Friday, 10 July 2015

The Road Warrior on Fury Road - Maddening Max

You've seen Mad Max: Fury Road, right? If you haven't, stop whatever it is you're doing, hope a cinema near you is still playing it and go watch it. No, it's okay, I'll wait...

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------------------------- [2 mind-blowing hours later]

Absolutely amazing,right? Like just... so much... all the... it's just brilliant. Oh, it's no longer playing in cinemas? I am so sorry. No, sincerely sorry. Since Mad Max: Fury Road is simply one of the greatest action movies to have come out in the past decade, if not more. Easy. No real debate about it.

I said back in my article on how Wicked and Frozen are quite similar that I would gush about Fury Road at some point and the film gets so much right, that it's kinda hard to know where to begin.

Maybe with the old school style posters? Since awesome.
But then the modern style posters are great too.

I guess first and foremost, Mad Max: Fury Road is a visual spectacle of the highest order showcasing utterly superb visual storytelling. The dialogue is so limited and there is even less plot but that really doesn't matter when the film is saying so much with the visuals that you can tell everything about a character just by what's happening on screen.

The film is beautiful. Every shot is perfectly composed and the colours just pop with vibrancy and contrast with bright oranges and deep blues. Every frame is gorgeous to look at and feels alive with this kinetic energy due to the rich tones on display. Just look at the image below.

Look how clear and blue the sky is and how it contrasts with the yellow of the exhaust flames and the orange of the sand. 

And that's not even one of the more gorgeous images from the film, and there are some absolutely gorgeous images from the film, but just a standard tracking shot. However, that was the point I'm trying to make, even the standard shots or stills from this movie are great to look at due to the fantastic use of colour.

Now other movies are aware about the whole "use blue v. orange contrast thing" as this handy video about how every trailer last year looked the same, but where Mad Max: Fury Road gets this so right is that it doesn't neglect other colours for this weird blue saturated world with the occasional bright flash of orange that so many other movies do nowadays.

Look at the above image again, the other colours aren't sacrificed at the alter of blue and orange. The silver on the car and white on the drums (did you notice that truck in front has drummers on it?) are still shiny and clear. There are greys but they aren't that desaturated in an attempt to be gritty but bounce off the strong orange and blue. Oh, just for comparison, here's the front of that drum truck:

Oh snap. 

Twist reveal! I mean, it's only a twist reveal if you already didn't know about it but I guess you probably already do know since it is one of the more iconic images from the film and was kinda everywhere... But assuming you didn't know, it isn't a drum vehicle, it's a guitar dude vehicle! And second, holy shit, can you even comprehend the awesome insanity that is that image? Like really, just try to take it all in.

There is a guy in a gimp mask and red overalls dangling with suspenders attached to a wall of amplifiers on a truck playing a double headed guitar which is spitting out fire. I don't even know whether it's spitting out fire due to some neat pyrotechnics or because he just hit a really sweet chord and the guitar spontaneously shot fire due to the unbridled level of sheer awesome.

Again, the other colours are just as clear as the orange and blue even if they don't pop quite as much. The black of the amplifiers and white leg of the guitar guy (who, like the other War Boys, is ridiculously pale despite living in the frikkin' desert) aren't any less vibrant. Now some people have complained that the film is too colourful, lacking the grainy and more murky feel of the original trilogy.

So murky.

And I can see where there coming from but the original Mad Max movies were made in the 1980s when colour technology wasn't where it is today and digital cameras weren't a thing. Also, the films had a rather limited budget, so even for the time, they looked cheap and gritty since they were cheap and gritty.

But for Fury Road, George Miller, the visionary director behind the Mad Max franchise, updated the cinematography and look of the film to match the feel of modern day cinema. With a rich colour palatte, a bare bones but utterly engaging story, superb cinematography, and unbelievable choreography/stunt work which wouldn't have been possible back when he made the original trilogy, Miller is actually making a massive comment on current action cinema.

Since that's what this film is. A visual spectacle that points the way for action movies to follow in the future, taking the best things available due to modern technology and blockbuster budgets while highlighting the things wrong with current action films by doing everything so right.

"Do not, my friend, become addicted to grandious statements, or they will take hold of you and you will resent their
unsubstantiated claims."

Seriously though. This movie has so much to say about the current state of action films and blockbuster cinema as a whole. And what is fantastic about it is that it never ever outright states anything in an overwrought speech or dialogue by the characters. Rather the film is refreshing and has so much to say by doing things which really shouldn't be worthy of comment but they are simply because those things just aren't done in other movies, or are done wrong.

Mad Max: Fury Road has a 98% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Let that sink in. Only 5 reviews out of 277 gave the film a negative review. That's from people who are paid and make a living off of watching and reviewing films. I'm not saying that's the definite word of whether a film is great or not since critics can sometimes get a movie wrong but that is an accomplishment nevertheless.

Most of the enthusiastic reaction to the movie can be boiled down to a simple enjoyment in an action movie done right since it's seemed so long since we've had one that's got everything so right like Fury Road does. It's excited critics so much simply because it is a great action movie, and it's hard to find a great action movie nowadays which is without flaws.

How can any movie with a scene containing this much amazing insanity and otherworldly epic choreography be considered anything less than flawless? 

Fun fact:  Those are real Cirque du Soleil performers on the poles doing those stunts and apparently that is actually Tom Hardy on the pole and he is terrified of heights so his fear on screen is kinda real.

A lot of action movies are dumb and there's nothing wrong with that. You can make a dumb movie in terms of the plot or corny one-liners but which has some real intelligence and effort put behind it. Where you can sense that the director has sense of action and how to craft a scene. Therefore, even if the scenario itself is a little dumb, that dumbness becomes part of the fun when done right.

