Mad Max: Fury Road **** (out of 5)
Starring: Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron, Nicholas Hoult, Zoe Kravitz, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Abbey Lee, Courtney Eaton, Riley Keough, Nathan Jones, Josh Helman, and Hugh Keays-Byrne
Written by: George Miller, Brendan McCarthy, and Nick Lathouris
Directed by: George Miller
If you’ve ever been to an art gallery, maybe you can relate. When I browse art, it’s clear that some pieces are great, and I appreciate them for that. That isn’t to say I’m moved to form an attachment, nor do I care for them beyond a passing glance. I feel much of the same towards Mad Max: Fury Road. It’s a very well-made action film, occasionally fun, always weird, and daring, but I certainly don’t care to remember it. Can I consider the film to be a masterpiece, or George Miller to be a visionary? I’m sorry to disappoint, but this franchise’s third sequel never “breaks the mold” or sets new standards for action films. It just happens to be a superb action movie, with superb parts that I’m going to easily forget. Here’s a thought- were audiences ever really clamoring for another Mad Max film? Did the “Thunderdome” really leave us yearning for more? No, but I suppose if an iconic character exists, and the opportunity to unload more tales of apocalypse on an apocalypse-starved society presents itself, why not? Fury Road will certainly give those hungry for a heaping of nihilism a bellyful of joy.
Max himself is basically the same guy thirty years after we last saw him. He doesn’t really want to be a part of the aftermath of civilization. He just wants to survive. That’s fine for us; after all, we don’t need another hero (see what I did there!). He’s on the scene, he appreciates the struggle of the good guy, but he doesn’t have much to say or do. Well, he occasionally hallucinates, but that’s about the extent of his ‘madness’. Max will defend himself to the death, and in the process will likely take out a dozen or so foot soldiers. For a film entitled Mad Max, however, you’d think it would, well, center around that character and his struggle. It’s simply not his struggle, and as wonderful as Tom Hardy can be, a multitude of actors could have played Max. He’s captured by the soldiers of the despot Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne, the same actor who portrayed the lead villain in the original Mad Max), and held as a prisoner/perverted version of a blood bag. This need for blood comes from Nux (Hoult), a dying “War Boy” doing his best post-apocalyptic Jack Skellington cosplay.
In the meantime, one of Immortan Joe’s warriors has attempted a daring escape with his five wives in tow. I suppose it’s not hard to imagine why Imperator Furiosa (Theron) went rogue- what with the forced malnutrition of most everyone inside the ‘citadel’, the forced milking of childbearing aged women, and Joe’s generally disgusting nature, what’s not to like? Furiosa drives the ‘War Rig’, a mythological beast of a vehicle. It’s like something out of a twelve-year-old boy’s pre-pubescent dream: armored to the nines, equipped with secret switches and compartments, molded from several cars, tractors, and tanks, sucking up all sorts of gasoline, spewing forth oodles of noxious fumes, and eating your Prius for breakfast.
The War Rig is wonderful, but not as much as its’ driver. The hard-boiled Furiosa yearns for the ‘green land’ of her youth, a place where grass grows and water flows. Nothing will stop her, not even a convoy of War Boys ordered to search and destroy. Nux has been enlisted to drive in this convoy, believing to serve a higher purpose, and hoists poor Max on his vehicle like a drip chamber from a nurse’s nightmare. The feverish pursuit of Furiosa across the ‘Wasteland’ sees a legion of muscle-bound psychopaths use every trick in the spiky, armored car playbook to bring her to justice, but will it work? In the frenzy, Max battles with, then finds himself aligned with Furiosa toward a common goal- escape.
