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What makes Mad Max: Fury Road an important film?

Mad Max: Fury Road is George Miller’s bodacious spectacle. Though its visuals and deranged characters may be wild and complex, Mad Max: Fury Road is still a wonderfully simple bit of storytelling. The plot is only instigated after Charlize Theron’s Imperator Furiosa decides to turn left, and then it’s just a two-hour live action version of Catch The Pigeon. Tom Hardy plays Max Rockatansky himself, the former interceptor lawman and petrolhead of the original movies, driven to extreme measures by the murder of his wife and child. This film does not appear to run sequentially from the previous trilogy; it’s more a general reimagining of the first, or the overall raddled mood-scape of all three. Mad Max: Fury Road premiered to an avalanche of praise, with an astonishingly high Rotten Tomatoes score, an even higher IMDB score (it’s already at #23!), and nigh unanimous praise from everyone from The New Yorker to The Hollywood Reporter. Many people also noted the film’s feminism and the environmental themes.

Mad Max introduces himself as the “one who runs from both the living and the dead.” He is a man reduced to a single instinct, which is survival. If that means eating live lizards for breakfast, so be it. Max is here a lone wolf, a survivor of the vaguely delineated global catastrophe that has made oil, water and bullets rare commodities thereabouts, and he is tormented by flashback memories of the child he couldn’t save.

In that ride, though, we’re brought up to speed with Imperator, Max, Nux, Immortan Joe and the five wives’ ambitions and desires – all helping movie-goers engage with the film on a deeper level and appreciate what’s going on. Each performer keeps their character both mysterious and relatable, and the increasingly bodacious action scenes are heightened because our uncomplicated rapport with them. It’s very simple storytelling that it outfitted with outlandish design, and the end result is beautiful and, in a word, mad.

The previous Mad Max installment was released all the way back in 1985, while Miller’s recent successes had only come in the animation genre. Plus it was R-rated, was shot in the Namibia desert, and took over two and half years to edit together. All of this possibly should have given the folks at Warner Bros. pause about funding the film, but they continued to throw money behind it, and Miller’s full vision is up on the screen. George Miller was given $150 million to create Mad Max: Fury Road, and it still boggles the mind that Warner Bros. actually entrusted him with so much money to create his sensational garish blockbuster that is completely unlike its peers. Given how many reports we hear about studio meddling, kudos must be given for allowing the writer/director space to create Mad Max: Fury Road, and one could argue that it bodes very well for their work on the DC catalog.

Action films in this genre are often “all sizzle but no steak,” that is, entertaining but fairly weak overall (e.g. most of the recent superhero films, Transformers series, Fast & Furious series, etc.). Mad Max on the other hand, explodes with energy and yet has a surprising depth to its narrative. Critics agree: the movie scored a whopping 98% on Rotten Tomatoes. In his review, writer Anthony Lane called the film “wild and unrelenting, but also possessing outlandish poetry, laced with hints of humor that rises to the surface when the world is all churned up.”

Back in 1981, George Miller’s Mad Max: The Road Warrior did a spectacular job building upon the world created in its lower budget 1979 predecessor, Mad Max. The same could even be said for 1985’s Beyond Thunderdome, which, despite its many, many foibles, had moments of rich storytelling and legitimately showed a different side of post-apocalyptic society. It’s truly in the tradition of this series for each sequel to add something more to the legend of the titular character, and the most recent chapter is no exception.

Taking what was seen before to extreme new levels, Mad Max: Fury Road built upon George Miller’s efforts in a more visceral and pulsating fashion, while it both semi-rebooted the character and alluded to Mad Max’s mythos. It also did all of this while taking advantage of technological advancements in cinema, which made it look slick, poetic, and luscious.

Most modern mainstream directors try to make their characters and heroes as realistic and human as possible, but with Mad Max: Fury Road George Miller threw this approach out of the window and let it get trampled by Immortan Joe’s war party. Not only are the film’s characters wonderfully over the top and exaggerated, but their actions, interactions, and fashion are all delightfully distinctive and spectacular too. It all matches with the unbelievable and brilliant aesthetic that the filmmaker created more than 30 years ago, and it all pops thanks to truly amazing cinematography and terrifically bright and unique palette.

