In almost all cases, I prefer to ruminate on a film before I sit down and try to attempt any manner of critique or discussion. In honor of George Miller’s rule-breaking little film Mad Max: Fury Road, however, I’ve decided to break my self-imposed rules and offer some initial thoughts on the film, straight from my very first viewing (the credits have just finished, as we speak). Keep in mind that, as with any and everything on The VHS Graveyard, these are the thoughts of a very stubborn and obnoxious individual and should, of course, be taken with the utmost caution. In that spirit, then: my initial thoughts:
— There is no better paced action film this year than Fury Road. After thirty minutes of break-neck, ceaseless action, Miller takes a little breath…before going into the next half hour of ceaseless action. It’s the same concept behind the best songs: build to epic proportions…wait…and then…slam the guitar solo in your face. Fury Road is the Pixies song of action films.
— Isn’t it about goddamn time we had an action film that not only featured a kickass female lead but an overtly female focus? This isn’t simply the case of having CT whip ass from one sandstorm to the next (more on that later): this is the case of having a film in a traditionally misogynist genre (I can rib cuz I love) where the female characters are not only not helpless damsels in distress but are active participants in their own salvations. This, friends and neighbors, is not the status quo.
— And while we’re talking about kickass heroes…holy shit…did ya get a load of Furiosa? Effortlessly, casually, leisurely amazing (her quick fix with the wrench is poetry), Theron’s Furiosa is, without a doubt, an iconic character, easily in league with a genre mainstay like Lt. Ripley. It’s tempting to call Hardy the lead, simply because he’s got his name in the title, but take a look at who really moves the machine.
— And what about Hardy? I’ll admit: I’ve never been bonkers on the guy, although I’ve enjoyed him from time to time. Here, his Eastwood (but mumblier) routine is so good it hurts. Or looks like it does, at least. As a total geek for the original trio, it was always gonna be hard to replace Gibson in my head: with Fury Road, Hardy went a long way towards showing me my fears were unfounded. Max Rockatansky: thy name…just might be Tom Hardy, after all!
— The world-building in this is simply stunning. And I mean that in an age where that particular term has probably lost a lot of luster: the world-building is stunning. This isn’t some half-assed “five years in the future,” people in a white office, funny lights on the wall kinda bullshit…this is the real McCoy, Jack! This is the kind of fully immersive world that lets you leave your questions at the door and just live it: there’s so much getting thrown at the screen, at any given point, that’s all but impossible to pick up the details on one viewing (says the guy who’s only seen it once). The fact that there are no easy answers only makes it that more mysterious, leading us into our next point…
— There are no hands held here and no desire, whatsoever, to dumb the film down to fit a modern aesthetic. Need an info dump to keep up? Stay confused, sunshine. Need a preexisting set of characters in order to feel safe within the chaos of a complicated storyline? Don’t let the door hit ya where the good Lord split ya. Unlike pretty much every superhero, comic book, fantasy or sci-fi film in recent memory, Miller’s Fury Road doesn’t see fit to hammer audiences with all the pertinent backstory, minutiae, repetitive details and tedious A-B bullshit that they think they need: Miller knows that the film stands on its own and he’s more than happy to let audiences come to it that way or not at all.
The film starts in high gear and only ratchets up from there: any breaks in the action aren’t to allow for needless information downloads (so-and-so is the so-and-so of so-and-so so blah di blah) so much as to give audiences a chance to take a breath and relax for a beat. Same basic idea behind roller-coasters. Most importantly, let Miller be the shot across the bow in a new war on information: audiences don’t have to know every single aspect of a film. Once upon a time, we were allowed to use our imaginations to supplement what we saw: Miller is giving us the greatest gift of all by giving that back to us. We’d be fools not to take it with open arms.
— The effects and actions sequences in Fury Road are so astounding that Miller just throws away sequences that would be centerpieces in other films. It’s like a car maker saying, “Well, it’s a Stingray but it’s not a Rolls Royce…toss it on the scrap heap.”
— Immortan Joe is a great villain but never really gets the chance to be a truly despicable one, ala Toecutter in the first film. I’m not saying he’s not one totally cool dude, mind you, but I have a feeling the most interesting part of Joe’s tale happened just prior to this film.
— There’s a lot of sensory overload in the film but that axe-rockin’ mutant dude is always gonna be a highlight. That’s what I see whenever I headbang to Maiden.
— This film manages to (inadvertently) make a better version of Dune than the actual film.
— The “blue swamp” scenes (capped by that bit that stomps Sin City into mush) are pretty damn amazing.
— I spent the entire two hours on the edge of my seat. That’s actually a lie: I spend a fair portion of the time standing up, as well.
— In a very full, very rich year of genre cinema, Mad Max: Fury Road still manages to effortlessly rise to the top of the pack. Is it the best film I’ve seen this year? I believe it is. With a week to go, will The Revanant and Hateful Eight top it? To be honest, I’m not sure. They don’t make movies like Fury Road any more. Well, actually, someone does. His name is George Miller and I think he just sent everybody back to square one.