The much anticipated film in the Mad Max franchise: Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) by Australian Producer/Director George Miller, is set in a post-apocalyptic world, after a nuclear holocaust. Water, and gasoline are scarce and have become the ‘hot commodity;’ a reason to kill (and die for).
Tyrannical dictator Immortan Joe (played by Hugh Keays-Byrne), is the leader of the Citadel. He controls most of the remaining resources left on earth. And regularly send out his War Boys on the hunt for more. The War Boys (resembling members of the Aryan Nation), are loyal to Joe, and fight for their ranking, to join the elite inner circle. Our hero Max (played by British actor Tom Hardy) is captured by the War Boys; his blood, used to replenish the wounded Citadel warrior Nux (Nicholas Hoult). Imperator Furiosa (played by Charlize Theron), the top lieutenant in the Citadel’s army (and Joe’s protégé), is sent on a mission to collect gasoline, but instead, revolts, her mutiny and defiance, begin a war, and the rest is action.
Shot in the Namibian desert, the world of the movie was conceptually remarkable, the overall Production Design (by Colin Gibson) was trendsetting, and cool. But, while the omious environment created, was aesthetically believable; as much as the film overcompensated with design, and visual effects; it lacked in story and character development. One can argue, that this world is far from human, thus the characters need not have much humanity; but regardless, a story must still be compelling, and empathy should form a bond between the viewer and the characters on the screen; especially if the audience is expected to root for the triumph of mankind. The fact that the film was shot using a storyboard rather than a traditional script is not surprising, and evident in its visual success, and it’s lack of story.
While there were some attempts to evoke substance (the bad-ass Furiosa saving the day, the empowered women’s tribe, the lukewarm commentary on a war for oil, a world without water, and the animalistic evolution of man);
these felt more like buzz words, and gimmicks to rile up the audience (and add to the marketability of the ‘product’), than actual themes explored within the film. And although there were mild attempts at humor, Mad Max took itself quite seriously, making me (the spectator), question its overall intent.
As a Woman, Critic, Filmmaker (and science fiction aficionada) I appreciated seeing women (although mostly Caucasian) in empowered, leading roles; however, at no point did I feel personally connected to their plight, or their struggle. It is simply not enough, to ‘check’ the box (Empowered Woman in a Hollywood Film: CHECK), these characters still have to be fully realized, and in Mad Max: Fury Road, they were artificially used, as yet another stunt in the film. Sure, it’s a step in the right direction, but not really worthy of mention, let alone celebration. Other current blockbuster films like Hunger Games, and Insurgent (while both problematic in their message, and neither great works of cinematic achievement), have been more successful in creating three dimensional characters for their female leads. For great post-apocalyptic, science fiction stories, with solid leading female characters, fantastic tension and unnerving action; one needs to look no further than Octavia Butler’s Parable book series, a literary masterpiece that is brave enough to explore the effects of a future, where race, gender, and all other oppressed social groups, are visibly affected by the lack of resources, the evolution of technology, and the dominant power structures (that have historically been in place). Making its stakes high, and its characters jump off the page. I am still waiting for Hollywood to be daring enough to embrace such stories, and make these audacious films.
But, in the case of Mad Max, I don’t believe the lack of humanity, and one-dimensionality, is limited to the women alone, but rather all of its characters (male and female), are ill-developed, shallow, and flat. This movie never attempts to deal with the future of race, or gender, or any profound social issue; but rather infuse its superficial film, with just enough palatable revolution and uproar, to seem authentically prophetic.
In its defense, Mad Max: Fury Road was a two-hour sequence of continuous action, Cirque du Soleil inspired stunt choreographies, set upon the backdrop of a beautiful, unpredictable and, otherworldly desert. Also noteworthy, was its consistency in design (from the sets, to the costumes, hair and make-up), all Departments clearly ‘on the same page’ when conceptualizing, and creating the world.
The Sound Design, is ridiculously perfect. It brought the world together acoustically, Much like a symphony, it used reverb, echoes of voices, electric, machines, industrial, steel, guns reloading, engines firing up, all woven in and out with premeditated moments of silence in-between the loud storms of music (dark, with hopeful choral undertones) by Junkie XL.
For a spectator who just wants to sit back, and go on a rollercoaster ride without having to emotionally engage, or think; this is a fantastic film. Violence at its finest, with sprinkles of (inauthentic) social awareness. One can easily check-out for two hours, and embrace the beautiful (yet meaningless) choreography.
While the long action sequences produce a rush of adrenaline for the viewer; the story leaves much to be desired. Mad Max: Fury Road, is yet another overrated Hollywood blockbuster, that is marketed excellently to arouse the masses, riding on the tailcoats of its successful predecessors (Mad Max 1979, 1981,1985), all of which automatically vouch for its authenticity. In the end, more successful than its fight stunts, was the movie’s marketing stunt, that fooled audiences and reviewers all over the world, into thinking it was a fine work of cinema.