But Fury Road is a movie that bursts with intelligence. Every frame in every shot in every scene has a point and comes together to tell the story, whether that be through the visuals or in the interaction between characters. So much of this film is understated (which is ironic considering how bombastic it is) that it could be easily not be noticed just how well-crafted it is.

Pictured: Understatement.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that the film doesn't draw attention to the things it's doing right but by not drawing attention to those things they paradoxically stick out since the film takes them for granted. Does that make sense? No?

Okay, here's an example: The film has been lauded as a feminist work with great female characters and strong sexual politics. However, none of the female characters ever make a speech about how empowered they are or that they can do anything just as well as anyone else.

Rather it is just taken for granted that the female characters are capable and able to do things because they are characters who live in the world of the film and therefore have skills which helped them survive. It's like, "Oh, you can do the thing? Then do the thing" with no real consideration of the gender of the person doing the thing. If they can do it, then they do it.

It doesn't even matter that she's more machine than woman now.

In a standard action film (even great ones) the female characters are either goals or obstacles for the protagonist, often having little agency of their own or never actively doing anything that impacts on the plot. But the female characters in Fury Road all have angency and actively impact the plot since it really is their story of survival.

Of the many understated scenes in the film, one moment has stood out for most people. That's the scene where Charlize Theron's character Furiosa takes the gun from Max to make a shot he can't make (using his shoulder as a rifle stand) without a word and Max gives her the gun without a word because he knows that she can make the shot.

Again, the reason this is such a big deal is precisely because they don't make a big deal about it. Max knows she is capable and just lets her get on with it. In nearly any other action film, Furiosa would make a quip about her being a better a shot and that Max should let her do it. Really that's a line for the audience saying, "hey, we know this character is a woman but she actually can shoot better than the male lead, no seriously".

Fury Road doesn't bother with that line, partly because there is so little dialogue in the film but also because Miller recognises that sort of exchange isn't necessary and only would serve to try make a female character look badass but actually make it seem forced instead of natural.

You would never have a feminist meme about this type of scene from another action movie.

Now, I won't say more about the gender politics of Fury Road since it's been discussed at length elsewhere online, probably with greater analysis and research than some cursory Google searches, but it worth mentioning because of the fact it doesn't draw attention to it in the film. Characters are treated as fully fleshed out and capable characters regardless of gender.

In fact, characters are fleshed out regardless of the size of their role. Let's bring back guitar guy from above for a moment, whose actual name is Coma-Doof Warrior because of course it is. This is a character who could have easily been an one second sight gag in the beginning of the chase then forgotten for the rest of the movie.

Although how you could ever forget this, I don't know.

But no, he has a character arc of sorts, we see him appear repeatedly until the end, and somehow we feel an empathetic connection to him as though we know this character even though we only see him for brief moments sprinkled through out the film. And that's because he feels fleshed out as a character. While we may not know his backstory, you get a sense they put a lot of effort into creating this character and giving him an identifiable personality we can latch on to.

This extends to the rest of the War Boys as well, the film spends time getting you to understand and empathise with their situation, basically being raised in a cult, drugged up and not knowing any better. The whole point of Nicholas Hoult's character Nux is to show the effects of cultish programming and to give a human face to the disposable cannon fodder which the War Boys would be in another action film.

The Marvel movies are particularly bad at this. As much as I love the Marvel cinematic universe, and I love me some Marvel, most of their movies have millions of faceless evil drones be killed with no regard for the loss of life. In The Avengers, they defeat wave after wave of Chitauri alien invaders, in Age of Ultron, it's millions of Ultron robots, in Captain America: The First Avenger it's hordes of Hydra agents, and in Iron Man 2 it's literally a bunch of mechanic drones.

"That seems a little on the nose, Iron Man 2."

Yet again, this isn't something that necessarily should stand out or that the film makes a point of but because other films lack it or don't do it well without drawing attention to it, it becomes one more thing the film does expertly.

I really could keep talking about Mad Max: Fury Road for ages. I haven't even mentioned the pulsating, gutsy, and beautiful score which is simply stunning and perfectly suited to the high-octane action on screen. I actually think it is one of the best film scores I've heard in a long time, and that's saying something considering the talented film-scorers working today. Just listen to "Spikey Cars".



It's just so encapsulating and thrilling, a cacophony of swirling strings, heavy drums, and sound effects, all culminating in a heart-racing jolt of musical adrenaline. And the soundtrack also has quieter moments too which are just beautiful, knowing how to pull on the heart-strings with a slower more elegant piece.

Talking about slower pace, I didn't discuss how the film knows just when to give the slower scenes after the climax of the more intense action sequences that give a real weight to the pulsating action which was on display earlier by highlighting the toll of those action on the characters in the quieter moments.

There is a particularly memorable moment after the first chase into the sandstorm (which is just gorgeous) where Max ever so slowly lifts himself out of the sand and we can hear the grains of sand fall off of him as he painstakingly starts to rise before suddenly snapping up in a jump.

Not to mention the poignant and moving scene where Furiosa screams in the desert while the music swirls, essentially drowning out her scream so it seems silent and we are hit with the striking visual of her devastation.

No caption needed.

I also never got round to talking about how well the actors perform their roles. Tom Hardy is fantastic as Max, playing a quieter yet more panicked survivalist version of the character to Mel Gibson's more calculated and in controll original take. Furthermore, Theron is perfect as Furiosa, while Hoult brings a real vulnerability and empathy to Nux.

Essentially, I'm trying to say that I think Mad Max: Fury Road is a great movie and I loved it and everyone should see it because it really shows what actions movies could and should be.


References:

Mad Max (franchise) Wikipedia page

Mad Max series legacy and influence in popular culture




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