May 16, 2015 by Hope W.
In the words of one of the numerous reviewers raving over Mad Max: Fury Road: “See. That. Damn. Movie.”
This is a movie that I knew was a gem on our hands, from its first rapturous reception by the fanboys last Comic-Con, and then by the subsequent, increasingly bonkers trailers that had the internet in transports of delight each time a new one came out.
Thing is, I didn’t know how we could make use of that fact, since it also looked too deranged for mainstream tastes. Mad Max in its first iteration with Mel Gibson as Max Rockatansky (in the role that shot him to fame almost 40 years ago) may have a very rabid and select fanbase of motorheads and film enthusiasts in the US, but I didn’t know if Singaporeans knew of the first Mad Max trilogy, or if local cinemas even showed the films when they came out way back then. I myself have never watched the previous films, nor had I ever had the interest to, so watching the internet’s response to each new trailer just had me amused and befuddled. I was always of the mindset that it wasn’t going to be my kind of thing, since I don’t usually go for such testosterone-filled, and more importantly, psycho-looking movies. (Car chases! Explosions! Unbelievable stunts! Crazy people!) But I did want to watch it, because of all the hype surrounding it. I was curious to see what kind of movie could actually be delivered from the promises of these trailers.
And then I watched the film.
Words cannot describe how much I LOVE this film. (Though I’m going to make an attempt anyway.) I adore it so much that, like a proud mama, I’m reveling in all the freaking amazing reviews (98% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes with 210 reviews! It was an astounding 99% until four turds thought otherwise) and hoarding each overwhelmingly positive reaction like jewels for my baby.
Even now while writing this review, I’m listening to the EPIC soundtrack and remembering why I love the movie so much. You are not going to find a cooler, crazier, and more “alternative” blockbuster than Mad Max: Fury Road this year. If Avengers: Age of Ultron and Jurassic World are the jocks of this summer, Mad Max is the kid who’s always high in the coolest rock band in school.
Here’s the gist of the story: Max Rockatansky is a lone warrior haunted by his demons in this post-apocalyptic desert wasteland which is ruled by gangs of ravagers, and where oil and water are in shortage. He’s captured by a savage warlord, Immortan Joe, whose right-hand woman and one of his most respected Imperators (drivers of his most powerful trucks), Furiosa, stole his five wives and escaped in a War Rig on a supply run to Gastown. Immortan Joe and his War Boys pursue them in a convoy full of the baddest, jacked-up, modified cars, and Max is unwillingly brought along as a “blood bag” for one of the War Boys, Nux (Nicholas Hoult). Max and Nux are separated from Immortan Joe’s gang when they encounter a sandstorm. Afterwards, Max crosses paths with Furiosa and the Five Wives, and is forced to band with them to survive.
The movie is essentially one very long vehicle chase, with anxious interludes when our heroes get to “rest”, or at least stop the War Rig, while Immortan Joe and his War Boys are catching up. But it’s like no car chase you’ve ever seen before. This was a very physical movie for everyone involved, with all the stunts being done for real and no CGI trickery, according to the filmmakers (though it’s more likely only most stunts, as I refuse to believe that much of the sandstorm scene was real, though it is gorgeous). So when you think about that while watching all the action scenes, it’s absolutely mind-blowing.
In this world, Immortan Joe is like a cult leader, and the War Boys are his fanatics, hoping to go to some sort of chrome Valhalla when they die for him. Once you get that, the craziness actually makes sense. (Yeah, oxymoron.) To further illustrate that, the War Boys have a rocker called the Doof Warrior with a flame-throwing guitar that strums the beat to which the War Boys ride. Seriously. His truck, or the Doof Wagon as it’s called, is outfitted with amplifiers and drummers and he’s suspended on some sort of bungee thing so he can jump around like he’s in a rock concert. It’s freaking insane, and I don’t know how they filmed that at all. The movie also has plenty of ugly, fat old men with gross piercings and disgusting diseases. It feels like it should an M18 movie, but it eventually got an NC16 rating because it isn’t actually very gory, though violent, and has almost no nudity.
Even with all these weirdo elements, and a bazillion stunts and explosions, Fury Road is actually a feminist movie, disguised as a macho movie of the highest order, that men’s rights activists are up in arms and asking men to boycott the movie, because these people are misogynistic nuts (but now is not the time to debate this). Max may be in the title, but he’s more like a bystander forced by circumstances to go along on Furiosa’s journey. And Charlize Theron is SOOOO BADASS as Furiosa, you’re just in awe as she steals the show from Tom Hardy. I read that Charlize Theron lobbied for the role when she read the script, and I didn’t understand why before, but I do now. Tom is still plenty cool himself, but you kind of forget that at first because he’s a prisoner, and he’s grubby and muzzled for the first 30 minutes of the movie. And then he takes off his mask, and you’re taken aback when you remember that he is really hot. He barely talks, so his actions shine through more, and this gives his character a very manly cool.
But the Five Wives aren’t weeping damsels in distress either: they are fairly strong characters in themselves. Rosie Huntington-Whiteley is the Splendid Angharad, the leader of the Wives, and she is surprisingly good in what is only her second feature film role. (Her first is as Megan Fox’s terrible replacement in Transformers: Dark of the Moon, hence my surprise.)
And the film isn’t non-stop action, which is good because that would be exhausting to watch. The first half of the movie is so frenetic that it feels like you’re tripping on acid — I’m pretty sure my jaw was hanging open for most of it. And then comes a slow part where you’re floating dreamily on weed. In the third act, the movie is back on the hard drugs, but it also feels more grounded, because they have a clear purpose now, besides fleeing.
Some nitpicky reviewers say there isn’t much of a plot, or character development. Um, yes, there is. You want plot? The characters escape in search of a better place, only to find out that that place doesn’t exist anymore, and so they turn back to the great place they came from and kill the evil people who made it a horrible place to live in. You want character development? Furiosa looks for revenge and both she and Max want redemption. And they get it, in the process developing from mistrustful allies to intuitive partners who understand each other. Nux the War Boy becomes a real boy too, after being brainwashed his whole life. You want food for thought? The film poses the question: “Who killed the world?” You want to analyse the film even deeper? The lead female character is the star of the show, and she only has one arm. Her other arm is replaced by a mechanical arm. Bam, feminist, disability and cyborg studies for you! The Five Wives are escaping from sexual slavery! I’m sure there are things to discuss about that!
AND THE SCORE. It alternates between hard rock and heart-pounding screeching, and melancholic sections; I get chills listening to it even now as I recall the epic scenes they underscored.
Seriously, this film! I don’t usually get so impassioned about a movie, but when I do, I defend it to the death. It feels very different, the way 300 did when everyone first saw it in 2007. I’ve never seen anything like that at all. It surprised me at how AWESOME it turned out to be, and for that, I am in love with it. If I can compare movies to children, the Avengers would be like my favourite kid who can do no wrong, and Mad Max is the kid that I’m bewildered by, and have no idea why he likes the thing he likes, but he just won a super championship in the thing I don’t understand why he likes, and I’m really proud of him anyway.
Still, with a US$150 million price tag, it is a very expensive gamble for Warner Bros, especially for a sequel to a franchise that most of the younger generation hasn’t heard of. I hope it earns it all back and much more. It probably still is too crazy for mainstream audiences, despite all the fervent stamps of approval it’s gotten, so I’m resigned to the fact that it will be beaten by Pitch Perfect 2, which opened on the same day, since most people have heard of that first movie at least and it is more to “mainstream” tastes. But Fury Road is unquestionably the much better movie. You CANNOT miss a masterpiece like that. Cannot.