Movies You Gotta See
Mad Max: Fury Road is a miracle in filmmaking
By Jalen Maki
Every so often, a movie comes out and feels like an unparalleled achievement in some regard. Maybe it’s a career-defining performance, or a brilliantly-written screenplay, or a deeply evocative score. Even less frequently, a film itself is both conceived and executed on a level that is simply above and beyond its predecessors.
One of those rare gems is Mad Max: Fury Road.
Released in 2015, Mad Max: Fury Road was directed and co-written by George Miller and stars Tom Hardy and Charlize Theron. The film is the fourth entry in Miller’s Mad Max franchise, marking his return to the series 30 years after 1985’s Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome.
I am aware that to those unfamiliar with Fury Road, the following description is going to sound insane. Despite this, please trust me when I say this movie might rock harder than any made before or after it.
Fury Road opens with loner and former cop Max Rockatansky (Hardy, in a role played by Mel Gibson back in the day), who is trying to survive in a post-apocalyptic desert hellscape while being tormented by recurring visions of people lost on his watch. After being captured by War Boys under the leadership of warlord Immortan Joe, he’s brought to the Citadel, where he’s used as a “bloodbag” for Nux, who, like all his fellow War Boys, is slowly dying of a blood-borne disease. Joe’s led the War Boys to believe that if they serve him bravely, they’ll be rewarded in the afterlife; in return, the brainwashed zealots do Joe’s bidding without question or remorse.
While Max is having one of the Worst Times Imaginable with Nux and the gang, Imperator Furiosa (Theron), an underling of Immortan Joe, is gearing up to drive the War Rig – a big, awesome armored semi-truck monstrosity – at the head of a party tasked with trading produce grown at the Citadel for fuel and ammunition. Unbeknownst to Immortan Joe, Furiosa has a plan: instead of bartering with Joe’s allies, the People Eater (a weirdly aggressive name for a Fuel Guy) and the Bullet Farmer (a top-notch name for an Ammunition Guy), she’s blowing the popsicle stand that is the Citadel and making a run for the Green Place, the paradise where she was born. This in itself would probably be pretty annoying for Joe, considering a top lieutenant committed grand theft auto with his War Rig and bailed, but it’s something that he could reasonably recover from. But, Furiosa’s not alone; she’s also helping Joe’s five wives (yes, you read that correctly) escape from his control. His spouses running out on him is simply beyond the pale, so Joe and an army of War Boys in truly bonkers vehicles set out in pursuit of Furiosa and company across the desert. Nux joins the chase with his bloodbag Max in tow, but rather than being buckled into the shotgun seat like a normal passenger, Max is instead strapped onto the front of the car, a situation that’d likely be frowned upon by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
That’s pretty much the entire setup of the movie. What follows is about an hour and 45 minutes of some of the most staggering, masterfully pulled off chase-and-fight sequences ever put to film. You’ve got pretty much everything you could want in this type of action movie: people shooting guns while climbing in and out of moving cars decked out with ridiculous armor, weird exploding spears thrown at said vehicles, motorcycles flying around all over the dang place, a guy playing a double-neck guitar in front of a colossal wall of speakers (because what’s a road trip without some tunes?) and most importantly, Furiosa, Max (who eventually escapes from Nux), and the wives cruising in the War Rig, just completely wrecking shop.
There’s a pretty easy case to be made that the Marvel Cinematic Universe has ushered in an era where movies are increasingly reliant on computer-generated effects. CGI can be a tremendous tool in a filmmaker’s toolbox and can be downright astounding when used well (the Avatar movies rule, folks), but recent CGI-driven films have felt lacking in soul, particularly those under the MCU umbrella. There’s a similar quandary in music: the choice between using a drum machine or a having a person play a real drum kit, and the pros and cons associated with each. You can achieve flawlessness with a computer program – perfectly syncopated notes exactly on tempo – but it’s the human element that brings the heart. While truly impressive feats can be accomplished using modern technology, and the possibilities it unlocks are almost limitless, I’d rather hear a live drummer speed up a little during the chorus or watch a real car be blown to smithereens.
In this regard – actually doing absurdly cool stuff in real life rather than just creating said cool stuff with CGI – Mad Max: Fury Road is simply a miracle in filmmaking. While Fury Road does indeed take advantage of computer-generated imagery, its utilization of practical effects is nothing short of breathtaking. The film’s tactility – the assortment of vehicles, the car parts and scraps of metal sent airborne, the explosions, the fire, the smoke, the sand, the dust – further immerses the viewer in the out-of-control dystopian wasteland it’s depicting. Every mammoth set piece or mind-boggling stunt makes you feel like you’ve watched a truly ridiculous thing that really happened … because you did! The combination of the film’s tangible nature with its pedal-to-the-metal intensity, brought to the forefront by lights-out camera work and sound design, is unrivaled. Within the action movie landscape, Mad Max: Fury Road sits atop the class, and is yet to be supplanted.
While the technical mastery in the filmmaking is utterly unbelievable, the storytelling is genuinely compelling. An ingenious thing about Fury Road, and another reason why it stands tall among its counterparts in the action genre, is that despite how straight-up weird the movie is on the whole, it’s still remarkably easy to get swept up in its story and empathize with its characters. This isn’t a simple task for any type of film, let alone one like Fury Road, where you’re pretty much dropped directly into the middle of a unique plot set in a strange world and expected to get your bearings quickly before the sand and bullets start flying. Fury Road doesn’t hold your hand; it trusts that its audience will buy in completely, and it rewards those who do with an incomparable viewing experience. And even if you don’t let Mad Max: Fury Road truly enfold you … well, you’ll still have watched one of the greatest action films ever made. And what a lovely day it will have been. What a lovely, lovely day.
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