Mad Max: Fury Road
May 18, 2015
Longtime readers of this blog will know that one of my favorite film genres is 1980’s Post-apocalyptic Roadtrip movies. Mad Max: Fury Road is a delightful addition to the genre. As in, I was literally delighted through much of the movie, because all the gonzo weirdness I expect from a 1980’s Post-apocalyptic Roadtrip movie was here in spades. A roomful of voluptuous mothers being milked? Check! An obsession with industrial fetish gear? Check! Diaphanous women in unlikely clean white muslin? Check! Random stilt people in a swamp? Check! That one colorful punk biker gang that’s been in every single 1980’s Post-apocalyptic Roadtrip movie for the last thirty years? Check! And so on. Loved it.
Then we have the Vuvalini. I’m not sure I have words to adequately express how glorious the Vuvalini are. There has never been anything quite like them in any movie ever, and they are amazing and powerful and if I start talking about them I won’t be able to stop, so I’ll stop now. (Max: “That’s bait.” Me: “Hahahahahaahaha, it sure is, I love all you people so much!”)
I was going to talk about how wonderfully feminist the movie is, how the entire third act is pretty much about three generations of women — the Wives, Furiosa, and the Vuvalini — all supporting and nurturing and teaching and fighting for each other, and it isn’t a big deal, it’s just another story to be told along with all the other stories in this blasted wasteland, and how revolutionary this is for a general-audience action movie, when it shouldn’t be revolutionary and yet it is somehow… But I think all this is pretty self evident.
Instead, I’m going to talk about how truly baffled I am at all the people saying this film doesn’t have a story. That it’s just action and nothing else. What??? What movie did these people see? It’s a simple story: Get vehicle from point A to point B, overcome obstacles to reach promised land. Definition of promised land changes, overcome more obstacles, the end. How is that not a story?
But what really makes it a story are the three distinct character arcs hanging on that simple plot. Nux’s entire belief system breaks down and he has to find something else to believe in — love. Furiosa discovers the goal she’s been fighting for no longer exists and has to decide to either give up or a find a new goal — this decision marks the transition between the second and third acts. And Max has to regain his humanity — he spends the first third of the movie mostly nonverbal, and slowly he regains speech, and the ability and desire to interact with the people he’s been thrown among. His climactic moment, the climactic moment of the movie in fact, is when he finally tells Furiosa his name. And he is human again, and sane.
There isn’t a wasted detail in this movie. When the one Wife takes the bag of heirlooms from the Keeper of the Seeds, I cried. I’ve never cried in a Mad Max movie before. This is some really good story meat here.
People who say this doesn’t have a story — Is it because none of the characters stopped to explain things and they had to figure it out for themselves? Were they really so distracted by the shiny explosions that they didn’t notice all the powerful stuff happening underneath all that?
People keep talking about the action in this movie, and how great and relentless the action is. But I propose that one of the reasons the action in this film is so great is because it’s supported by a really good story. Everything happens for a reason. It’s all pointed toward the narrative drive (ha!), and nothing happens at random. And it’s happening to actual people we care about because of these powerful arcs.
My great fear is that moving forward, we’re going to get a bunch of action movies that think they have to top the action in this one — without realizing that the action is great because of the story, not in spite of it.