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*This is a conversation about Mad Max: Fury Road that is currently in theaters.*
*It will contain spoilers. You have been warned.*
Awaiting the return of Mad Max for nearly five years, the fans finally got to ride on the Fury Road this May. I’ve been a casual fan over the years after being introduced to the series by my father. But several years ago, when combing through PREMIERE magazine, I saw a picture of Mel Gibson as Mad Max. He was listed as one of the top screen anti-heroes and it was something about his leather jacket, white tee, and image that struck me. One of my friends and I spent the following summer imagining everything a Mad Max film could (and should be.)
Image via screenrelish.com
I won’t get into it, but it revolved around Hugh Jackman, zombies, and a soundtrack by Men at Work. Yes, it would have been one of those movies. Alas, George Miller resurrected his original bad-ass and hired Tom Hardy around the release of Christopher Nolan’s “Inception.” After several delays and a long arduous road, the film hit theaters on May 15.
It was close to two weeks from its opening that I finally saw “Mad Max: Fury Road”; after hearing reviews praising it and reviews cursing it, was the film as polarizing as I had originally hoped? I believe it was, but then I’m the rare kid that actually knew of The Wasteland, the Gyro Captain, the Interceptor, and “Captain Walker” back in high school.
It’s hard to imagine a film release these days that polarised audiences in such a dramatic way. For those that have romanticized the era of showmanship in cinema, many have thought that the poetry of film making and story telling was over as most of what we see, read, and listen to is reduced to that of a Facebook status or tweet – momentary, fleeting, and often forgotten. Having seen “Mad Max: Fury Road” last month and here, in June, still talking of it with friends – I believe that director and writer George Miller has given us a modern day classic that not only honors the legacy of The Road Warrior, but upholds the beauty of cinema for this generation and those to come well into the days of no more gasoline and world powers crumbling.
In reflecting over “Mad Max: Fury Road” I was immediately challenged when thinking of how I’d be able to write a review for a film that not only does justice to what George Miller created, but also preserve my sanity as I attempted to cover a brilliantly maddening 2 hour opus. So, naturally, I turned to two friends, who happen to be film buffs, and asked them what they felt in regards to “Mad Max: Fury Road.” Here is my conversation with two furious critics of “Mad Max” – Daniel Kline of Philadelphia and Jake Leonen of New York.
Steven: Daniel, what were you’re initial thoughts on “Fury Road” and what intrigued you most? This was your first experience with the world that belongs to Max Rockatansky, yes?
Daniel Kline: This was my first rodeo. I think my brother put it best when he said (minor SPOILER ALERT) that as soon as he saw Max chewing on that two headed lizard and then jumping into the Interceptor to escape the War Boys in the first scene he knew it was going to be good. That opening scene got me too, but it really began to click when Max tries to escape from the Citadel. It was just so crazy, drawing on the best of past movie prison escapes, while also taking it up a notch.
Image via chud.com
What got me in the theater in the first place? I was intrigued as soon as I saw the trailer and just thought, “Man, those visuals look amazing.” That and the fact that you had this long speed chase through the post-apocalyptic desert, with some tribal freaks chasing the title character, it just looked awesome. Hollywood doesn’t usually take the risk with a film that’s so off the wall, out there, and really market it. I had to see it just so that we get more attempts to make films like this in the future.
While the bare bones concept and stunning cinematography baited me, the character development and continual plot twists kept me engaged. It’s really hard to do non-stop action picture that doesn’t become background noise after a while. Sometimes it’s difficult to know what’s going on because everything is so fast – it feels like a headache. Fury Road was able to balance continual action with the story line. That alone was really refreshing, along with the fact that I couldn’t predict the ending while watching the film.
Steven: Jake, You’ve seen “Mad Max: Fury Road” twice as of this writing. What initially drew you to George Miller’s vision of a post-apocalyptic wasteland? Were you a fan of the originals before or after learning of “Fury Road”?
Jake Leonen: Yes I was a fan of the originals before learning of Fury Road. Miller’s post apocalyptic world drew me in because of the car chases, but what it did to hold my imagination is how different and well thought out his world is.
