What follows is more of an analysis of Mad Max: Fury Road than a simple review and it is aimed more towards those who have already seen the movie and wish to talk about it in a bit more depth. However, everyone can read the article since it will only contain mild spoilers, but even if I were to spoil the story, I still can’t spoil the experience of it.
The awesome thing about Mad Max: Fury Road isn’t actually what happens in the plot, it’s much more about how things happen, why they happen and the very interesting characters that populate it.
Before I start digging deeper into George Miller’s masterpiece I must take a bit of time to mention the movie’s main characteristic: its exuberance.
And when I say that, I mean that the movie seems to be coming from a very childlike exuberance, especially when it comes to what we see happening on the screen: there’s dudes throwing explosive spears, there are cars on tank tracks, monster trucks, there’s a car with an excavator on it and there’s even a dude with a wall of speakers behind him playing an electric guitar that is also a flamethrower, and those are just some of the highlights. So you see, what I mean when I say that all of these elements reflect a joyous, exuberance I’m glad to see can still exist even at 70 years of age.
Immortan Joe’s society
The villain of the movie, Immortan Joe, is a survivor of the irradiated desert, his body filled with radiation wounds and incapable of breathing on his own. He is being held alive thanks to a portable artificial lung and blood transfusions. His aged and obviously damaged body is clothed in a semi-transparent suit, which shows off a very well defined musculature that is obviously not there, so that those few people from outside his inner circle will see him as having a physically imposing presence.
Quite similar to the approaches of other autocrats throughout history, he projects a false and idealized image of himself for the purposes of propaganda.
In order to complete this cult of personality approach, George Miller also added in a religious aspect to Immortan Joe. Considering how his soldiers – or War Boys – talk, they’ve been indoctrinated to think that the more extraordinary their death is on the battlefield, the more they’re sure to be reborn in Valhalla.
So the cult of personality that Immortan Joe has cultivated for himself also has one foot very sturdily set into the concept of divinization as well.
Now let’s add to this the fact that he is the only one with access to clean water – which he occasionally and most inefficiently unloads over the ragged masses at the base of his rock headquarters, the image of a demigod prophet with power over both life as well as the after-life is complete.
The few scenes from within the Citadel – the aforementioned rock headquarters – show us the aftermath of living in a nuclear fallout wasteland. This is a time and place where medicine pretty much doesn’t exist for what is left of the masses, unless at a quasi-medieval level – we see mutants, amputees and people generally in a state of physical subsistence. What higher skills and academic knowledge do still exists are all under the autocrat’s control.
It should also be noted that Immortan Joe is the only “man” in this society, all the other males either being his direct offspring – calling them sons – or just boys, as in War Boys. All of this only adds to the cult of personality, the implied conclusion being that he and only he, is capable of leading, the others having to listen to what “papa Stalin” orders.
Looking at things from more of a general point of view, Immortan Joe’s society is a military-medieval one: there’s the use of the term “Imperator”, a term used during the Roman Empire which was initially the somewhat-equivalent to a commander, but later morphs into various other meanings – one has to keep in mind that Roman Emperors were considered to be gods, Immortan Joe lives in a Citadel, he has an army of soldiers who follow him blindly and consider him a sort of demi-god, or at least some kind of prophet, women are nothing more than property.
If we take away the fact that Mad Max: Fury Road is set in a post-apocaliptic wasteland and implies internal combustion engines, it could definitely spark off a new genre of sci-fi… I’ll call it medievalpunk.
Furiosa is the Wonder Woman we deserve
I’m extremely glad that Charlize Theron was cast to play Furiosa, I don’t know if other actresses would’ve been able to portray the character’s drive and physicality in such a credible manner. She manages to make Furiosa something much more than just a tough female character.
Charalize Theron creates a strong female character – not an exageration, an archetype nor a cliche – Furiosa is a character in the true sense of the word.
The comparison to Wonder Woman actually becomes even more poignant when you realize that Furiosa comes from a tribe that we are left to assume was made up of only women, and the last remaining representative ladies of that tribe are more than capable to not only survive in the post-apocalyptic desert, but also to kick huge amounts of ass.
At first sight Joe Immortan’s Wives might seem to be the movie’s McGuffin however, this is quite far from the truth.
