By: Kevin Jordan
Chase me. Just chase me.
In the time since The Avengers: Age of Ultron released in theaters, I’ve seen more and more reviews criticizing it for not having enough character development or being a standalone movie, despite it being the tenth movie (not counting Guardians of the Galaxy and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.) in a franchise that started just seven years ago; a franchise that has spent entire movies developing the main characters. For the life of me, I do not understand what their real complaint about the movie is (you can read why in my own review here), but it makes for a great “first-world problems” joke. Going into Mad Max: Fury Road, I wondered if it would be hypocritical to bash Fury Road if it also ignored character building. After all, it’s the fourth movie in a franchise, so we should already know who Max is and what motivates him, right? One small problem – Fury Road is releasing a full thirty years after the last Mad Max flick (Beyond Thunderdome), so expecting viewers under the age of forty to remember anything about Max is the height of arrogance.
I’m sure you’re now wondering if I remember anything about Max and I can tell you with a straight face – Max is that guy who was in Braveheart. For the record, I do know that guy’s name is Mel Gibson and I do know that Tina Turner was in Thunderdome, but that’s all I remember. I’m pretty sure I’ve never even seen Mad Max or The Road Warrior (and if I have, I’ve completely forgotten them), but I have been to the Australian dunes where they filmed parts of those movies – does that count? So, Fury Road probably should have some sort of reintroduction to Max and maybe a quick explanation as to why he’s so mad. I’m not going to keep you in suspense – it doesn’t. Not even a little bit.
The movie opens with stock footage of nuclear blasts and Max narrating the Cliff’s notes version of why the world is a giant wasteland. Actually, what we get are the Cliff’s notes version of the Cliff’s notes which mentions nuclear skirmishes and energy shortages. How this leads to a desert planet, two-headed lizards, and mutated albinos is anyone’s guess since nuclear skirmishes doesn’t sound any worse than the nuclear testing that went on for decades. The tests didn’t cause two-headed amphibians or the planet Tatooine, so why use the word “skirmishes”? Yes, I’m already thinking too hard about this movie, so let me start over (also, major SPOILERS coming).
The film opens with Max (Tom Hardy) looking out over a cliff and eating one of the afore-mentioned lizards. Suddenly, he jumps into his car, is chased for a moment, blown up, and captured by the afore-mentioned albinos. The screen goes dark and opens again with Max having his blood type tattooed on his back, escaping, and being chased some more until he is recaptured. If you are counting, that’s two chase scenes in five minutes and no character development and is simply the prologue foreshadowing the chas-iest movie since, well, The Chase. The next scene introduces us to the actual hero of the movie – yes, you read that right – Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) and the villain, Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne). In fact, I don’t know why Max is in this movie at all other than for marketing purposes. Like Indiana Jones in Raiders of the Lost Ark (as was pointed out on The Big Bang Theory), Max does not matter to the plot at all. If he were removed from the film, everything would still happen the same way. Of course, people might notice if Max isn’t a movie titled Mad Max, so we have to live with a movie whose titular character is literally only along for the ride.
Anyway, Furiosa is the driver of a fuel truck and Joe has commanded that she go fill up the truck with gas. While en route, Furiosa turns off the road, much to the confusion of everyone else with her. We quickly find out, as does Joe, that Furiosa has made off with five of Joe’s breeding wives in an attempt to free them and escape to Furiosa’s home land, referred to as the green land. The entire remaining running time (110 of 120 minutes) is devoted to one, big, long, loud, explosive car chase. That is not an exaggeration – with the exception of maybe two minutes of exposition scattered throughout, the rest of the movie is Joe’s army chasing Furiosa through the wasteland. Yes, that means the entire rest of the movie takes place on a moving semi-truck and the three acts are: 35-minute chase scene with lots of explosions and yelling, 40-minute chase scene with fewer explosions and actual dialogue between characters, 35-minute chase with lots of explosions and yelling. If car chases and explosions are your thing, you will orgasm more during this film than a teenage boy who cracked the parental control password on his parents’ laptop.
Given that the story is as thin as outhouse toilet paper, it’s not surprising that the characters are so shallow they’re practically transparent. While Furiosa is at least given a motivation (however weak it may be) for her actions, the only thing we ever learn about her is that she was born in the green place and stolen as a child. There is no explanation whatsoever as to her position in Joe’s hierarchy or why she is the only female not pumping out babies, being milked like a cow (one of the more disturbing scenes in the film, but also genius on the part of Joe, given the situation), or starving to death in the sand. And she’s by far the most developed character in the film.
