Recently, my wife and I managed to see Mad Max: Fury Road in the theaters. I saw it during its summer release, and by the time I’d talked my wife into wanting to give it a try, it was no longer being shown.
But once it became available through digitial release, it inexplicably reappeared at a high-end theater near us. Date Night! But this is all unnecessary detail.
If you’ve wandered here looking for a review of this latest installment of the Mad Max franchise, I am going to recap it below (after some rambly preamble.)
I will straight up recommend that people see it, because it’s amazing. Most action movies nowadays rely heavily on CGI, and although there clearly was some CGI at work throughout the movie, the amount of practical effects was mind-blowing.
I’ve heard people describe Fury Road as “just a long car chase.” That’s not entirely inaccurate. The movie is essentially a long chase scene, but not “just” one. There’s a ton of storytelling going on, and almost all of it is implied. They don’t feel the need to hold your hand.
If anyone wants to argue with me, I’d rather just direct them to Slashfilm.com or some other film-focused website that has covered and analyzed Mad Max in its gloriousness.
I’ll give my impressions and attempt at deep thoughts on Mad Max: Fury Road, but first I’d like to talk about my favorite of the Mel Gibson installments of Mad Max: the action-packed sequel, The Road Warrior.
I saw the original Mad Max on video, back in the 80s. A buddy of mine raved about how great it was, and in my shallow youth, I only appreciated the beginning of the movie (featuring a crazy car chase) and the end (featuring Max in full on Revenge Mode.) I should probably go back and re-watch it, to see if I have any new takeaways from the relatively quiet middle part of the movie.
But I had a very different experience with its sequel. It was great. Every minute was great. I loved it.
Road Warrior Recap
Some amount of time had passed since the initial Mad Max movie. Enough time for antisocial elements to adopt some overtly barbaric policies and aesthetics.
The wandering Max discovered that in the wasteland, there was a group of people operating a refinery, pumping up gasoline. They’re under siege from a gang of thugs who followed a masked muscleman known as The Humongous.
Max seized an opportunity, and brought to the refiners an injured member of their community, hoping to trade his life for gasoline. But the man died of his injuries and the refiners were not interested in honoring any bargain. Max then offered to bring them a truck rig. The refiners wanted to make a run for it, but they needed a vehicle to haul the gasoline. The bargain was made.
Max returned with a salvageable rig for the refiners, running the gauntlet of the besiegers. In gratitude, the refiners offered him a place in their community should he be willing to drive the rig during their planned evacuation of the refinery, but Max had no interest.
The leader of the refinery group, Pappagallo, really tried to appeal to Max’s better angels, to convince him the rightness of helping them. But Max just wanted his gas and to leave.
Max’s car gets wrecked during his attempt to break through the siege lines, but he was spared capture thanks to the assistance of actor Bruce Spence, playing a character known as the Gyro Captain.
Spence airlifted Max back to the refinery.
Max was not in a good mood. His car was destroyed, he was banged up, and the warlords killed his dog. Max insisted on driving the rig, and the refiners agreed.
The evacuation from the refinery consisted of two groups of vehicles: the rig with some support vehicles, and a convoy of cars, including a school bus, carrying the members of the community. The stated plan was for these two groups to eventually rendezvous. As expected, the gang was only interested in pursuing the rig, driven by Max.
The rig carried defenders as well, armed with bows and gasoline-bombs, but the pursuers were numerous and fearless. After an extended car chase with a terrific number of casualties on both sides, the truck wrecks.
Instead of gasoline, sand poured from the ruined truck. The rig had entirely been a decoy. The other convoy was carrying all of the gasoline.
In a narrative epilogue, the young wild boomerang-throwing boy (credited as The Feral Kid) who befriended Max during his time with the refiners recollects (now as an old man) that the refiners escaped as planned, but as for the Road Warrior, he only lived on in their memories.
Road Warrior Thoughts
The centerpiece of the movie is the car chase, with Max doggedly trying to keep his cargo safe, pursued by ruthless savages. The car chase becomes a moving siege, with the truck an armored fortress with defenders and attackers employing medieval tactics.
It’s all very straightforward. The warlords/bikers/antisocial elements are the bad guys, the refiners are the good guys, and Max is helping them. Then much of that gets flipped, along with the truck. The fact that the rig was filled with sand is great. It adds a nice layer of nuance on to the refinery group. They’re not as innocent as presented.
