Listen, I’m hardly writing a huge scoop here. Half the world has seen Mad Max: Fury Road by now and I’m well aware that I’m the dopey late comer to the party; busting out the champagne long after all the other guests have passed out drunk and oblivious on the couches.
The story of Mad Max: Fury Road is this: Max Rockatansky is struggling to survive in a post-apocalyptic desert landscape where water and fuel is in short supply. He finds himself captured and held captive by the heinous cult leader Immortan Joe and his army of war boys who use him as a “blood bag”. Meanwhile, Imperator Furiosa, one of Immortan Joe’s high-ranking warriors, has plans to smuggle Joe’s five wives in a war rig to the “Green Place” in the hopes of freeing them from a life as breeding machines. Max is taken along on the multi-vehicle hunt for Furiosa but ends up joining forces with her and thus begins a high-octane chase across the desert . The plot is simple, but the end result is pretty spectacular, for a variety of reasons.
Mad Max: Fury Road was released in May of this year, 36 years after the original Mad Max came out. I just want to touch on this for a moment. George Miller directed Mad Max in 1979, from wholly original material that he co-wrote with Byron Kennedy and James McCausland. In 1979, there were roughly 4.3 billion people in the world, Jimmy Carter was POTUS and Margaret Thatcher was the UK Prime Minister. Zimbabwe was still called Rhodesia and Rod Stewart was topping the charts. In short, it was a very different world than the one we know now.
The movie cost about $400,000 and ended up earning $100million. Two other movies followed, in 1981 and 1985, both of which were critical successes. That leaves 20 years between the release of Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdrome and Mad Max: Fury Road, so George Miller had some time to kill. What did he do with that time? Why, the only natural progression after three hugely successful action movies depicting a post-apocalyptic desert wasteland populated by morally corrupt and hyper violent people. He directed Babe and Happy Feet (and their sequels):
These were excellent movies in their own right but it does leave you doing a bit of a double take when you read George Miller’s IMDB page. After making those cuddly wuddly films you might expect Miller would have released Mad Max: Furry Road; about a roaming band of fluffy kittens who try their darndest to catch a ball of yarn without tripping over their teeny tiny paws in the process. No shame in that, I would have been first in line.
Instead, George Miller created a masterpiece which blew all other action movies from
this year the 21st century out of the water. Using mainly real effects, he has crafted a world which feels real, yet boggles the mind in its surrealness. I have absolutely nothing against CGI and am grateful for what it has added to cinema, but there is no denying that the effects in Mad Max: Fury Road get under your skin in a different way and make contemporary blockbusters look like early 90s cartoons by comparison.
This feels like the action movie I have been waiting for all my life, one where I do not have to switch off my brain to be able to enjoy the stunts. Much has been discussed about the movie’s feminist themes, and while some may disagree, I believe this movie has done a huge service to promote feminist viewpoints in mainstream movies. It does this in both the glaringly obvious ways – hey, it’s a movie about freeing a group of women who have been kept as property by a man – and in much more subtle ways.
The real protagonist is the awe-inspiring Furiosa, who is allowed to be both kick-ass and vunerable, victim and victor, violent and caring. I am so tired of seeing “tough chicks” who cartwheels around in hyper-sexualised outfits and look at the camera with a “come-hither” look. Furiosa is a real person, with her own motivations and desires that are in no way related to her male companion. And she’s an amputee, but that’s no biggie either in this movie. It’s such a beautiful thing to behold and left me practically jumping on the couch and wanting to shout “See Hollywood, this is how you do it! It’s not that hard!!”
And don’t even get me started on the Vuvalini tribe of hardened old women warriors. Women with wrinkles and grey hair allowed screen time, and doing something other than sitting in a corner on a rocking chair and mumbling? Come one now George Miller, Christmas is still months away. Rather than being the typical older, white, male director and telling the kids to get off his lawn, Miller has kept in tune with the times and breathed fresh air into his franchise.
Aside from all the gender politics stuff, which bore a lot of people to death, Mad Max: Fury Road is just damn good fun. Engrossing, fast paced, scored perfectly; this is how you do entertainment, guys.
I also recommend anyone to go and do a bit of reading about what it took to get the movie made. You may have heard about the term development hell, and the process of making this movie ticks all the boxes for that definition and then some. The idea for the film actually started in 1998 and then went through countless setbacks. Miller even considered making it as an animated feature at one point. I have huge admiration for a film maker like Miller who has gone through so much over his career to make his vision come to life so that we, the lucky audience, can share in it. Is Mad Max: Fury Road perfect? No, but it’s close, and that’s good enough for me. Now excuse me while I go look for a flame throwing guitar.