Joe is supposed to be this terrible, horrible warlord, yet all we know about him is he wears plastic armor, breathes through a scary mask, drilled wells to acquire water which he shares with the people, grows food in a cavern, milks women, and leads the town. Considering the people in this town seemingly do nothing but sleep under sand, it’s really difficult to consider this guy evil rather than just pragmatic. Okay, so maybe he spends a little too much time outfitting his nightmare cars, but that just means he spends less time defiling his wives. Though, by all appearances, those five wives are treated immaculately outside of whatever has to happen for Joe to mount them. You know what – don’t think about that.
Of the secondary characters – besides Max and the five wives – only Nux (Nicholas Holt) is more than just a future flying/decapitated/shredded/crushed body. Nux is one of Joe’s soldiers, is connected to Max via a blood transfusion tube, and lives only to die for Joe and go to Valhalla (none of that is made up). After spending the first half of the movie trying to catch Furiosa, Nux has a change of heart when the red-headed wife looks at him and spends the latter half of the movie helping Furiosa. That’s as far as his development goes and his change is confusing given how fanatical he was to please Joe. If you only learn one thing from this movie it’s that a man will forsake heaven for a piece of ass.
I’d like to tell you that the wives are interesting, but we don’t even know their names and we know they have names because they are listed in the credits (and they are far more absurd than every other name in this movie). The only thing you will want to know about them is why they are so ridiculously hot when every other female in the town is either three hundred pounds, a shriveling husk of bones, or a one-armed Furiosa. One of the old women in Furiosa’s home actually asks how they can be so perfect, but director/writer George Miller was only interested in playing with cars rather than fleshing out characters, so we’re left caring about them simply because they are women and are hot.
Finally, we come back to Max, who exists in this film solely as a blood bag. As I said, thirty years is far too much time to expect people to remember details about a character from a movie that is more cult classic than main stream, so a little character development is a necessity. After his recapture, Max spends the entire first act of the film dangling from the ceiling, then strapped to the front of Nux’s car. In the second and third acts, he is driving the war rig and occasionally shooting at or blowing up people. I’m not sure he has more than ten lines in the entire film – half of which are just grunts – and the closest thing we get to a back story is random hallucinations of a woman and child every now and then. If you haven’t seen the previous films or read up on the material, you wouldn’t know they are his dead family. And, even if you did know, the hallucinations still don’t make sense to anything happening in Fury Road.
I want to make it clear that I understand that this movie is not a thinker (regardless as to what many reviewers would have you believe) and exists solely to justify its set pieces. I could accept the incredibly simple plot if it weren’t for one glaringly obvious plot hole – if the five wives were so valuable, how was Furiosa able to get them out in the first place? And we know they’re valuable because (1) Joe sends his entire army after them and (2) his brother/accountant will verbally list off all of the assets they’ve lost (during the second act) and will remark “all this over a family squabble.” Incidentally, the bad guy expending all of his resources for a MacGuffin is my least favorite trope, but this movie calls itself out on it and not in an ironic, wink-wink kind of way (like how Hawkeye does in Age of Ultron when he says how crazy it is that he fights with a bow and arrow).
One last thing – several reviewers are chalking up Fury Road as a win for feminism, which makes me sad for the feminists who are fighting for real things like income equality or paid maternity leave. Anyone who believes Fury Road is a forward step for feminism simply because it has a strong female central character is either delusional or so desperate for progress that they’d overlook the overt masculinity of Fury Road in order to feel like they aren’t wasting their time. In addition to what I’ve already pointed out about Furiosa and the wives (not to mention the milking), Furiosa gives control of the rig to Max after the first act, her mission is saved by a self-sacrificing Nux, her life is saved by Max giving her a blood transfusion, Furiosa’s entire family/clan (all female) are killed during the climax, the pregnant wife of the five wives and her son are killed, and there are enough phallic symbols throughout the movie to raise Sigmund Freud from the dead. Hell, Furiosa’s war rig is shaped like a giant penis complete with testicles (a trailing fuel pod, so I guess that’s testicle singular) that she rides through the entire movie to safety. Nothing says feminism like being protected by two men and a giant rolling dick while being chased by a bunch of men driving cars bristling with dicks.
Rating: Ask for all but a dollar back. A two-hour long, bombastic, relentless chase scene is the kind of thing you rent from Redbox, not buy at a theater.