They set Max up, they were lobbying him to drive the rig, looking for someone to sacrifice.
It doesn’t really add any nuance to the bad guys, the warriors of the wasteland are still assholes. I’m fine with that.
But even so, the refinery group had noble heroes in their midst. I assume that everyone on board the rig knew that their chances of survival were slim. It didn’t matter if the truck made it or not, it just had to last long enough, draw the pursuers away far enough, for the convoy carrying the community and the fuel to get to relative safety.
Special acknowledgement goes to Pappagallo, the leader of the oil refinery. After Max initially refused to be the rig driver, he announced his intention to drive the rig, which again is not far from volunteering for a suicide mission.
During the evacuation, Pappagallo drove one of the support vehicles that tried to assist the truck’s escape. I like him as a character because of his interesting nature. He appears to be the moral compass of the movie, trying to argue a purpose back into Max when in reality, he’s trying to trick Max into essentially sacrificing himself. We don’t realize that until the moment Max does, when he sees the sand pouring from the rig.
In most action movies, characters might have at least have a name but very little to differentiate them. I felt that was the reverse in The Road Warrior, where very few characters have names, other than descriptions.
The Gyro Captain, the Feral Kid, the Warrior Woman.
But I felt each of these secondary characters were given moments that planted seeds for the imagination to attach stories to. That’s rare. Usually action movies don’t make the attempt, or just ham-fistedly push a character element in, almost randomly. I prefer the subtlety of providing a character hook and not holding my hand.
There’s a ton of that in Fury Road.
Mad Max: Fury Road
If someone told me that George Miller took the most exciting thing about Road Warrior, that big car chase, and just made it two hours long and threw a lot of time, cameras, and money at it, I don’t know if I would argue much. I think the movie is more than just that, but I’m sure that if Miller was going to make the Road Warrior now, the warlords would be as updated as the Warboys from the Citadel were.
But I don’t want to get ahead of myself. Time for a brief recap.
Mad Max Fury Road takes place after some indeterminate time after The Road Warrior, after Mad Max 3: Beyond Thunderdome. (I just don’t want to talk about the movie too much. I don’t have anything against it, but it would just be a distraction for me.)
Long enough for the antisocial elements that were prevalent in Road Warrior to form a society. The focus of the movie deals with the Citadel, a desert redoubt that pumps water up from underground, maintaining crops. The leader of the Citadel is a scary masked figure named the Immortan Joe.
(The actor who plays the Immortan is Hugh Keays-Byrne, who is not a stranger to being a villain in Mad Max movies, since he was the Toecutter in the original.)
It’s just not a society, it’s one with religious elements and a system of trade between certain resource producing groups. But there are still scavengers.
One of the big War Rigs is leaving the Citadel, with an armed escort, to trade for bullets and gasoline (one assumes, based on their route destinations.) The truck is piloted by the impressively named Imperator Furiosa, who has planned a different day trip. She is smuggling Immortan Joe’s wives (or “prime breeders” as a War Boy refers to them) away from the Citadel and towards a settlement of her youth. The Green Place.
Her “theft” is unfortunately discovered, and the might of the Citadel is mobilized for pursuit.
Max, who is a captive of the Citadel, is forced to participate in the pursuit as meals on wheels, having his blood feed a War Boy named Nux.
Furiosa’s group is attacked by scavengers, the Buzzers, but she eludes them due to heroic actions of her entourage who are initially unaware about her treason.
Driving into a mega-scirocco, the War Rig loses the Citadel armada, but is stalled by sand.
Max tries to commandeer the War Rig and abandon the wives, but circumstances have Furiosa and Max agree to continue on as a group.
The War Rig gets past many obstacles, including a deal that goes bad in a canyon pass, sabotage from Nux, a close brush with Immortan Joe’s impressive all-terrain vehicle, getting stuck in a ghastly crow haunted swamp, and a heavily armed treaded vehicle carrying bullet farmers.
Eventually, Furiosa is reunited with her people, but the legendary Green Place is no more, and the fabled Many Mothers survive by luring other desert travelers (probably male travelers) into ambushes.
Max suggests that the group no longer flee, but instead dash to the Citadel and use the War Rig’s tanker to block the canyon pass, effectively cutting off the military might of the Citadel, Gas Town, and the Bullet Farm. It’s a plan.
