This summer’s brutal R-rated blockbuster, Mad Max: Fury Road, is a sequel–but not really a sequel–to the Mel Gibson Mad Max films of thirty years ago. However, in this radioactive, mercilessly torrid wasteland, new movie stars emerge. Charlize Theron’s Furiosa decides to finally rebel against a warlord and his malicious horde who have deprived a serious population of famished people, now hung out to dry in this arid misery and awaiting those brief periods when the limited supply of water in the broken city is offered. Eventually, the series’s protagonist, Max (played by Tom Hardy here), crosses paths with this equally ambitious warrior on a wild escape from the barbarous crew.
Right out of the gate, I’ll preface this by saying that Fury Road is 2015’s Dawn of the Planet of the Apes–visually spectacular but still vastly overrated/hyped. No, your mouth is not hanging open for the entire duration; hyperbole is hyperbole. No, the inventive action is not constant. The very first action sequence certainly wows you in its masterful combination of refreshingly creative production and costume design (the primary villain–the warlord, Immortan Joe–is incredibly frightening and imposing thanks to the marvelous craft involved in dressing him up); relentless action convincing us that this film’s budget is completely limitless; a blood-pumping, bass-ridden score; and insanely bold characters. Spiked vehicles and robust trucks are being crushed and flipped over to their absolute demise as characters skillfully hang off of and jump from one car to the other in the meantime, the range of the explosions only increasing and the grit on the screen gradually mounting. In that moment, I was unquestionably gripped and couldn't even realize how still my body was throughout its entirety until my mind returned back to reality and to several numb limbs (that is no hyperbole from a typical [fancy] film critic).
What follows is more car-on-car action, but all that ingenuity quickly wears out. That isn’t helped with the recurrent interventions in the violence with very obvious and forced scenes of emotional manipulation and character development. These quieter moments also noticeably attempt to include as much backstory and plot as possible after thirty minutes that’re totally devoid of any. From my subjective point of view, the momentum kept building and dropping, contrary to what the critic consensus implies. When one claims that Gravity and Captain Phillips are ruthlessly tense–that s/he was on the edge of their seats the entire time–I don’t expect to be interrupted with plenty of clearly slow scenes in between. Say it as it is, or just don’t. Similarly, Fury Road‘s action really doesn’t get more impressive and bombastic with every new collision until the very climax.
See, to even attempt to see a film from as objective of a lens as possible is to see its quality for what it is, which means tossing all the external information on the heroic stunts and astounding practical effects out the door before you enter the theater. We can save the astonishing, in-depth interviews for a later date. Call me heartless, but I’m judging Fury Road strictly on what I saw on the big screen. Wait, I can’t compare an action movie to a drama? Fine, whatever. But, on that note, I do remember witnessing more enthralling and varied action in just last year’s The Raid 2; not to mention, that film actually had meat underneath all that showiness in the form of a surprisingly engrossing (crime) story. What I’m trying to say is that this latest Mad Max installment undoubtedly carries an abundance of style and coolness but not a whole lot of substance. Sorry, the movie being an action film doesn't excuse it from the usual criteria at all, especially considering that other action movies (Die Hard and The Terminator obviously have to be mentioned as well) possess both style and substance–decent amounts of story and action. In addition to that, both the story element and the action element have to be effective when they come on.
Hell, 2011’s Sucker Punch had lots of awesome and beautiful action sequences too. Why didn’t people forgive whatever plot shortcomings in that case? Of course, I’m not stating that Sucker Punch is a better film (Mad Max’s action is indubitably superior), but I’m also leaving no doubt that Fury Road contains its fair share of flaws. Now, I can’t conclude this review without emphasizing just how perfectly the immersive cinematography and sound is executed. Again, on a technical level, Mad Max: Fury Road is outstanding. However, before we start deeming something the best action movie or best “anything” in a particular genre or, even, overall, the film certainly has to show pure perfection. If perfection doesn’t exist, well then, there are a few films that, at least, near it more than Fury Road does and with far more layers.
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