MEH MAX: FURY ROAD

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somewhere in there is a movie

I finally got around to seeing Mad Max: Fury Road, a film that achieved the rare accomplishment of obtaining perfect neutral cinematic buoyancy.

By this I mean the good stuff and the not-good stuff were so perfectly balanced as to neutralize each other. I neither loved not hated the experience, it neither delighted nor angered me.

It was as if it never really existed at all.

First off, the good stuff:

  1. Charlize Theron makes a great action star and was easily the most entertaining part of the film. We forgive you, Charlize, for not having enough sense to run perpendicular from a crashing starship in Prometheus.[1]
  2. Visually, a very pure cinematic experience, though it did get tiresome and boring by the last half hour (see below). It told the story and cleverly used toss away lines and little bits of business to convey a great deal of background information (or more properly, prompted audiences to fill in a lot of background information; see that below as well). A big part of that self-supplied background was presenting a feminist heroine pitted against corrupt, diseased, dying old white men and the pasty white war boys who blindly followed them, believing a false gospel of blood and power.[2] Subtle Mad Max: Fury Road ain’t. Nor complex.
  3. Great comic book characters, but next time they should get on-screen titles that introduce them since their names are rarely mentioned in a discernable way.
  4. Action stuff was really well staged. For the first hour it was all great fun crashing and bashing and banging and ka-wanging.
  5. Despite claims to the contrary, there’s a lot of CGI effects in this movie, but for the most part they were used to enhance practical effects and stunts, not create an ersatz reality: Replacing Charlize Theron’s arm with a see-thru prosthetic device, populating real crashing cars with half-naked war boys who go flying through the air, enhancing the accuracy and effects of various hurled devices and bombs, etc. This is the way to go with CGI: Whenever possible use practical or miniature effects and resort to CGI only to supply little touches and flourishes, not the whole scene.

All of which is countered by the not-good:

  1. Not a single fresh idea or plot element in this story: We know exactly how it’s going to turn out from the moment it starts. Nothing new or original or insightful.
  2. Ye gods, how do you make a movie that’s nothing but non-stop motor vehicle chases & crashes boring? By not giving the characters anything to do except chase and crash. Look at the great action pictures of the past: They all spent a significant amount of screen time showing who their characters were, getting us to feel compelled to follow them through to their destiny.   The Seven Samurai, A Fistfull Of Dollars, The Dirty Dozen, The Godfather, Lethal Weapon, all these took time to let us crawl into the heads of their characters.
  3. And speaking of Lethal Weapon, the lack of Mel Gibson is sorely felt. No snark, and we certainly wish his career well, but Tom Hardy is a walking hole on the screen.[3] I don’t know if Mel was offered the role but if he was and he didn’t take it, or if he wasn’t offered it in the first place, well, it robbed the movie of much needed emotional / character continuity and Mel of a chance to redeem his self-torpedoed career.
  4. The characters are no better developed than action figures; it would have been a great idea to introduce them by having them rip their way out of a blister pack. They are all clichés and stereotypes and in the context of this particular film that works well enough, but they are all flash and no substance. Anybody who hasn’t already seen a hundred and one mindless action movies isn’t going to be able to figure out what they want or why.
  5. It’s been reported that the film had no actual script but rather just a series of storyboards that the cast and crew referred to. Now, that certainly works insofar as you can track the story plot chain of events in Mad Max: Fury Road well enough, but the characters are reduced to walking clichés and pastiches. There was nothing really there for the actors to work with.

Summary:

The good parts are really good, but the not-good parts are really…empty. There are lots of movies where the good parts are counterbalanced by bad parts that lead one to ask, “WTF were they thinking?!?!?” but in Mad Max: Fury Road we don’t ask what the creators were thinking as it’s abundantly clear they weren’t thinking anything at all but rather taking the simplest / easiest paint-by-numbers approach to story telling.

The Mad Max franchise is better served as a series of video games than movies at this point. Have fun; I begrudge no one their pleasure.

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[1] Hey, Fox, want some free advice? Now that you’ve lost the Star Wars franchise to Disney and Ridley Scott is mucking things up with the Prometheus series, why not cast Charlize Theron as a grown up Newt kicking Alien ass all around the cosmos? Just explain away Alien 3 and Alien: Regurgitation as nightmares Ripley had in hypersleep and that Newt never died but made it home safe and sound.

[2] A large number of so called Men’s Rights Activists had the vapors over girl cooties being found in their all boys adventure. The glorious schadenfreude of their collective impotent hissy fit alone makes Mad Max: Fury Road worth the effort.

[3] Not that he’s ever given anything to actually do. Yeah, he comes up with The Really Cool Idea that turns everything around at the end of the movie but by then it’s as arbitrary a plot point as anything else in the movie.

one night in the Desert Inn, circa 1968

On The Convention Trail -- San Diego Comic Con 2015