Mad Max: Fury Road
After a thirty year hiatus, the Kennedy Miller Productions / Village Roadshow Pictures Mad Max franchise returns with the 2015, R-rated, Mad Max: Fury Road. Once again George Miller directs and, this time, is also credited with co-writing. Tom Hardy replaces Mel Gibson as “Mad” Max Rockatansky. Charlize Theron Co-stars as Emperator Furiosa, whose character provides the film with its tag-line. Nicholas Hoult as Nux, Hugh Keays-Byrne (Toecutter in the first Mad Max movie) as Immortan Joe, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley as The Splendid Angharad, Riley Keough as Capable, Zoë Kravitz as Toast the Knowing, Abbey Lee as The Dag, and Courtney Eaton as Cheedo the Fragile are also given co-star billing.
Mad Max: Fury Road rightfully earned critical acclaim for effects, stunts and its action sequences. One reason for the praise is the vast majority of the stunt work, explosions and car chase scenes were filmed live and at speed. Green screen effects were only sparingly used to augment the live action. Furiosa’s mechanical arm is one example of how the green screen effects were used in this way. Using live action sequences is quite a departure from modern filmmaking, especially when considering the sheer volume of such scenes in Fury Road. The end result is that the action leaps off the screen in a way that is sometimes lacking when special effects are added in after the rest of the film is shot.
When I go to see a movie, I want to be transported into the world that the film portrays. When something in the film takes me out of that world, my enjoyment is diminished.
The movie also received recognition for its direction and screenplay. This is where many critics and I part ways. When I go to see a movie, I want to be transported into the world that the film portrays. When something in the film takes me out of that world, my enjoyment is diminished. If it is an isolated occurrence, I will usually give the movie a pass. Mad Max: Fury Road took me out of its post-apocalyptic world over and over again.
In my opinion, a couple of the earlier Mad Max films, had weak plots. Unfortunately, Mad Max: Fury Road continued the trend. Not only is it weak, the plot of Fury Road makes a U-turn three quarters of the way through the film that had me scratching my head through to the end. This is just poor writing and inexcusable for a movie that was thirty years in the making. As noted above, if the plot twist was the only issue I had with the movie, I could have let it go. Unfortunately, there are also half a dozen “What-the-heck” (Edited for mass consumption) moments that just couldn’t be ignored. The constant interruption in my suspension of reality ruined this movie for me.
The final nail in the coffin for Fury Road comes from the action scenes themselves. As stated earlier, they are exceptionally produced. There are just too many of them with no real breaks in between. Fury Road started with the gas pedal floored and only let up, briefly, to change to a higher gear. The movie is, for all intents and purposes, a two and a half hour long car chase. By the climax of the movie where I should have been on the edge of my seat, the over-abundance of explosions and spectacular car wrecks had me yawning. Far too much emphasis is placed on the action and not nearly enough on the story and character development. In the end, I just didn’t care if the characters lived or died.
The movies opens with Max running from the War Boys. After a short chase, Max is captured and dragged back to Joe’s Citadel to be used as a “blood bag” for one of the War Boys, Nux. It is clear that the War Boys are all very sick. They are all ghostly pale and some are shown to have growths that appear to be tumors. The audience is only given a suggestion that the sickness is a form of radiation poisoning. It is also clear that the War Boys are a cult. They blindly follow Immortan Joe and will do anything he asks, without question.
After the War Boys are done dealing with Max, the focus of the film changes to a scene of Furiosa leading an armored convoy out on a run to get “guzzeleen.” She is driving a War Wagon that is pulling two trailers with which – supposedly - to transport the guzzeleen back to the Citadel. The tractor of the War Wagon has two engines with blowers sticking out of the hood (more on this later), and is an imposing rig. Halfway to “Gas Town” Furiosa makes a hard left into the desert. As she is the leader of this caravan, all of the support vehicles follow.
