I would best compare this film to another film that came out in 2013 by the name of Gravity. Gravity, much like the film I’m reviewing right now, was a spoon fed, overly praised film that places more value on aesthetics than it does on engaging characters or a worthwhile story to be invested in. Just like Gravity, one bewilderment towards the overwhelming positive reception versus the actual quality of the film shouldn’t be a surprise since if you remove the technical achievement all you’ll have left is superficial entertainment with a two hour car chase. It’s a dumb action film with a high budget, and cool car stunts which is sadly all it has to offer.
Around this portion of my reviews I would provide a synopsis of Mad Max: Fury Road, but any sort of synopsis should be considered a spoiler. There’s very little plot in the film that required three writers to create. To put it in perspective the film without giving away thin specifics is basically like driving a couple miles away from your home to get water while being chased by lunatics, remembering there’s no longer anyone guarding your home for some reason, and returning home the same way you came even though it was blocked after an explosion. That is all that occurred within two hours. Like mentioned before, this took the effort of three writers to create is pretty pathetic not just in writing, but filmmaking as a whole.
It’s titled character, Max, is a man of few words, fewer defining characteristic beside having a tortured past, and less of an engaging character. Max is relegated to a supporting role who just goes with the motion of events. Some attempts are made in providing a backstory to Max, but it is thinly stretched out. All that is told about Max through hallucination is that he failed to protect people. Their importance is never specify almost as if discluding any newcomer in the franchise. If it fails to stand alone as it own entity then it failed before filming began. Nope, instead of providing stronger context it’s better if that time was better spent on very long car chases instead.
More ridiculous than the thinness of the story is the presentation of serious moments. Car chases take up 90% of the film are bombastic, and loud which when applied to a character, Furiousa, talking about redemption can’t be taken seriously. That’s the clear points of these moments, though once again I want emphasize it took three people to write this story. Without much exploration into character backgrounds it further deteriorate into an eye candy spectacle that only manages to hold your attention because of it belief it would lose its audience if there wasn’t a extensive car chase for every few minutes focus on plot.
The film opens up with our main character Max being captured, and in an attempt to escape shows to the viewer(s) how insane the world is. This very early scene shows a crowd of people gathering around to get water with the images presenting a clear picture of how important this resource is in the world. Yet, the three writers felt the imagery of this scene wouldn’t be enough to convey the desperation in its world either being water, healthy people, or fertile land which is why lines like “As the world fell, each of us in our ways were broken” is spoon feeding to the definition. Much like the example I use in the opening paragraph, if it was entirely muted (we’re talking about virtually no dialogue) the film would actually be an achievement in storytelling regardless if it needed to use simple caricatures for an action movie. Unfortunately, with spoon fed dialogue like that it’s a blessing and a curse the characters don’t talk as much as they do taking away from the experience.
Characters are simplified to very basic character arcs; most notable examples comes in the form of Nux and Furiousa. Nux wants to be taken to Vahala which loosely can be tied to religion as much as Furiousa search for redemption from an event that’s makes a very loose connection with the antagonist. Nux doesn’t suffer as much as Furiousa in his basic characterization due to his simplistic loyalty painting a clear picture of his arc when he enters the picture. Max goal is to possibly get over past demons and survive without talking much. Now, Max getting over his demons isn’t an issue since it’s what drives his character to be a better person than he was before. However, Max being muted when Furiosa is trying to kill him is idiotic. He’s man of few words, but not very intelligent…or is he? The script can’t decide on that as in one scene Max manages to get a truck out a swampland that got mired in the desert by the use of the only conveniently found tree in that area. So his reluctance to speak in a scene where women are trying to run away from the same lunatics chasing Max, and the leader is attempting to kill Max a simple explanation would have avoided a well choreographed, but rather pointless action scene.
So earlier I made a rough outline of the film general story by making up an example. That outline has serious issues. First, there is an explosion in a canyon with only one entrance way being shown. That entrance gets blocked by rubble of rocks. Yet, when the characters decide to return to where Max was taken seemingly using the same road. Second, we’re in the desert and making further suspend your belief is despite the large locations shown throughout the film Max takes the same route to return to the Citadel (where the film basically starts). Lastly, the antagonist took all of his men when chasing down Max? If not, how come the citizens of the Citadel didn’t kill Immortan Joe (the antagonist) if his power was so limited? It would explain the ending, but if so, even if the antagonist did strike fear in the people’s eyes the numbers of baddies still in the Citadel is larger of that of what the Immortan Joe took with him when chasing down Max and his Five Wives. In context characters finally stop looking for answers in other places that might not exist, but also in context it basically means the outline of the story is unbelievably goofy.
If you’re looking for action, but mostly in the car chases variety Mad Max: Fury Road has impressive stunt work. For starter, the way Mad Max: Fury Road is filmed is done like an expert. The camera in these car chases usually follows the cars without shaking the camera. No matter how many cars are on screen together or if there’s an explosion the camera doesn’t need to shake to emulate the chaotic nature of just occurred in a scene. It does it through visuals favoring long takes with wide shots angle to see every bit of carnage done in the film.