None of this plot really matters, though. There are explosions to enjoy, faces to tear off, sharp things to pierce people, and mega-ton boulders that crush cars! In all sincerity, George Miller is due some credit. He’s made a fun film, and despite a lead character that no one cares for, he’s made up for it in other areas. The film is stunning to look at. Miller and cinematographer John Seale shoot the desert as if it isn’t full of bland, khaki tones and lifelessness. Fury Road is also a film with a great deal of odd character, and odd characters, a clear hallmark of the franchise. Think of the catalog of names: Rictus Erectus, Toast the Knowing, Cheedo the Fragile. Really? Think of the societal norms we witness: the ‘chrome kiss’ given to War Boys on the verge of death, the wives wearing metal chastity belts adorned with fangs, the post-apocalyptic ‘drummer boy’ leading the war cry with his awesome ‘flame guitar’, and even Immortan Joe’s odd body armor.
What I believe the film will be known for most is the creation of Furiosa. Theron plays her like a warrior; not a female warrior, but a warrior. She doesn’t align with Max out of a need for romance, he doesn’t save her, and they both pound on the enemy. She’s an equal, a partner if anything. You could argue that Max needs her. Theron is so good as Furiosa, the clear hero of the film. She’s the best action leading lady I’ve seen in some time, and deserves a place in line with Ripley, Trinity, and other characters I’m likely forgetting. Then again, she’s no stranger to challenging the norm for women on-screen (see Monster, Young Adult, Snow White and the Huntsman).
Let’s go a bit further and state that ‘blurring the lines’ of gender matters, and Miller and Theron have put their best face forward to ensure that happens. As I understand it, Miller enlisted the help of The Vagina Monologues creator Eve Ensler to shape some of the film’s characters. I suppose that made enough of a difference, as the film’s best characters, the ones with the most moral of centers, are all women. They’ve always been capable of leading an action film, though, and I’d argue women are better at it. Ellen Ripley is still, eighteen years after her last appearance, the best action character. Calm your mind, gents. I’m certain that the feminists are not taking over your action films. However, women can and should be just as efficient at leading an action film as men, and be just as damn exciting doing it.
If we can separate ourselves from the need to consider an excellent action film “groundbreaking” or “legendary”, or from calling George Miller a “master”, we can enjoy Fury Road for what it excels at. It’s a 120-minute playback of an adolescent’s dreams, complete with just enough violence, explosions, nudity, language, and cool stuff to keep it fun and not depraved. Just enjoy the Doof Warrior, as he shreds his flame guitar into battle. Enjoy watching monster trucks collide across the plains of desolation. Enjoy Furiosa’s mad dash to reclaim her childhood and restore something pure about this future world. Then, like I have already done, forget about it, and move on to something that does warrant more than your Saturday afternoon’s attention.
I’ve had this blog going since June 2013, and it’s been pretty standard fare thus far- movie reviews, trailer reviews, and a bit of news discussion. What I’d like to present are more ‘feature’ stories, like this one. It seems appropriate to do something special for this blog to commemorate the Halloween season. Thus, I put a list together of my top/favorite 5 best and my 5 worst/most hated horror/monster movies, in countdown form. Keep in mind, I haven’t seen the entire library of the genre (especially foreign horror cinema), but compared to the general population, definitely more than average. My criteria? Scary doesn’t necessarily mean gory, and scariest doesn’t necessarily mean best. I simply have ranked by the least to most effective at scaring me. Enjoy, and please feel free to give me your feedback- in the form of a comment here, on Facebook, or Twitter (@FFPerspective), OR feel free to visit the “I Hate Critics” podcast website (ihatecritics.net), where this blog and other movie goodness awaits. After all, we did just complete a special podcast commemorating the holiday and scary movies in general.
The 5 Worst
5. The Hills Have Eyes (2006): Pardon my language, but this film is such a depraved piece of absolute shit that I barely made it through my one and only viewing. Call it torture porn, horror, slasher, whatever floats your boat- it still is the single most unnecessary piece of garbage I’ve ever watched. That doesn’t make it the worst, for I believe it may have done what it intended to do (make the viewer feel bad about the world), and thus it must somehow retain some level of artistic merit to someone out there. I mean, they kill off a baby, but somehow director Alexandre Aja thinks that by holding the death off-camera that he deserves credit for withholding. No, it’s just as awful. And unnecessary.