Back at the Citadel, the forces of Immortan Joe watch the caravan through high powered binoculars. They notice that the War Wagon has made an unplanned detour and alert their leader. Immortan Joe realizes that something is up. Sure enough, his five wives are missing. Immortan Joe takes about two seconds to figure out that his wives are on the War Wagon. He then sends all of the War Boys out to recover his wives. Nux is one of the War Boys that would normally be a part of any pursuit, but he is in the middle of getting a transfusion from his blood bag Max. Rather than miss out on the opportunity to drive, Nux orders that the blood bag be chained to the front of his pursuit vehicle. This way Nux can continue his transfusion and also pursue Furiosa.
This is the first what-the-heck moment. There are dozens of War Boys shown, there is no reason given for why Nux is so special. He is so weak that he can barely stand. If the intent of the War Boys is to engage the caravan in a battle and recover their assets, Nux is in no condition to participate. Yet he does.
As the War Boys are departing to engage Furiosa, signals are also being sent to Gas Town and the Bullet Farm. Both strongholds send pursuit parties to assist in hunting down the War Wagon, Furiosa, and Immortan Joe’s wives. Immortan Joe himself leads the War Boys out of the Citadel.
A violent car chase / destruction derby ensues with Furiosa escaping only by driving the War Wagon into a massive sand storm that scatters the pursuers. All but one – Nux tries to ram the War Wagon to disable it, attempting to sacrifice himself in order to stop the larger vehicle. He fails and crashes.
This series shows that Nux believes that dying in the service of Immortan Joe will grant him a glorious afterlife in Valhalla. Other scenes within the chase indicate that all of the War Boys share this belief system. This is another major what-the-heck moment for me. Valhalla is a Norse belief of the afterlife. Norse – as in Vikings. How in the world does a Norse belief system become incorporated into a post-apocalyptic Australia? It just doesn’t connect. Each time Valhalla is mentioned it scratches the part of my brain that questions the improbable association.
After the storm Max wakes up in the desert mostly covered by sand. He is still chained – through the window of the chase car to an unconscious Nux. Max removes the door and drags it, and an unconscious Nux towards the War Wagon that has stopped not far away. There, he surprises Furiosa and the five wives. He has them cut his chain with a convenient set of bolt cutters and then tries to steal the War Wagon. He doesn’t get far before the booby trapped engines quit. Furiosa and the wives catch up and point out the pursuers are coming once again. Max reluctantly agrees to work together with Furiosa so they can all escape.
As the War Wagon pulls away, Nux awakes and is picked up by the pursuers, so he can continue chasing Furiosa. Immortan Joe praises him and affords Nux the privilege of riding in his personal chase car.
The chase resumes with Furiosa making for a series of canyons controlled by a biker gang. She explains to Max that she has brokered safe passage in exchange for a trailer full of guzzeleen that she is towing behind. Furiosa and Max beat the pursuing to the choke point in the canyon, but not by much. When the pursuers get too close, the bikers controlling the canyon attack. The attack happens before Furiosa can close the deal so she blows the tank of guzzeleen to cover their escape. The bikers also blow up a pile of rocks to seal the way in and Furiosa drives the War Wagon on. Immortan Joe is able to navigate the pile of rocks in a monster truck and continues the pursuit.
In the subsequent chase, one of Immortan Joe’s pregnant wives is killed and the monster truck is wrecked. Nux finds himself on the back of the War Wagon trailer as the group makes their escape. For some reason – yup, another what-the-heck moment – Nux does not attack but rather, he hunkers down in the back of the trailer. When he is later discovered by one of the wives, he just cuddles up with her and does nothing.
Next comes one of the few slow sections of the movie as the group in the war wagon distance themselves from the pursuers. The dialog in the War Wagon cab is when we get to learn why Furiosa is running and the significance of the five wives.
This is also where we find another what-the-heck moment. Furiosa reveals that this is the fifth time she has tried to escape. One of the escape attempts resulted in her left arm being chopped off. If Furiosa is so intent on leaving the citadel, why in the world would she be put in control of a group of vehicles that would make it easier to escape? This is exactly the situation that Furiosa finds herself in. No explanation is given for why Furiosa has such status within the citadel, or why she is leading the supply run.