Another aspect of the car chases is the smart uses of wide shots throughout lengthy sequences. A common problem for directors of higher budgeted action movies is that a director would make the mistakes of using many mid-shots instead to be closer to the action instead of pulling the camera further for a better flow. One of the best example is a scene where Max is attempting to break the window of a car from his capturer who’s planning to kill himself in a blaze glory during a desert storm. In the background, Max is seen struggling to hang onto a car and attempting to break the window while in the foreground his capturer is preparing to kill himself. This paints a picture of struggle, and a time limit within the same shot. This also applies to car crashes as when a car gets destroyed the camera shows the entire car as it gets destroyed. However, instead of pausing to display this demolished car it will instead continue to follow the action. One prime example of a George Miller expert direction is in the film there’s tanker that explodes, and how he displays it incorporates many techniques. From this lone scene in a couple of seconds Miller combines CG, shot composition, and editing to seamless effect. As Max is fighting against a Warboy on a pole/ladder that’s very close to touching the ground in motion he successfully kills the Warboy; with the ladder now having less weight Max attempts to get himself onto safety in the foreground on a moving car while the background a tanker is exploding within the same frame of shots. This moment doesn’t last any longer than seven seconds, but seamlessly through expert uses of CG, shot composition, and editing it’s a seamless flow of coherence that Miller often succeed in duplicating throughout the film.
The stunt work is nothing short of amazing. Cars are demolished on screen alongside obtaining a high body count from in the film characters death. In general, the stunt will require a dozen or so cars as well participants to do insane set pieces. Not only do the stunt crew having perform a dangerous stunt on constantly moving vehicles, but also do it with visibly little protection and sometimes with props like spears, pipes, baby bottle, spray can, and anything that can be found in this post apocalyptic film. What’s pulled off successfully is a string of convincing looking stunts that at some point in the film you’ll begin to believe every single stunt was done by actual person. In some scenes a dummies is used, but with an expert stunt crew it blurred the lines between a real person and dummy that it’s not even noticeable even among action aficionados.
CGI is used in virtually every single shot of the film, though it’s mostly use on either filtering colors or enhance the effect of a scene. For instance, going back to the tanker explosion if you removed the CG from that explosion you’ll still have the same explosion and stunt in place. The only thing the CG is adding was enhancing the effect of an explosion to give it more visual finesse by darkening smokes and brightening up the flames. Sometimes CG will add an explosion or make a scene colors pop out. Fury Road usage of CG is smart as it only uses it to add to a larger piece of the film instead of it taking over for an entire scene.
Set design is also detailed with a rough-hewn general look for the clothings. Getting across a clear picture of this dystopia fascination with worshiping cars like a religion. There is no normal looking car in the film as you have muscle cars on top of tanks, vintage cars on top of oil rigs and things that look like killer porcupines with wheels underneath them. There’s a lot to admired from the vehicles including the manic arsonist guitarist surrounded by a wall of amplifiers. The guitarist is also a key feature of the soundtrack, with Junkie XL using the chaotic music to stamp a mark of citizenship upon the particular tribes across the journey, mixing in suspenseful, looming soundbites to show the ever-nearing distance between threats.
The acting I can’t complain about, but that’s mostly because the cast provide a lot more conviction in their portrayals than the script does in providing details. Tom Hardy hardly speaks in the film with most of his performance relegated to simply grunting and facial expressions. Despite the limitation in his performance Tom Hardy sells the image of a broken, desperate man. Everything his character is feeling is received by the viewer properly. Charlize Theron plays Furiousa a cool looking character with a no-nonsense attitude. Playing a complex character whose composure hides a lot of her inner turmoil. Having to display a rough surface while at the same time a character whose holding onto what little hope for a better life there is left. Her chemistry with Hardy is excellent displaying the changes in their relationship through the film going from strangers, to enemies, to partners convincingly.
Nicholas Hoult plays Nux a character heavy on a visual arc. He has the most easily definable character traits utilizing them in his portrayal of Nux. A character that enthusiastically goes into blindly following a belief of the antagonist to a more down to earth person contemplating a new view for life. His changes are among the most evident in the film benefiting from a character whose entire journey unlike the other two characters is seen to the finish line. Hugh Keays-Byrne is a appropriate looking “Obviously Evil Bad Guy” type of antagonist. His costume leaves little imagination for what kind of person he is. Consumed in the role Byrne exudes desire, hatred, and vengeance through his portrayal of the film antagonist. I also must give credit to the casting of largely unknown actor Nathan Jones and playing on his strength by giving him little words to speak and allot to express. This movie was expertly put together needless to say.
Mad Max: Fury Road will make you mad and furious for the wrong reasons. It’s more of an issue of the shallow writing that excuses itself to be a two hour chase scene. Gazing upon it you’ll be in awe at the large scale practical stunt work, and gorgeous cinematography before realizing its product of its time that is only appreciated as such. The biggest drawback to the film is it uncertainty to trust the audience; it’s powerful images tell its story majestically, but due to the spoon fed dialogue the reward that comes with figuring out what occurred in the story yourself diminishes the impact when it does it for two hours. It’s technical achievement on all fronts, but if the spoon fed dialogue was virtually removed than it would have also obtained a storytelling achievement to go along with its wild world.