Exciting. Breathtaking. Funny. Nerve-racking. These are the adjectives that should describe every summer blockbuster and action film. For the last few years, however, tent-pole films could be described as bloated, sappy, overwrought, and a CGI black hole. Mad Max: Fury Road finally reminded us what we’ve all been missing from action films of late; bad ass women, men not wearing tights or superhero costumes, and action with real consequences. If action, violence, cars, heavy metal, and dystopia don’t sound like anything that will interest you, I promise Mad Max will change your mind as you sit in awe of the sheer feats of filmmaking and ingenuity that are apparent in every frame of the film.
Mad Max: Fury Road, as most will tell you, is not about Max. It’s about Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) and her quest to free the sex slaves (more on that later) held captive by Immortan Joe to provide him with healthy offspring. That’s really all you need to know and that’s about all the film tells you. You can pick up snippets of backstory (Furiosa was kidnapped and taken by Joe 7,000 days ago) or world-building cultural touchstones (The War Boys believe in the afterlife, Valhalla) but the plot is basically one long car chase and it’s exhilarating.
The action and fighting sequences are utilized for both suspense and humor to great effect. The bendy-straw human-catapult contraptions (the technical term I believe) are ingenious. At times characters are framed in a way where they bob in and out of frame on the poles for truly laugh-out-loud visuals. I didn’t see Mad Max in 3D but I’ve heard from multiple sources that it’s one of the few films where 3D actually enhances the visuals. There is a scene where they drive into a sandstorm that is apparently unbelievably immersive and beautiful.
The set piece blowing everyone’s minds is the guitar-torch guy riding on the front of the Doof Wagon. What I love about him and the drummers, also riding as part of the Immortan Joe cavalry, is the way it uses diegetic* sound. It’s not some popular rock song used as background music. This is literally a beating of the war drums (and strumming of the war guitar). Using music in this way gives Mad Max a sense of place and culture that is more powerful because it comes from within.
There has been lots of discussions about feminism in Mad Max. Some will say it is too feminist (no such thing) others will say its faux-feminist. Still others miss the entire point by saying it can’t be that feminist since the women Furiosa saves are beautiful. This argument is the one I’d like to briefly dissect because it’ ridiculous. It shouldn’t matter what they look like, they are held captive by Joe, treated as property, and used to make Joe a viable heir to his throne. I will admit the first shot of the women hosing off in scantily clad outfits made me squirm.
I worried that these women would be used as counter-point to the masculine Furiosa, as if to say only one woman in this world can be tough. But the film didn’t do that, in fact the women, raised in captivity in solitary pristine conditions, did a pretty great job holding their own. These women were chosen and then pampered and given all the care and luxury they needed so their children would come out whole and perfect. They are property to be discarded once they can no longer provide the service. As for their beauty, when did someone’s appearance make them more or less of a slave?
People are calling this film a masterpiece. I wouldn’t go that far but I would call it an instant classic. It has some of the most memorable visuals and quotable dialogue (it’s basically a silent film which makes the small amount of talking that much easier to latch on to) of any action film I’ve seen in years. Mad Max is a crazy fun ride you won’t want to end. Once it does you’ll want to hop right back on and do it all over again. Don’t miss out seeing this in theaters.
Did you see Mad Max? Let me know what you thought in the comments below. If you’re still not convinced tell me why and I’ll do my best to change your mind.
Check out the Feminist Mad Max Tumblr.
* Diegetic means coming from within the story itself. A song playing on a car stereo in a film. A song with no visible source within the film is non-diegetic.
Obligatory picture of Max because his name is in the title.