The group travels on through the day and into the night. As the daylight wanes, the terrain gradually changes into a vast swamp. Both the War Wagon and the pursuing vehicles get stuck in the mud. Under the cover of darkness, Max slips off to slow the pursuers down. He returns covered in blood, carrying guns and ammo. The implication is that he ambushed and killed the pursuers. In an ironic and symbolic scene, Max opens the valves to one of the tanks and uses the mothers’ milk that pours out to wash the blood from his face.
After freeing the war wagon, the group travels through the night and into the next day. They come across a naked woman on a tower. Furiosa seems to know the woman and boldly walks into what is obviously a trap. It turns out that the naked woman was indeed bait for a trap, but she is also a relative of Furiosa. Her group recognizes Furiosa and welcome her, and the group to their family. She reveals that the swamp the group passed through earlier was the “Green Place” Furiosa was escaping towards in the first place. The new, larger’ group decides to set out across the vast salt flats (former ocean?) to look for more hospitable land.
Max, with the help of the hallucination of a child he failed to save, convinces the group to double back to the citadel rather than strike out for the unknown. What-the-heck?!? Furiosa’s group has spent the last three days running from, and fighting, the combined forces of Immortan Joe, the Bullet Farm and Gas Town. Now they want to run straight into the jaws of the pursuers? Even though Max explains that the known is better than the unknown and that most of Immortan Joe’s followers are in the pursuing group, the course of action just doesn’t make any sense. You have likely already guessed what they do, they turn around.
On the run back towards the climatic showdown with the forces of Immortan Joe the biggest what-the-heck yet, occurred to me. The War Wagon has two engines topped by blowers. A single V8 engine equipped with a blower, that is working moderately hard, will only get around 1-2 miles to the gallon. The wagon has already run 2-1/2 days straight and a good portion of that time was spent running flat out. Some quick math indicates that the engines on the War Wagon should have consumed approximately 6,000 gallons of fuel.
The trailer being towed by the War Wagon tractor is not entirely tank. A portion of the trailer has been converted so the Wives and their possessions could be smuggled out of the Citadel. Basically, with a portion of the trailer reconfigured for passengers, the tanker trailer could only possibly hold approximately 7,600 gallons. However, earlier in the film we were shown that at least one of the tank compartments in the trailer hold water, and another holds mothers’ milk – for trade to Gas Town. That leaves only 3,800 gallons of storage for fuel. In Movie time, the War Wagon should have been out of fuel a day and a half ago.
This what-the-heck may have bothered me the most. The entire premise for the franchise is a scarcity of fuel. Wars have been fought and the world as we know it has been sacrificed in the fight for fossil fuel. Conveniently ignoring this foundation of all of the Mad Max movies just struck me as wrong.
In the final showdown with Immortan Joe, Nux flip-flops once again and joins with the pursuing forces to try and stop the War Wagon. Really? At least he successfully commits suicide this time so we don’t have to suffer any more of his hypocrisy. During the chase / fight, the group in the War Wagon manages to kill Immortan Joe, and hang onto his body as a gruesome trophy. Finally, the group blocks the passage through the canyon to stop any of the remaining pursuers from catching them. Furiosa, Max, the remaining wives and the rest of Furiosa’s family make it back to the Citadel and, once they reveal the dead body of the former leader, are welcomed as heroes.
Max walks off into the crowd.
I was looking forward to this movie. I remember the original Mad Max films and was eager to see how modern effects could improve the telling. The effects were all I could hope for. The acting and cinematography were also top notch. The plot and writing were terrible. With 30 years to come up with a reasonable plot, the writers and film makers failed miserably. As I stated above, I can tolerate one or two moments where I am taken out of the suspension of reality for the film. Fury road took me out of the film over and over again.
There was a lot of hype around this new Mad Max film. The Hype filled a lot of seats in theaters and made the movie lots of money. All indications are that there will be more Mad Max movies in our future. Unless there is a major change in the way the next Mad Max movie is produced, count me out.
About Brian Hill
Brian Hill is a home theater enthusiast who has an extensive background in sales. His interests include music & movies, F1 & NASCAR auto racing, hot rods (he has a '56 Nomad) and hockey — Go Sharks!
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