It’s not necessarily a great plan.
The War Rig is closely pursued by the three war parties, and in the years since The Road Warrior, high speed chase combat has been studied and refined.
It’s like Cirque de So Long Sucker.
There’s a tremendous amount of carnage. Cars are destroyed, people die (in various and painful ways), wives are snatched, vehicles are boarded (not just the War Rig.)
Eventually, an injured Furiosa kills the Immortan Joe, everyone moves from the War Rig into Joe’s car, and Nux (now on Team Furiosa) sacrifices himself to block the canyon pass by flipping the War Rig.
Furiosa, the wives, the surviving members of the Many Mothers, and Max return to the Citadel, where the young War Boys respect Furiosa’s authority and let them effectively take control of the Citadel.
Max, a loner by nature, exits. To make his own way. (And to star in a video game.)
I really, really liked this movie. I’m not even sure where to begin.
Maybe I liked The Road Warrior better, but just by a hair. Maybe a comparison will make my thoughts clear.
The Road Warrior had vehicular action happening every so often, but the main event was the racing of the oil tanker driven by Max, and the attack by the wastelanders. Before that chase happens, there’s some story. It’s the story of the refiners and their plight. The Gyro Captain is our observer, he does all the explaining, complete with ka-chunk ka-chunk ka-chunk sound effects. But it’s not really his story. We don’t learn much about him.
It’s not really much about Max. He starts the movie messed up, he drifts through trying to collect some resources from the refiners. He nearly gets killed, and fueled by “Oh No You Didn’t” levels of rage, volunteers to drive the truck. He doesn’t really go through a lot of changes, but that’s okay. He has some moments of human bonding with the practically mute Feral Kid, and that’s good too.
But in the end, he’s left alone. And eventually only exists in the refinery community’s memories as a legend.
I’m fine with Max being in the movie, but the movie not really bending over backwards to be a movie about Max.
Fury Road is very similar in that tone. It’s quite clearly more Imperator Furiosa’s movie.
We get a lot of her story and it’s all conveyed subtly. We get the stories of the wives, and a sense of the Many Mothers, and of the War Boys.
Max doesn’t really have a story. He’s there. He’s there through the entire movie. But it’s not really about him. Again, I’m fine with that. I already know Max’s story from the original Mad Max. (Which I need to re-watch, yes yes.)
Max is different during parts of the movie. He’s much less cooperative in the beginning, but that changes. He works with Furiosa and the wives. He offers them hope. He’s important.
But in the end, he goes off to be alone. And I really liked that. Because eventually he’ll be a legend told in the Citadel. In fact, that might make inconsistencies in the movie easier to handle. (I’ll come back to that in a moment.)
One thing that I really liked about The Road Warrior was the great twist of the tanker filled with sand at the end. As I mentioned in my recap above, it challenged the illusion I had that the refinery community were the good guys. I mean, they still were the good guys compared to the monstrous minions of The Humongous, but I did not expect them to trick Max in such a way. I respect the realism of that, that the good guys can have shades of gray.
There’s a similar situation going on in Mad Max: Fury Road, but it’s the reverse. I’m not totally rooting against the War Boys.
Okay, ease up. Hear me out.
In general, the War Boys and the Citadel are the bad guys. I’m rooting against them. I’m in support of Furiosa smuggling out the wives. Immortan Joe was a villain worthy of having his face ripped off. That’s not what I’m talking about.
I’m kind of exclusively talking about the War Boys who are riding shotgun with Furiosa on the War Rig. Yes, they’re probably all monsters too, but I had some kind of sympathy for them, and an admiration for their dedication to protecting the War Rig against the Buzzers.
When Furiosa’s second-in-command, Ace, sees the Buzzers and asks her if they should turn back and lead the enemy into their “backup” (the pursuing forces of the Citadel) Furiosa instead insists that they “Fang it” and blows the rig’s horn. Every War Boy on the rig sprung into readiness. Ace voiced no doubts, he was going to protect the rig, not question the chain of command.
The Buzzer vehicles were nightmares, especially the large one with the construction claw. And they were leaping on those vehicles.
Right on, man.
I feel confident that we were supposed to sympathize in part with Furiosa’s War Boys, and possibly the others as well. It’s why the wives didn’t kill Nux (which eventually gained them an ally.) It’s probably why during the final chase scene, the marauders getting onto the War Rig were Gas Town soldiers, who were very reminiscent of The Humongous’ men in The Road Warrior.