My generation of movie goers have seen dystopian movies where a far reaching centralized power imposes its will on individuals (e.g. The Hunger Games or The Divergent series). However, the Wasteland of Mad Max has done away with that and instead examined how individuals would want to exert power on other individuals (all government is reduced to tribes or small cities). It’s a different way of artistically thinking about power and conflict and also how Max, being a loner who’s only goal is to survive, can live/ not live in such a world.
The world opens up a pandora’s box of interpretation. It makes me think deeply while allowing me to mindlessly enjoy the action scenes.
Jake Leonen: What about you? What drew you into Miller’s post-apocalyptic world and what makes you stay invested in it and in Max?
Image via IMDB
Steven:I was a casual fan of the first two. My parents had the VHS and I remember enjoying the photo on the cover. Leather jacket, helmet, and thinking “What is this all about?” Several years later, I was reading an issue of PREMIERE magazine and saw Mad Max listed as one of the top anti-heroes in cinema. This was probably 2005/2006. I was enthralled. Mel Gibson? Leather jacket? White tee? I wanted to be him and one of my friends and I bought the DVDs and watched. It was a wild concept and vision. It stuck with me.
It probably started with the picture I first saw of Mel Gibson. That’s what drew me in at first, but I’m a big science-fiction/action/adventure fan. George Miller’s vision was so rich in all four films, especially “Fury Road.” The themes and concepts are quite divisive and fire starters within our society so to see him handle them with such dexterity was impressive.
Touching upon an idea you had mentioned in one of our conversations, there is a theory that Max is an undetermined figure, a loner without specificity. He could be anyone and the Max of “Thunderdome” and “Fury Road” could really be that of legend. Was it the same man? Was it a fiction created to inspire as time passed in The Wasteland? We don’t know and it’s that ambiguity that keeps me invested in him.
Daniel, I like that your brother mentioned The War Boys chasing down Max. The movie opens with this tease of a giant chase and almost as soon as it begins, it’s over. I love that George Miller surprised us at every opportunity he had and never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity. AfterMaxis caught, tries to escape,andis captured again, I believe we immediately realize that the frenetic pacing of this film is unlike anything we’ve seen before.
I love that while Max weaves in and out of the story, he’s not necessarily the catalyst for what drives the picture. I’d have to go with Charlize Theron’s Furiosa.
Steven:Did you enjoy the characterization and arc that Furiosa and Imortan Joe’s wives have? Do you wish we had more of Tom Hardy’s Max?
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Daniel Kline: I’m happy with what we got of Max. He’s not a dialogue heavy character, but you can read a lot of him through his body language (kudos to Tom Hardy on that because that’s not easy) and the choices he makes. But as you said, the real star of the show is Imperator Furiosa! If we had more of Max, we wouldn’t have gotten so much Furiosa and that would’ve been a shame. She is such a complex character with her backstory, her daring ingenuity, her no nonsense drive mixed with compassion for Joes’ wives, along with her desire for redemption. She’s even physically complex with her mechanical arm and gorgeous shaved head! That moment (SPOILER ALERT) when she reaches the end of the road and reunites with her female biker clan, only to find out that the place that she’s dreamed about, and hoped for since childhood no longer exists… I could really identify with that. I think we all can because we’ve all experienced broken dreams. And it’s only amplified against the backdrop of those huge deserts and the beautifully haunting soundtrack by Tom Holkenborg a.k.a. Junkie XL. This and a million other moments are a nice detour from the cardboard, black and white characters we got in, say, Ultron.