They seem to be weak characters, due to the fact that they’re skinny and dressed in nothing more than white fabric, but each in turn will prove their strength, both character strength – when they’re willing to sacrifice themselves for the good of the others, and physical strength – it’s quite surprising what a woman who is about to give birth is capable of when her life is jeopardized.
It’s quite visible that, as they get farther and farther away from Immortan Joe’s influence and control – at a certain point they cut off their chastity belts (yet another medieval instrument) – the more they start to become characters unto themselves. So much so, that when they meet the very tough ladies from Furiosa’s tribe, there’s instant recognition and acceptance from the latter.
They don’t see the young girls as being helpless, instead they see them as a new beginning which has to be protected and which also needs time to mature – similarly to the plant seeds that one of the ladies carries in her bag.
Max suffers from a serious case of post-traumatic stress disorder, and this gives us some clues relating to his past and why he is in that spot when the movie starts. His PTSD proves to be quite problematic during the first part of the movie, but towards the end, it actually helps him stay alive. Therefore, we’re to understand that throughout the movie’s run-time Max managed to find some sort of inner peace.
Tom Hardy does a great job at portraying Max, being equal parts homage to the original as well as making the role his own. He wears the leather jacket with a shoulder guard – that has become iconic of the series and been used to reference it in a plethora of other media, the Fallout series of games being one of the many examples – the car is the same, he uses a double-barreled sawed off shotgun, everything is there to summon up the image of the original Max however, this Max gets something that he lacked in the original trilogy.
Hardy’s Mad Max has a serious motive in this movie, a motive beyond survival. Max is in search of redemption, and as such, his decisions are a result of it. They aren’t altruistic, and this is one thing that wasn’t very clearly illustrated during Mel Gibson’s tenure as Max.
Another interesting addition to the character that Fury Road brings, right from the get-go, is that Max’s blood type is O negative, making him an universal donor. This plays a major role in the first quarter of the movie, as well as later on, towards the movie’s ending. This might seem a bit weird, considering the type of society I described earlier… only it isn’t.
You see, Immortan Joe prefers to give his “boys” blood transfusions in order to hydrate them, instead of giving them the water that he so easily has access to. Limiting and withholding even his warriors from the life-giving properties of water, he only solidifies his status of prophet-leader.
The technical side of things
This is by far the most competently made Mad Max movie, although I do have to admit that, at least at the very beginning, when the number of frames per second is increased – maybe it’s a reference to the first movies but for me it looked goofy. Most likely because I’ve seen so much Benny Hill growing up, that it’s basically impossible for sped-up footage to not look goofy.
Otherwise, Fury Road is very well lit and features a saturated palette, a choice that some voiced concern over when the trailer was launched however, it proves to be a great addition to the footage since it adds very much to the atmosphere and setting of a redish desert landscape. During the daytime, everything is passed through a red filter, whilst during the night everything is very blue. Also, if you pay close attention, you’ll notice how the protagonists all seem to have a separate spark in their eyes which doesn’t seem to come from anywhere. At the same time, Immortan Joe and his men lack this spark.
Besides the incredibly dynamic action scenes, filled with explosions and wrecked cars, the soundtrack is something that has to be mentioned.
Immortan Joe rides into combat with a bunch of drummers in the background and one of the most extreme guitarists in moviemaking history: a guy with an electric guitar – which doubles as a flame thrower – who is suspended in an elastic harness, similar to those in Mad Max 3: Beyond Thunderdome. His name is, the Doof Warrior.
These two instruments form the backbone of the movie’s soundtrack which does a wonderful job at maintaining the momentum of the adrenaline-soaked atmosphere all throughout the movie’s run-time.
Going back to the explosions and flipped cars for a bit, I have to make sure to mention the fact that in those regards, everything that you’ll be seeing on the screen are practical effects, except of course the sand storm. All that insanity that you see on screen actually existed there, in front of the camera lens and the movie has only to gain from it.
My conclusion on Mad Max: Fury Road
Different people will be leaving with different things from Mad Max: Fury Road. On the one hand, it’s a true-to-form pedal-to-the-metal action movie – most of the movie is actually a glorified car chase, sprinkled with a bunch of explosions, on the other hand, it’s a layered cake of historical references, symbolism and a discourse on modern society.
And come to think of it, isn’t this the thing that science fiction and fantasy do best? Reflect reality in a warped mirror so that we can see ourselves a little bit better?