In what other film/world are you going to see a cavalcade of oddly shaped weirdoes wasting water in their barren world while guzzling up fuel despite there being a shortage? And, of course, all of this is soundtracked by a deranged guitarist with fire sprouting out of his instrument!

Unlike other action films with weaker plots, Max’s stories hook you from the beginning and never let’s go. It feels a bit like watching a brilliant graphic novel. It was just a really compelling story, from beginning to end.

Charlize Theron and Tom Hardy command the screen in this nitro-injected juggernaut of a film. On screen, the pair gradually overcome their distrust – and initial urge to kill one another – to form a tentative alliance, which slowly develops into a friendship.

The most effective way to talk about just how revolutionary this film is go through the various character arcs, beginning with “The Wives.” They’ve been crammed into a tiny, hot, waterless space under a tanker truck in order to escape their rapist. At least two of them are pregnant with their rapist’s babies. They’re not a “pampered harem”–they’re prisoners, who are risking their lives to escape sexual slavery and give their children a different life.

Charlize Theron proved she had considerable acting chops on Monster, and has been the saving grace for all sorts of so-so movies, but as Furiosa, Charlize is a heroine unlike any we’ve witnessed. She is an amputee, whose post-apocalyptic gadget prosthetic ends up being the demise of the villain. She deliberately androgynizes herself, flattening her chest and donning a black, greased forehead like the other imperators. But make no mistake, Furiosa is high-octane female. One of her best moments, in her attempt to rescue Immortan Joe’s wives or “prized breeders” from the Citadel, is when she pulls the trigger on Max’s chin, not hesitating for a second to kill he who stands in her way. She is not without fear, as is clear from the terrified look of resolve we first see when she veers her war-rig off-road, but she uses that fear of failure to propel her onwards. Furiosa has more guts and bigger balls than all of the male characters combined. Her quest for “redemption” goes hand in hand with the fact that she appears to be Immortan Joe’s only female Imperator, a story that will hopefully be explained by Vertigo’s prelude comics (Furiosa #1 is out on 06/17).

In Fury Road, Max gets to narrate his own story for the first time, and he chooses to help the women in the end. His name is taken away again, but this time he doesn’t even rate “Raggedy Man” or “The Man with No Name”–he is reduced to his function, and called “Blood Bag.” He refuses to give Furiosa his name when she asks for it. So she calls him “Fool.” After they make it to the Vuvalini, Furiosa gives him a bike and precious supplies that she could have kept for herself, and tells him he’s welcome to come with them across the salt flats. The film is not a demystification of Max. The stations-of-the-cross aura that has often hovered around interpretations of his story is replaced here by a more detached and analytical surveying of circumstances—a surveying that yet manages to instill an authentic wonderment. In Tom Hardy’s performance—or, more properly, wholesale inhabitation—Max is made more mysterious than ever. It is at once a deeply and uncannily consistent portrayal and a fantastically technical performance with regard to details of gait and gesture. Max’s speech rhythms—his joking interruptions and persuasive self-deprecating feints and sudden bursts of angry contradiction—become the perceptible manifestation of how he manages to exercise his will in the face of every kind of human obstruction. His words seem to emerge from a silence that pervades all his outward actions, as if every time he spoke he were also measuring his distance from other people.

Finally, the last subversion comes in the definition of fertility. Immortan Joe believes that by forcing healthy young women to bear his children, he’ll re-populate the world with perfect children. He has women hooked up to machines to steal their milk, presumably for his own use, and that of his future children. Much as silent film used to be able to reach across cultures and languages, the director’s focus on action and emotion over dialogue and exposition allows us to experience the story in a direct, intimate way. The people who referred to this film as a “Trojan Horse” were completely correct—but Miller wasn’t smuggling feminist propaganda; he was disguising a story of healing as a fun summer blockbuster. By choosing to tell a story about how a bunch of traumatized, brainwashed, enslaved, objectified humans reclaim their lives as a balls-out feminist car chase epic with occasional moments of twisted humor, George Miller has subverted every single genre, and given us a story that will only gain resonance with time.

Already hailed as one of the greatest action films ever made, the film unquestionably looks like nothing that we’ve ever seen on the big screen before, and that element trickles down to the characterization and story and makes us really feel like we’re watching something special.

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