This article contains spoilers for Mad Max: Fury Road. You have been warned.
Tim: Ok, I’m very excited for this discussion. I loved Mad Max: Fury Road (and if you haven’t seen my review yet, you can check it out over here), but one of the most interesting things for me was, this was a universe I was coming to totally fresh. For about a month before Fury Road hit theaters, I kept saying, “I should go watch the original Mad Max,” and I never did. As opposed you you, who has seen all of them. Obviously it’s been a little while since the earlier Mad Max movies were hitting theaters. So what’s changed? What’s the same? Tell me everything!
Erik: I’d be happy to – although keep in mind it’s been quite a few years since I’ve seen the third film (Beyond Thunderdome) and I only saw it once, so if any hardcore Max fans read this, I apologize for anything I get wrong. Anyway…I was shocked how much this felt like the original (in tone, in themes, etc.) yet how it felt like something completely new in terms of style (the color palette for instance). The similarities were probably due to the fact that George Miller himself came back to direct (which was kind of shocking in and of itself) and I think it’s a credit to him, that he was able to adopt a somewhat different style to his own franchise.
Tim: One of the things I was most curious to ask you – Tom Hardy’s character in this one is, as I understand it, the same as Mel Gibson’s, correct? It didn’t feel like I was missing any necessary backstory through any of the movie except maybe during those haunted visions of a little girl, and maybe a couple other people, that plague him. Anything there?
Erik: Well, that’s interesting for two reasons. First off, the original three films kind of worked like that too – meaning although they all made a trilogy, you could really jump in at any point, and not be lost. The Road Warrior (the second film) and Thunderdome make very few references to the film(s) that came before them. The only information you get is: Max is a lone wanderer who lost his family some time ago (the events of the first), then the adventure begins. And as far as those haunted flashbacks go, I don’t think they were referencing any of the previous three movies. I don’t remember a particular little girl dying (Max did lose his son, but he had no daughter). In Thunderdome, Max saves a bunch of children, so I don’t think it was referencing that. I got the impression that she was from some unseen adventure Max had before the events of Fury Road. Come to think of it, I’m not even sure when in the Mad Max timeline this new film is supposed to fit in – although, in the opening narration he does refer to himself as a “road warrior,” so maybe it’s after the second at least.
Erik: This was not the first Mad Max film to depict car-driving raiders, but it was the first that really got in depth with their culture (Thunderdome does it a little bit, but more to set up a set piece featuring the titular gladiatorial arena), which I found fascinating. It’s like someone (probably the leader, Immortan Joe) picked out bits of hyper-masculine culture (cars, Valhalla, rock music, women as sex objects) and mashed them together. And then deconstructed them.
Tim: Yeah, let’s get into that a little bit, because that seems to be the thing that everyone’s keying on: the feminism of the film. I have to say, the first time the wives are shown (the scene where they’re bathing in the desert at night), I was super disappointed with the movie. It seemed like this ill-fitting, objectifying throwback to the time period of the earlier films, if not much earlier. So I found it pretty remarkable when, by the end of the movie, I looked back at that scene as still a little heavy handed, but absolutely an essential part of the story. Just like you’re saying – presentation and deconstruction.
Erik: And from what I’ve heard/read, it wasn’t even Miller’s objective to make a feminist action movie – which may actually be why it turned out so well. I’d already heard about the praise Fury Road was getting from feminists when I went into the film, so I couldn’t help but look out for those kinds of things. But I don’t think I would have looked at it that way without prior knowledge. I’m pretty sure I would have just looked at it as: here’s this awesome action film with some kickass women in it. Does that say something about our culture, when all a film has to do to gain feminist props (which I’m not knocking) is put in some competently written, unexploited female characters?
Erik: And looking back, while I wouldn’t call the previous Mad Max films progressive, they all have at least a few kickass women in them. In the first, one of the people who defends Max’s wife and son from a brutal gang is an elderly woman wielding a shotgun. In Road Warrior, women kind of get the short end of the stick characterization-wise (most of them are either someone’s wife or girlfriend) but they aren’t left out of the action. In Thunderdome you’ve got Tina Turner’s Aunty Entity who’s kind of crazy-awesome, and the leader of the group of kids Max helps is a girl.
Tim: Whatever the reason, it absolutely enriches the movie, especially when it’s a male-centric society. When the nuclear holocaust comes, men and women die equally.
