Story Review: Mad Max Fury Road

June 17, 2015

The best way to get better at writing is to write. Obviously. But also important is to read. The more stories a writer takes in and analyzes, the more ideas they’ll have to steal draw from, and the better their work will become.

So, in an effort to improve my own writing, I’ve been trying to read more. And, though movies are only half credit, I thought I’d review of a movie I finally saw today, since you’re far more likely to have watched that than any book I could mention.

Let’s talk about Mad Max: Fury Road.

Before this movie was released, I wasn’t looking forward to it. It was slotted firmly under “Wait and see if it’s any good,” and “Eh, maybe I’ll watch it on Netflix later.” So when it started getting good reviews—it has a 98% on Rotten Tomatoes, which I just now learned, holy friggin’ shit—I decided to actually see a movie before it left theaters for once.

I made it by like two days. As usual, I’m behind in everything. Wee!

My gut reaction: Awesome! I love a good action movie, and this was a great one. It both brought the world to life and goosed me up on solid emotional thrills, so well done, says I.

But I’m not here to give my impressions. I want to pick the story apart, and figure out why it was good, for possible theft at a later date. I picked out a few elements.

Tension

What Fury Road did best of all was create tension. It was one giant chase scene, as is befitting of a Mad Max movie, and the entire time I was glued to my seat. It seemed like it could all go off the rails any second, and I was never sure exactly what would happen. That’s where the emotional high came from—of feeling that tension alongside the characters.

This works especially well in a visual medium—and especially when you don’t have control of the pace, such as in theaters—because there was no chance for me to put it aside and think about what was going on. If I did, maybe I would have found plot holes, and some of the shifty science could have annoyed me. But it didn’t give me a chance. It was a ride, which was the right feeling for this kind of movie.

Crazy World, Grounded Action

The action in Fury Road was predictably bonkers, though not in the way of, say, the Star Wars prequels (i.e. shitty). It was bonkers because the world has been driven totally mad, and everyone went insane along with it. From cultists swinging from poles onto moving trucks to blind guitar solos that spew fire, the insane world was brought wonderfully to life.

And yet, the action was often gratifyingly grounded. For every crazy-awesome stunt, there were others that epitomized the basic struggle against human limits. This was especially the case for Max and Furiosa, who took the brunt of the film’s punishment. This was especially clear after (spoiler alert. Seriously, look away if you haven’t seen it!) …

… after Furiosa was critically injured late in the movie. Watching her try to do something as simple as climb out of the driver’s cab and climb up onto the enemy vehicle was more visceral and gritty than much of the high-octane action the movie was filled with. Something so basic is all the more impressive because it’s so much easier to imagine. That helped keep the movie from being too outlandish. It was just outlandish enough.

Max: Not Necessarily Likable, But Entertaining

The best characters aren’t always likable, and the eponymous Max really wasn’t. He spent the first part of the movie as a raving lunatic, initially trying to strand Furiosa and the others rather than aid in what the viewers immediately recognized as a worthy cause. Max isn’t relateable at all, and I felt his constant hallucinations were a little heavy-handed, even if they were effective at propelling him forward.

And yet, what Max was, was entertaining. I wanted to say interesting, but as a character, he’s not much—he’s more of a human force of nature, all lethal skill and gut instinct rolled up into one muscular, crazy package. You don’t empathize with Max, even though there were tantalizing peeks of the sane human he once was. While he was entertaining, Max would have had trouble holding the story together on his own. Which is fine, because…

Furiosa’s Story

This movie wasn’t about Max. It was Furiosa’s story. Max was basically a weapon Furiosa ended up wielding at her enemies, though he did give good counsel as well. But it was Furiosa who drove the plot. She came up with the plan, she initiated it, she suffered for it, and she led the group through the whole thing. Max helped, certainly, but it was Furiosa and the other women who gave purpose and drive to the story.

A story about Max alone could have been fun, but it wouldn’t have been interesting. Furiosa gave us that.

The Feminism (or Not) of Fury Road

A lot of ink has been spilled about whether Fury Road is a feminist film. In my opinion, the answer is—as is the case with so many of these questions—“sort of.” It’s a movie with feminist themes, but it’s written by three men, and the problems women face aren’t something that can be easily explained. (I think. I’m a guy too, so I’m just guessing at my ignorance.) The main plot is pretty feminist, but it’s not very subtle, and some of the world building is not so feminist (nor does it treat people with disabilities well, nor are there almost any people who aren’t white, etc).

I think this misses the point. Fury Road is trying to be feminist. The main themes might not be subtle, but they’re definitely not misogynistic, and the film treats most of the female characters with spoken lines as, well, characters, as opposed to pretty set dressing. (Though some of them are that too.) It’s not perfect, but it’s trying, and most of all, the story is good. Many sins can be forgiven as long as a story fulfills this basic purpose.

Final Thoughts

All in all, Mad Max: Fury Road was a good movie. It was a pleasant surprise from a franchise I knew nothing about (other than as an influence for games like Borderlands), and was expecting nothing from. It tries, largely succeeds, and was fun to watch. Next time I’m writing a chase scene, I’ll be thinking of this one.

As always, thank you for using my Amazon Affiliate link (info).

By Stephen W. Gee

Author of Wage Slave Rebellion, Freelance Heroics, and about two good blog posts out of a hundred.

4 Comments

  1. Reply

    Persey

    Just dropped by after reading your Kingsman review…and I too loved Mad Max Fury Road…(even if-mostly-it’s Aussie roots are all-but-long-gone) probably, similarly for all the wrong reasons if I too allowed myself time and (personal) space to distract/distance me. Seeing movies like this in the cinema is definitely still the best experience…directors and cinema photographers are still creating the work for large screen/audience entertainment so I feel at least it’s respecting their art to view it that way.

    I agree on the character of Max being at mercy of the greater story but hey it is great to see a hero/man in the passenger seat occasionally…leaves you wanting more /esp character development in the next installment. And any amount of gritty realistic action juxtaposed with the outrageous insanity of the overall movie/the juggernaught plot/the amazing location….is welcome in (certain digestible) quantities.Bring it on!
    (oops another stateside expression that’s best avoided!)

    1. Reply

      Stephen W. Gee

      I do look forward to them delving into his character more later on. With a certain amount of trepidation … it may be better if he stays crazy and untouchable, I’m not sure. I’m pretty sure they’ll try, though, and I’ll be watching in to see how it goes.

  2. Reply

    Khalid

    Excellent review, good points on the action and characters. I don’t go to the cinema that much, but with Fury Road I felt I had to, although I didn’t watch trailers. I hope more movies like this one get made.

    1. Reply

      Stephen W. Gee

      Ditto. I rarely make it to the theater, but it was worth going for that one. It was an awesome (awe-inspiring) spectacle with just enough depth.

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