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George Miller’s Mad Max: Fury Road has hardly any plot, hardly any dialogue and no particularly compelling aesthetic imagery. Yet this diesel-powered romp has, with currently 98% on Rotten Tomatoes, become the best-reviewed live-action blockbuster in over 20 years. How? Why? What about this film has won over the world’s most infamously curmudgeonly filmgoers to such an extent? The answer: who knows? There’s nothing hugely special in Fury Road. It’s nowhere near as important or as stunning a work of contemporary cinema as Interstellar or Boyhood, and Kingsman: The Secret Service is a far superior action adventure. Fury Road isn’t going to change the way Hollywood makes films. But all that doesn’t mean it’s bad. It features two subtly terrific performances from Charlize Theron and Tom Hardy, and a more animatedly impressive one from Nicholas Hoult. The level of creativity in terms of production design, costume design and- uniquely- PEOPLE design, is often mind-blowing. And at the core of Miller’s film (though conveyed as aggressively as Tomorrowland‘s soliloquy on the importance of windmills) is a groundbreaking moral about the false sense of male superiority and the horrific point such a thing will eventually lead humanity to.
It’s unclear if the characters in Fury Road are legitimately insane, of simply acting on the impulses of the fumes and drugs in the air (several characters are seen inhaling a silver spray which may or may not be liquidised cocaine). Nonetheless, the behaviour of all on screen (with the exclusion, arguably, of Theron’s appropriately level-headed Furiosa) is most psychotic. Miller’s filmmaking is, sadly, not to the same level. If only a more energetic director had been put behind Fury Road‘s camera, we may have gotten a more unhinged, heart-pounding spectacle along the lines of Damien Chazelle’s Whiplash. Unfortunately, Fury Road is all too formulaic, with derivative camerawork and a predictable final act. The use of the standard action movie formula fails to take into account that, unlike most films, Fury Road has no plot, and there are hence large gaps in the action which would typically be filled by exposition and character development. God bless exposition: you don’t know how much you miss it until it’s gone!
The most enjoyable moments of Miller’s film are when it tries to fulfil its titular adjective. There’s a blind guitarist strapped to a war rig, a bearded dwarf in a pram with a telescope, Nicholas Hoult’s character’s “special friends” Larry and Barry and an army of pole-vaulting acrobats. The majority of the action is beautifully choreographed, and the grit and pain of the film’s landscape is seen strongly in the deformed features of its grotesque inhabitants. However, a substantial portion of the film’s chases/continuous chase is surprisingly uninvolving and leaves one wishing for a bit more keen exploration of the broader dystopia. After over an hour of manic explosiveness, the film slams to a halt to discuss feminism. It’s welcome and intelligently presented, and highlights further the quietly widespread misogyny of most other modern blockbusters (even such far as Avengers: Age of Ultron is questionable in its depiction of female characters). The women in Fury Road make it very, very clear that they do not want the help of men, and they mostly don’t need it either. Hardy and Hoult’s characters fill the sidekick roles usually designated to attractive women, while the Five Wives of Immortan Joe- all played by young models- are subverted completely. Immortan Joe himself is a fascinating but underdeveloped figure of vanity and sleaze, more complex than the typical “tyrannous future dictator” (see The Hunger Games’ President Snow and Tomorrowland’s Governor Nix) in his desire to implant his image on all human bodies, both practically and biologically. An Immortal Joe origins story would not be unwelcome, nor for that matter some fleshed-out development for Furiosa- a female action hero for which we dare use the cliché “in the vein of Ripley”.
George Miller has made a film about insanity with a serious craziness deficiency, but one that catapults its stars and philosophies across the screen with equal vigour. Mud, fire and blood: this is a stunningly ugly circus show with tremendous colour and wit, if not warmth.