4. The Entire Friday the 13th series: The first film, in which the actual ‘slasher’ turns out to be Jason’s mother anyways, is considered a ‘classic’ by some. I don’t quite understand why, for all we get with these are cheap Halloween knockoffs- teens do stupid ‘teen’ things, and basically pass the time messing around with each other and drinking until it’s their turn to be stabbed by a lumbering guy in a hockey mask. The sequels bring more of the same, just in a different setting- including SPACE (Jason X). Apparently, Freddy vs. Jason is interesting, but I lost the capacity to care after Jason ‘took’ Manhattan.
3. Evil Dead 1&2: I don’t quite understand the passion for these films, despite my attempts to hear everyone’s opinion. Is it hype that led to my disappointment? Possibly. Is it the fact that neither of these are scary whatsoever, and bordered on being a complete waste of my time? Certainly. Director Sam Raimi gets far too much credit for these films; simply making something presentable out of a minuscule budget does not automatically indicate genius, only creativity out of desperation. Let’s not forget that “2” is basically an exact remake of the first, and that Bruce Campbell’s “Ash” character is simply a spoof. Perhaps if I’d been introduced to these as pure comedies I may have tempered by expectations; however, all I heard was how ‘awesome’ (direct quote) these films were. It’s either completely over my head or they are that bad. Now, the 2013 remake? That I enjoyed. Because it was a horror movie. That was horrific.
2. Event Horizon: I hate this film in general, but mostly for the ‘gut punch of trickery’ that forever amateur director Paul W.S. Anderson delivers about halfway through this travesty. The pseudo-science and concerned faces on the likes of Sam Neill and Laurence Fishburne were acceptable enough, and the film’s space/sci-fi sheen brought about enough trust until THAT MOMENT. If you’ve seen this, you know what I’m talking about. Why a writer would take an audience to the ends of the universe, fold space, and then give up by calling the destination ‘Hell’ is beyond me. My guess? Laziness, or the lack of conviction to come up with an alternate conclusion. It’s a waste of a solid premise, and for that alone, I hate this film.
1. The Blair Witch Project: Some call this found footage pioneer a horror classic, citing the buildup of tension and the frantic last few minutes as a blueprint for the ‘scary’ movie. I focus on the constant arguments amongst three people who don’t know each other, the shakiness of the hand-held camera, the parlor-trick ‘scares’ in the woods, and the utter lack of a Blair Witch. I get it, that’s supposed to open up possibilities for what actually taunts these three people, but after putting up with the sad sacks for 75 minutes, I wanted something, anything, to pay me back in scares for the time I invested. I’m still waiting.
*Dishonorable mention to: the entire Hellraiser series, Rosemary’s Baby, The Ring (2002), The Omen (1975), The Human Centipede 1&2, Fright Night (1985), Exorcist II: The Heretic, and The Happening.
The 5 Best
5. Poltergeist/The Exorcist– It is impossible to leave The Exorcist off this list, but also impossible to bump my favorite ‘scary’ film in Poltergeist. We’ll call it a draw. As for The Exorcist, I can honestly say that nothing prepared me for this movie. I wasn’t even fully aware of what ‘demonic possession’ meant at the time. Imagine my surprise when I saw this for the first time at 19 in a friend’s dorm room. I wouldn’t call it scary, per se, but shocking for sure. From the beginning of the film, with the excavation of an apparently dark relic, to the ghastly abuse the demon inflicts on Linda Blair’s Regan character, The Exorcist is not only very effective as a horror film, it succeeds on such a grand level for being so low-key and forthright in its’ presentation, as well as the undertones of losing faith and God in general.
Poltergeist is an entirely different ballgame. It’s scary and oozes nostalgia (thanks, Spielberg). I saw it at age 5, and everything that bothered me then is in this film. Scary-looking tree in the backyard? Check. Creepy toy that you’re 100% positive will attack you? Check. Looking under the bed for monsters? Check. Lightning and thunder? Check. A sibling going missing? Check. Your child going missing? Check. A predator chasing your child? Check. House sucked into a void? Check. Disappearing into your closet? Check. Real-life tragedies surrounding the franchise? Check. You get the idea that Poltergeist touches on some of our most primal fears as both adults and children, and somehow comes off as even slightly believable. I feel that’s because Spielberg (as well as brilliant composer Jerry Goldsmith) has his name all over this classic, and he knows how to create characters and give them a full life we identify with in two short hours. It has meant different things to me at different times, evolving into one of my all-time favorites.
