Mad Max: Fury Road Is a Visually Spectacular Car Chase Scene - And Not Much Else

Friday, 15 May 2015 - 11:20AM
Mad Max: Fury Road
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Friday, 15 May 2015 - 11:20AM
Mad Max: Fury Road Is a Visually Spectacular Car Chase Scene - And Not Much Else
For better and for worse, Mad Max: Fury Road is a frenetic, explosive two-hour car chase scene that is essentially one long climax, eschewing character development, dialogue, and even plot. Certain virtues of the film are undeniable, particularly the visual beauty of the proceedings, but I have to admit that I wasn't a fan. It almost calls for two different reviews: one for hardcore action fans, and one for people like me, who after watching Mad Max needed to sneak into Pitch Perfect 2 as a palate cleanser. 

And that's not to say that I'm not a fan of action, because I am. I'm not the intended audience for this film, purely because I prefer small-scale action, like hand-to-hand combat and grisly serial killer murders, to large-scale action like car chases or battle scenes, but I can still appreciate a well-done car chase movie. Mad Max: Fury Road only qualifies as such if you are literally just looking for car chases. I found myself getting both exhausted and bored, because there was no rising action, just climax throughout the entire film. There was no arc, no dynamic push-and-pull. Just car chases. I'm sure that will please some people, but it might be a smaller subset of casual action fans than the glowing reviews have indicated so far. 

And speaking of those early reviews, there's been a lot of publicity surrounding the film's feminist bent, with The Vagina Monologues's Eve Ensler consulting on gender issues and those trusty MRAs coming out of the woodwork to boycott the film. And it is feminist—for an action movie. Just as it's thoughtful "for an action movie," and philosophical "for an action movie," it's only feminist compared to the average, actively misogynistic action film. Fury Road is very much Furiosa's film more than Max's, and she's a worthy heroine. But the five wives are mostly interchangeable beautiful women that serve to amplify the visual style of the film. Usually, I would say that this isn't necessarily a problem, as none of the characters were humanized very much. But considering that George Miller chose to write a narrative (the little narrative there is) about the sexual objectification of women, using five beautiful women as little more than window dressing undermines that message considerably. Their situation is tragic, but the audience never feels the weight of that tragedy, because they're no more human to us than they are to Immortan Joe.

That being said, there's no denying that Mad Max is visually resplendent. Every shot is gorgeous and creatively inspired; one particularly memorable shot gives the illusion of rolling sand dunes until Max rears his head and reveals that they're just mounds of sand on his prostrate body. But you're left asking: to what end? That beautiful shot could have been more than just a neat trick if Mad Max had any thematic or philosophical underpinnings to tie into, but it was woefully underwritten. By the end, the only theme that really came through was that of "hope" and a whiff of "redemption," which is incredibly basic, not to mention exactly like every other survivalist Western to ride into our lives.

And this lack of substance clearly wasn't for lack of talent or intelligence behind the scenes. At the beginning, before the chase really kicks into gear, there are several scenes of worldbuilding that showed much more potential than the film ultimately fulfilled. The women are either breeders or glorified cows being pumped for breast milk, tumor-riddled young men are recruited to be slavishly devoted "war boys" whose only function is to be expendable, and it's all in service of the truly disgusting Immortan Joe, a warlord who lives in a Marie Antoinette-level of excess while the rest of the world dies of thirst and radiation poisoning. There are brief glimpses of intellectual ideas and tiny flashes of self-aware wit (Max going up against a flame-throwing metal guitarist was an absurd highlight), and one legitimately intimate scene between Nicholas Hoult's Nux and one of the wives, but it ultimately didn't add up to anything. At the beginning of the film, a title card tells us that these characters are "wandering this wasteland in search of their better selves," and during these all-too-brief respites from the chases and explosions, it felt like Mad Max was doing the same thing.
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Mad Max: Fury Road
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