Mad Max: Fury Road
Knowing nothing about the original Mad Max movies beyond basic pop cultural osmosis, I went in for a night out with friends and a solidly crafted two hours of Things Go Splode in the Desert. I ended up blown back in my seat and spouting incomprehensible praise for, as I quote myself, the most metal shit I have ever seen. A full throttle rampage through a junkyard wasteland of skulls and rust and chrome. A straight up action flick reveling in its nature while flipping a rocket-powered bird at tired genre conventions. A heavy metal symphony with a human heart.
Fury Road is a master class in rhythm. Tightly written scenes flow within themselves and together, maintaining a well-tuned pace and a sense of motion even throughout the quieter sequences. The mayhem of warfare becomes balletic, choreographed to the grungy symphonic drive of its soundtrack. Crashes and explosions syncopate against leaping bikers and literal metronomes, warriors balanced high on swaying poles.
There’s an engaging weight to this spectacle, especially since most of the action is real. The effects are mainly practical, reliant on functional props – from the vehicles borne of scavenged parts to the flamethrowing guitar performed by an actual musician on a truck made of working amps. Which, keeping with that perfect blend of grit and absurdity, is a plausible electronic war horn.
This bombast is balanced with refreshing subtlety, depth, and restraint. Characters show human desires and motivations through sharp dialog and engaging screen presence, demonstrating unique personality beyond archetypal role. Plot and motives are elegantly revealed without overexplanation, as is the worldbuilding, which gives a sense of consideration and structure far beyond the glimpses required to tell the story. The motif of bodies as resource adds structure as well. There is violence aplenty, but little gore – the most gruesome details are implied offscreen. Themes of sexual slavery are also judiciously handled, leaving much as background information and keeping visuals to a minimum. Instead of rationalizing graphic displays of rape and exploitation as necessary to its plot, Fury Road proves that they aren’t. It does delve back into the overt to underscore this point with the escaping sister wives’ last message to their captor – WE ARE NOT THINGS.
Indeed, Fury Road is a tale of women’s agency. Imperator Furiosa – a mechanically brilliant battle-forged hardass with a raw and regretful core – is the true lead, with Mad Max costarring as collaborator. The sister wives aid the group in their own individual ways, as do a tribe of female bikers. Fury Road is also a tale of trust building, collaboration, and redemption, with literal seeds of hope – an optimistic light in an otherwise relentlessly bleak world.
Fury Road does play its genre conventions straight with a simple plot and clear foreshadowing. This is a good thing. The intrigue is not in the if, but in the when and how – in being taken for a ride that has you gleefully yelling out the window the whole time.