" off to die. It's not hard to see social satire with the parallels on suicide bombers and terrorist groups not even subtext at points. But, then again, you just have to look around the world to know pointing out "treating women as property only good for breeding is bad" is something which needs to be sad--even if it shouldn't have to be.

I'm, honestly, impressed each of the wives have their own story arc. Most movies can't do that with five characters total, let alone an extra three in Max, Furiosa, and Nux.
    The thing is, almost all of the world-building is done with a minimum of dialogue. I think the movie is about an hour-and-a-half-of action with about thirty minutes of non-action, of which only some is necessarily talking. The actual dialogue scenes aren't even that important as far as I can tell with the vast-vast majority of storytelling done visually. This is one of those movies you could honestly argue could be done without any of the characters speaking at all. That doesn't mean the plot isn't there but it's not a movie where Max will open up about his wife and child's death nor where we gain any insight into how Furiosa got her cybernetic arm.

    The movie is one I would say is feminist but I'm, honestly, of the mind that much of the asshat objection to the film boils down to dislike of women and men being treated as equals in an action movie. Furiosa and the wives are major characters, the main ones arguably, but Max as well as Nux (the "good" War Boy) are every bit as important. If Fury Road gets this kind of reception, I can't help but think the heads of geeks will explode if the Black Widow was joined by a second woman on the Avengers. Yeesh.

Oh what a lovely day, indeed.

    I liked the characterization we get in the movie, ranging from the aforementioned heroes down to the various Wasteland tribes which exist to harass our heroes. However, a staggering amount of this movie feels like its a triumph of style over substance. It's good style, don't get me wrong. I cannot fault a movie including an eyeless heavy-metal guitarist traveling on a car-mounted stereo-system which shoots flames.

Fury Road in one image.
    Why is it in there? Because it's looks cool dammit! Which is the justification, I suspect, for about ninety-percent of the film. This movie, indeed, feels very much like someone's post-apocalypse role-playing game session, including the whole, "well, the original plan is shot to hell, time to come up with a new one."

    This is really a movie which begins and ends on its action sequences, which are spectacular don't get me wrong. I found all of the heroes likable and understandable. Plus, I found the wives pleasant to look upon if I may forego part of the movie's point. I'm not going to say it's something which revolutionizes my love of cinema, though. Instead, it's more notable for me in the fact it used Mad Max to do some social commentary as well as to challenge the current reliance on CGI over practical effects.

    And I had fun.


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