Movie Review: Mad Max Fury Road

Any movie maker who has ever put a car chase in a movie will hail the brilliance of George Miller’s Mad Max Fury Road. What he’s got here, it’s not so much a car chase in a movie, it’s a movie in a car chase. Apart from a few pauses Fury Road is one long car chase.

Some are calling it a reboot of Mad Max 2 The Road Warrior, which in many ways it is. Fury Road looks like the movie George Miller wanted for number 2, if he’d had the budget and the boldness. Fury Road, to its credit, dispenses with dialogue and exposition almost entirely (except for a few clunky aphorisms). The narrative is driven by the drama of people driving cars, trucks and motorbikes. It’s Max 2 with less of the bits you don’t want and more of the bits you do.

You might think a car movie is a strange creature for a bicycle blog to review. I grew up with the Mad Max series (well…I abandoned them when they went to Hollywood for Beyond Thunderdome) and clearly remember pretending to know what a V8 Interceptor was. More to the point though, this is a future dystopia movie. That’s the best type of movie.  And there is no dystopian future more unpalatable than a world dominated by cars and pushed by the pursuit of dwindling resources.

As a warning for our future, the Max Max series doesn’t resonate in the way that a more serious or analogous look at our possible future outcomes would. (I’m clearly thinking of Idiocracy here.) But if you’re like me and like to take any argument to the furthest extreme of its logic, to prove its idiocy by hanging it out too far, then Mad Max is what you get when our world scrambles and fights over diminishing resources, too stupid to envision a world without their cars. In other words, Mad Max is exactly the world we’re looking to inherit. Just the most absurd version of that outcome.

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I’m sure there’s a certain genius required to bring together all the elements for a good car chase. As the original Italian Job proved by flogging Mini’s down steps and across town, a good chase can define a movie. And the remake of the Italian Job proved this yet again by removing any sense of tension from the movie by dividing it with a chase scene full of cut-aways and close-ups, devoid of drama or reality.

A good chase scene should put you in the scene, like the chase in Ronin.

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That car chase makes you think of the Bourne movies, with that almost colliding feeling you get by being placed in the drama. Whereas the last and most pathetic of the Die Hard series has a comic book car chase impressive in its budget but unable to create any sense drama. Mad Max Fury Road inhabits a world widely divorced from our reality but the realism and drama of the chase is enough to make you exhale with relief when they (finally) conclude. I think I only exhaled two or three times during the entire movie.

Fury Road  is an unapologetic spectacle. I’ve read some criticism of the movie based on narrative inconsistencies or other elements that didn’t fit that viewers’ version of the Mad world. I didn’t see any great inconsistencies that couldn’t be explained or at least forgiven for the spectacle they produced. I have, for instance, read that you would be unlikely to come across five beautiful, scantily clad women in a dystopian desert wasteland. Well yeah. That’s kinda the point. And if you could look into my own version of a dystopian desert wasteland this is exactly what you’d see:

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In the best films the action is allowed to drive the narrative. In Fury Road the action is the narrative. In one of my favourite movies, Runaway Train, the action drives the narrative but it’s not an empty spectacle. The Nietzschean themes and heroes journey allow for analysis and discovery within this movie. Fury is similar. You can scrape the surface of this simple and quite stupid movie, or delve within to discover. The heroes journey exists of course, and perhaps this formula with its call to action, refusal of challenge, rising to the challenge…etc…is too obviously following the formula to bring anything new to this archetypal theme. But Fury Road certainly isn’t a stupid film. What stilted and aphoristic dialogue there is can mislead you into thinking it is. But characters are explored through their actions not their words. Same as your mate tells you he’s a gun rider. But it’s seeing it that makes it so. Or…not.

One of the great pleasures of watching this film is the nod to Australian culture and Australian cinema. When Imperator Furiosa is asked what they’re going to do, she replies, “Fang it.” Fang it is a piece of Australian slang straight out of my sunburned suburban childhood. Just fang it.

There’s a post-apocalypse lingo operating in some of Fury Road that is largely borrowed from Australian slang. But not the cliched “dry as a dead dingoes donga” rubbish we often fall back on, it’s the great words of our Australian youth. It’s a pity this wasn’t explored more but it made for me a few Easter egg moments when one slipped out. (Though I was never sure if Tom Hardy’s Max was a yank, Australian, some kind of Eastern European or just an inveterate mumbler.)

Miller acknowledges his own Max movies and other great Australian films. His nod to Cars That Ate Paris  (Care That Ate People in the US) was obvious. This car isn’t from Max but there’s one just like it:

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The Australian women who dig in and lend a hand near the end of the movie act so poorly that I can only think it’s a nod to all great Australian film of the seventies. Whether Don’s Party,  Wake In Frightor the mastery of Peterson, the acting was universally blunt and workmanlike. But somehow more attainable and real as a result. Australian cinema never embraced (or perhaps had) the suavity of a George Cloony Parts of Fury Road the acting was so poor I could only feel nostalgic for this great era of Australian cinema.

I love it when Australian talent comes back from Hollywood to make Australian stories. Brian Brown, Guy Pearce, Jack Thompson…many more, they come back with their pockets ringing with Hollywood dollars and make Australian drama for next to nothing. The genius of George Miller is he’s wrapped an Australian film inside a Hollywood film and no-one need ever know the difference. And he’s made the best action-packed post-apocalypse movie you’ll see in a long while. I’m giving it five scantily clad desert nymphs out of five.

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