I don’t know how things were done in Gas Town and the Bullet Farm, but the War Boys at the Citadel had certainly been indoctrinated in a cult-like atmosphere. Immortan Joe was their savior, the person who could carry them to a Viking-inspired Valhalla.
I have a softness in my heart for child soldiers, even ones that are full grown. I don’t excuse them for their crimes and abuses against others, but I pity them and I hope that they can find redemption.
I have hope for the young War Boys back at the Citadel now that it’s under Furiosa and the wive’s control. I think that’s a significant story of hope, and I approve.
Bumps in the Road
If I think too hard about Fury Road (or The Road Warrior) not everything makes sense.
- Those cars use up a lot of gasoline. (Humongous’ men seemed to be just wasting gas, all the time. I would have waited until their tanks were all dry, then evacuated.)
- The people who lived outside the Citadel… HOW? What were they eating? The water dumps from Joe was crazy inefficient.
- How did Max survive having so much blood drained? Or when Nux crashed his car?
- Would that blood transfusion have worked on Furiosa? I mean, I know that Max is a universal donor, but she’d been stabbed, and was probably bleeding internally. Putting more of Max’s blood in her would just end up being wasted, right?
Yes yes. I don’t really care about any of that. Because I choose not to experience the movie literally.
Max is too young to be in the time of the movie is set, where only really old people seem to remember things like television. Some people have suggested that this Max is really a grown up Feral Kid, and I’d accept that, but I’m not really behind it.
I prefer to believe that Mad Max: Fury Road is a story told by people in the Citadel, long after Imperator Furiosa is a legend, just a memory. Like Max is to the refinery survivors who escaped and told their tales to their children.
The best legends grow and incorporate other legends, like Welsh tales that added a wizard named Merlin to the story of a king named Arthur. Tales that later added the story of a french knight named Lancelot du Lac, centuries later.
Why would Max’s blood save Furiosa? Because legends work that way.
So the movie doesn’t have to strictly and absolutely make sense for me to enjoy it. Is that a cop-out? Am I being too slack and forgiving? It’s the same reason I loved the move Excalibur. Let’s be clear, no Arthurian era should feature beautiful armor like that.
But we accept it, because it’s Magical Realism Camelot. It’s not supposed to be taking literally.
And in my opinion, neither should Fury Road. It should be enjoyed and appreciated for the cinematic masterpiece that it is.
Final Unspoken Thoughts
I’m way more chatty than Max. So I need to shup a bit. I’ll wrap things up with just a very few things to say, and not expound on them all that much.
Everyone ends up messed up at the end of a Mad Max movie:
I liked how Max and Furiosa have the same kind of injuries, just on opposite sides.
Max’s car that Slit drives and gets destroyed in Fury Road. It was previously blown up in The Road Warrior. I insist that it’s the same car, the last of the V8 Interceptors.
I hope it’s in every Mad Max movie. Like an indestructible ghost car that comes back from the dead. (Kind of like Max.)
I was intrigued by the ghostly girl that was haunting Max. It wasn’t his daughter, Max had an infant son who was ridden down along with Jessie, Max’s wife.
Call me crazy, but I felt that the little girl was an amalgamation of both Max’s dead wife and child. In his mind, this ghost was younger and younger, and the size of the machines that ran them down became bigger and bigger. (I’ve been searching online for an image of the girl, but like a ghost, I can’t find one.)
Final thing, and it might totally be in my mind. In The Road Warrior, the Humongous’ right hand man was a crazy mohawk-sporting dude named Wez, played by actor Vernon Wells. On a few occasions, we’d get a nice close up of Wez growling or hissing wide-mouthed at the camera.
When Furiosa leaps onto the Immortan’s car, one of his other Imperator’s rushes her. I’m convinced that his face was digitally altered to resemble Vernon Wells’ features.
Don’t care if it’s true. I think the idea is enough.
Just like the idea of Max was enough for me in the movie.
All images (other then the picture of the wonderful Helen Mirren as Morgan le Fay, magicking up her son Mordred in the movie Excalibur) are from the Warner Brother movies Mad Max , Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior, and Mad Max: Fury Road.
I make no claims to the artwork, but some claims to the text. So there.
© Patrick Sponaugle 2015 Some Rights Reserved