In a complete right turn, can we talk about visual design a little bit? Because it was spectacular, and it fit perfectly with the slightly twisted logic of this world. I touched on it a little in my review, but in this world where guns aren’t all that common, inventing combat that’s fairly reminiscent of 1700s ship-to-ship warfare is pretty brilliant. I loved the cantilever cars that dropped War Boys on top of their targets.
Erik: I don’t know this for sure, but I would not be surprised if Miller was at least a little inspired by swashbuckling, pirate-type films (the kind Errol Flynn would star in) of the past. I got that sense during the final chase sequence when people were leaping from car to car. I think what makes this stand out from a lot of other car-based films (like say, the Fast & Furious franchise) is in the latter the action is divided into two sections: the car chase, and the hand-to-hand combat. Fury Road blended both together beautifully.
Erik: Bringing up Furious 7 kind of harkens back to what I mentioned before about the style of Fury Road being a bit different from the previous Mad Max movies. I’m no authority on camera work, but the way the chase scenes were shot here reminded me more of F & F than what I’d come to associate with Mad Max. At the same time, I remember watching the former movies’ set pieces (especially the one at the beginning of Fast 5) and seeing many shades of Max. So I guess it’s all recursive.
Tim: Ok I want to get back to that in just a moment, but first, did you see this movie in 3D? Because in my opinion this was one of the rare films that was more gorgeous for the additional depth.
Erik: I did see it in 3D, but I’m the wrong person to ask about it. I’ve never been into the whole “3D gives the screen depth” concept. I usually stop noticing it about a half hour into any movie (including this one). I prefer the old-school “stuff flying constantly in your face” 3D. This had a little bit of that (including one spectacular moment involving a flaming steering wheel) but not enough in my opinion. Honestly, the last movie I really enjoyed in 3D was the Nic Cage movie, Drive Angry.
Tim: Oh god, I thought that was the worst shot in the entire movie, I hate it when movies pull that gimmick. But here’s why I thought the 3D mattered, especially in some of the action scenes. In the Fast & Furious movies, particularly the last couple, there are quite a few instances of people leaping from vehicle to vehicle. But certain lengthy paved areas excluded, you have none of the foreverlong open spaces of Mad Max, at which point the vehicles stop being cars on a road and the only movement that matters is relative. So with the 3D, you can set up some really beautiful vistas that have the horizon, a background car, and a foreground car all in one. The action is framed in a way that emphasizes the importance of relative movement, and I think the 3D actually helps show that off.
Tim: Hahaha. Ok, one other thing I did want to get to here was the main characters of Furiosa, Max, and Nux. Let’s start with Nux. He’s the final one of the three to come around to opposing Immortan Joe, and he’s also the one I understood the least. I really loved the whole Valhalla cult and how detailed it was with the chroming of their mouths and stuff like that. But after Nux is embarrassed, I wasn’t entirely sure why he abandoned loyalty to Immortan Joe. I think it had something to do with disillusionment, but a lot seemed to happen in that one conversation when Capable (Riley Keough) found him hiding on the war rig, and I didn’t quite follow all of it.
Erik: The impression I got from Nux (and this may just be me reading too much into it) was that he didn’t really believe in everything he was brought up to (not to the same level that his fellow war boys did at least). Which I think stemmed from the fact that he was weak (he’s both sick, and less muscular than the other war boys), which would make him an outsider in his society. A lot of the time, the first people to rebel against an established order are the one’s who don’t fit into it.
Tim: Maybe. At any rate, ideally I would have had a little more clarity there. And then for me, Max and Furiosa were both characters I loved, and perhaps because of that, wanted similar things from I didn’t entirely get. Both characters are ostensibly motivated by things in their pasts we don’t get to see. For Max, it’s the child who haunts him. For Furiosa, it’s the freedom she knew in her youth and wants to share. They’re both powerful motivators I had no trouble buying into, but with each, I would have loved to explore the nuance of what it meant a bit more. I’m not sure what that looks like in the context of this movie; Max’s survivor’s guilt could probably make another film entirely. It would be one I’d watch, though.
Erik: Ideally, yes the characters would be explored a little more. But, I don’t think it would be possible in a really good action film. I look at it like this: characters are not the meat of a pure action film; action is the meat of an action film. The characters are the side dishes, and if you spend too much time on them, you lose time you should have spent on the meat, which, at the end of the day is what people remember about their meal, or movie, or whatever, I think I over extended that metaphor.
Tim: I think perhaps so. Now I’m hungry.