4. Alien– I have multiple thoughts on this movie, and it warrants a full-scale review at some point. For the purposes of this list, I’ll just say that no film before it OR after it has captured the same visceral reaction from me. In fact, this was my intro to the genre, at roughly 8 years old. My parents built this movie up so much that I had a knot in my stomach, and that feeling didn’t relent until sometime after the film ended. I literally cowered as Kane writhed about the table, and held my throbbing chest as Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley tears through the Nostromo on her way to the shuttle. Ridley Scott’s first major movie is still perhaps his best- a moody, claustrophobic, organic, and quite frankly, awesome film that stands the test of time, which also gave rise to the modern female hero, spawning countless imitators, including several entries in the same franchise. This made such an impact that a simple scene that takes place in the derelict ship grew in legend, spawning an entire movie 33 years later- 2012’s Prometheus and likely its’ sequel.
3. The Mist– Despite his occasional bout with being difficult to work with (reportedly), Frank Darabont is truly a savant when it comes to bringing Stephen King’s work to screen. The Mist is no different- simple, yet terrifying. The contrast between simple, God-fearing townspeople and the nightmarish creatures they encounter is the hallmark of this story, which combines the supernatural with an all-too-realistic portrayal of a situation where humans get frightened and turn on each other. The monsters are there, sure, but more frightening is how the paranoia, spearheaded by Marcia Gay Harden’s Bible-filth spewer, spreads like a disease. The ending, lauded by some and decried by others, is simply a gut-punch to me, sucking the joy out of life. The Mist, like few other films, creates an impending sense of dread that never relents. For a film that primarily takes place in a supermarket, it seems larger in scope, a clear illustration of its’ brilliance.
2. The Descent– This small little flick didn’t register for me until I saw it on the shelf for rent. The DVD artwork sold me- a woman emerging from what appeared to be a literal blood bath as if being born. I went home, watched it unfold, and found my subconscious cowering in a dark corner along with the rest of the film’s motley crew. If you’ve ever gone spelunking, you may understand that feeling of claustrophobia. If you’ve ever had a dream, you may understand that feeling of monsters lurking in corners. If you’ve ever had a fear of heights, you may understand that light-headed feeling that overcomes you like a wave of fear. Combine all of these things, including endless chasms and cannibalism, and you have a general idea of The Descent. I love that this film doesn’t relent, and at least bothers to take itself seriously.
1. The Thing’ (1982)– John Carpenter’s Magnum Opus is the quintessential horror film for me, even if it’s a remake. A group of ‘manly men’ alone in Antarctica are systematically hunted by a being that can imitate them. So they’re isolated, in harsh conditions, and inside of a sterile, hostile environment. What could go wrong? There are innovative (for the time) effects in this film, combined with the crankiness of Kurt Russell, Keith David, and ol’ Mr. Beetus himself, Wilford Brimley. There are incredibly frightening ‘boo’ moments, especially involving petri dishes. There are gross-out moments, including a man’s detached head sprouting spindly legs and walking away. There are hard to watch moments, including the ‘moistening’ and subsequent imitation of sled dogs. The impressive, understated score of Ennio Morricone gives the entire film a sinister nature, one which the 2011 prequel couldn’t quite match, despite its’ best efforts. The ending is also brilliant in that it doesn’t give in to the audience with a tidy resolution. It’s basically hopeless, which is the general, gut-churning feeling this film gives. Carpenter might be more famous for Halloween, but his best is The Thing.
*Honorable mention to: Jaws, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974), Psycho (1960), The Shining, The Conjuring, Halloween (1978), Nosferatu (1922), and Scream.
So. What’s your favorite scary movie?
The Film Fan Perspective