I wasn’t quite as smitten with “Mad Max: Fury Road” as many (or most?) others were. It’s a very good movie, but it didn’t manage to thrill me from start to finish.
I had two main issues with the movie. The first one, unfortunately, is the recasting of Max. I guess that I would have liked “Fury Road” more if they would have shot the exact same movie 10 years earlier, with Mel Gibson in the role. Think of him as an actor (or a human being) what you want, but he’s perfect for this quiet guys with revenge on their mind. It’s a role he time and time again excelled in, even though he can probably play it in his sleep by now. Which he arguably did in “Beyond Thunderdome”, but even there, I found him better than Tom Hardy in “Fury Road”. It’s not exactly his fault, and overall, I like the guy. He showed some very good performances in recent years. However, in my opinion, he was miscast as Max. He’s better when he can let loose and can actually talk than with this mostly quiet, brooding types. He’s not bad – far from it, actually – but he’s just no Mel. It didn’t help that he doesn’t look anything like his predecessor, which made this a rather jarring transition. I had to remind myself constantly that this indeed is supposed to be Max Rockatansky, and also supposed to work as a sequel to the trilogy, and not as a reboot (even though he has flashes of his daughter, not quite grown up, but also far older than when she died, which didn’t exactly lessen my confusion). And to be honest: Given the fact that Max doesn’t really play a major role in the proceedings, I wonder if it wouldn’t have been better to just call it “Fury Road”, have it play in the same universe, but without Mad Max. He wasn’t that essential to the plot anyway, and what little part he played could just as well have been filled by another (new) character (like Nux, for example).
My second main issue was with the first half hour or so. It took me a while to really find my way into the movie, since at the beginning, I had absolutely no clue what the fuck was going on here. As spectacular as all the action scenes in the movie were, the first big set piece felt rather pointless to me. See, here’s the deal: I love action just as much as the next guy, but in order for me to be invested in it, I need to know what’s it all about, what everyone tries to achieve, and what the stakes are. Otherwise, I have no idea what might happen in they’re not successful in their quest, and thus have no reason to root for them. I may be weird that way, but that’s just the way it is (at least when we’re talking about longer action sequences; for example, I have no problem with the typical Bond-vignettes at the beginning where you’re usually also thrown right into the action. But those usually are over within 5 minutes and don’t take up 30 minutes of the running time). Thus, as nice as the action scenes at the beginning were to look at, I wasn’t invested emotionally, I didn’t care what happened, and thus, I didn’t find them exactly thrilling and/or exciting. There simply were a study in mayhem. Impressive and wonderful to look at, but also rather pointless, arbitrary and gratuitous. It wasn’t until after the sand storm that I started to understand what it was all about, and slowly got invested emotionally. After that, the movie got better and better, with the scene when they reach the “Green Place” a particular standout. I just felt that it took the movie a little too long to get there, and would have prefered to learn upfront what the stakes were.
Accordingly, I loved the showdown. I finally knew what everyone wanted to achieve, and thus I found the action really gripping and thrilling. As before, it also was spectacularly shot. George Miller has a clear eye for incredible action scenes that are crazy and original and wild and chaotic, but never incomprehensible. He doesn’t need cheap tricks like fast cuts and strong zooms to try to make the action more thrilling. You always know exactly what is going on, and the fact that he mostly refrained from CGI, and instead used real cars and real people acting out real stunts, there’s an authenticity to it that I found very refreshing – especially at a time where those things are rather rare, and the CGI-fest is the norm. I also loved Imperator Furiosa (played with great intensity by Charlize Theron) who was the real driving force of the movie. The fact that she plays such an essential part, as well as the particulars of her mission, also added a feminist punch to the proceedings that was especially welcome in this action- and testosterone-filled post-apocalyptic world. George Miller’s direction is flawless, and the score by Junkie XL perfectly captured the adrenaline rush and the craziness of the images on-screen, but also managed to heighten the quieter, more emotional moments. Finally, a lot of original, crazy ideas can be found in this movie, and while it almost might have been a little bit too much weirdness for my taste, it was still very refreshing to see so much crazy shit in such a blockbuster movie. That alone sets “Mad Max: Fury Road” very much apart from your regular popcorn entertainment. With another lead actor and a tightened (or more easily accessible) beginning, this might have been able to rival “The Road Warrior”. As it stands, it’s still a highly enjoyable, action-packed thrill ride; even though in my mind, it’s more a return to form for George Miller than for Mad Max himself.