Image via indiewire.com
When (SPOILER ALERT) she’s put on the moving platform at the end of the film and allowed entrance to the Citadel, you realize that Furiosa is bringing up with her a whole new standard for strong lead female characters and that the film industry cannot stay the same. As a person who has traveled around the world and seen places where women are treated in such an inhuman way, and the rule of law is virtually non-existent, it’s nice to finally see the industry promoting women that look like most of the women on our planet – women who have been through hell or worse and still are here, not only surviving, but thriving. This isn’t some theoretical future world. This is our present world! That was the great thing about Joe’s wives. Yes they’re stunning, but that’s not their only defining feature, physically and characteristically. Of course Joe, like many men, can’t get past this. But they keep up the fight. Sure there are moments of doubt and even loss (MULTIPLE SPOILER ALERT). Angharad sacrifices herself. The group helps Cheedo from going back to Immortan as a result of this and she eventually makes a brave choice during a crucial moment and this provides some meaning to Ang’s choice to die for the group. We find out (SPOILER ALERT) that these young girls are not the first generation of women to fight. There’s this group of old bikers on the other side of the desert, who are totally fine without men, and then come back to lead the way for the new order. And yet this isn’t just well done feminist propaganda as so many have felt and argued over. There’s an actual story these real (I don’t know a better adjective) characters are accomplishing; it’s messy like the stories in our lives. The way George Miller is able to create such depth in places we haven’t seen before – geographically, genre-wise, dialogue-wise, gender-wise… it’s really a landmark movie!
First of all, I loved the feminist message of “Mad Max: Fury Road” and anyone complaining about it isn’t worth the air needed to sustain my existence while I type a retort.However, I do have my qualms with Arthur Chu and his article [‘Mad Max’: How Men’s Rights Activists Killed the World
]. It’s just another example of why I, despite my support for his intent, can’t agree with his view of masculinity and his solution for “reconciling” a tarnished history of men and feminist causes. Chu wants to put that history into the ash heap. I would rather try to save what’s best.
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That said, what I liked about Max’s subtle role in Fury Road was how his actions correlated with his development within a redemption story. From the beginning, the ghosts of his past haunt his sanity and make his quest for survival harsher as the War Boys have their way with him. However, towards the end, it’s those ghosts that compel him to save Furiosa, the Vuvalini, and the Wives from blind optimism. as well as Max’s life by making him flinch to stop an arrow to the head.
This is Max reconciling with his past. He has witnessed and done terrible things prior to the events of Fury Road (we know he is capable of it especially after that scene where he blows up the Bullet Farmer and his convoy in the middle of the swamp). However, his experience developing his survival skills and mastery of weapons only raised the chances of success for his allies. His arc reaches its apex when he saves Furiosa’s life in two very visceral ways: by stabbing her in the chest and giving her his own blood. Two painful ways to sustain life that require PAST experience to do successfully. And as he does this he comes to terms with himself and affirms who he is to Furiosa’s question of “What is your name?” He says quietly but with affirmation “Max. Max is my name. That’s my name.” This is a man coming to terms with his history and accepting himself.
It’s in this story arc (which I will argue has taken its place rightful place in the back ground) that the question of masculinity’s place in a world that needs feminism is contemplated on, but never directly answered.
Image via joblo.com
Max does earn his allegiance with the Vuvalini and demonstrates that men can and should play a part in advancing women. However, writer Chu does point out a very important question. Is there a place for men of Max’s ilk in this brave new world? Max unlike the last 3 movies, willingly leaves for the Wasteland after Furiosa’s victory preempting any answer. This signals that this is a question that needs to be pondered upon. Despite Chu’s opinion, it is not saying that there is no place for men who have grown up in violence; it’s just that the question is not entertained.
Arthur Chu’s intent is noble and important, but not allowing men to come to terms with their biological and societal past, and forcing a total rejection of it just dehumanizes men. Yes, violence, rape, pillaging, lust for power and unwarranted dominance are seeped in masculinity, but so is honor, earned respect, daring, and, might I say, love.
The mythos of “Mad Max: Fury Road” gives men a moment to consider reclaiming their masculinity from those who’ve made it toxic and in turn make it life-giving. (Quick analogy: Compare how Max’s blood, by force, fueled Nux’s misguided ambition while Max’s blood, by choice, saved Furiosa).
Oh… and this movie deserves a f****** Oscar!
Steven: It does. In his world, men still had a place and the women acknowledge that as in the scene where the bikers see Max and Nux for the first time. They maintain their independence, strength, and dignity while also seeking to find a place for the men they’ve encountered. Overall, I expected a solid film, but I was never expecting it to be as much of a landmark achievement in film as it truly is. That was a pleasant and welcome surprise.
Image via bloody-disgusting.com
Let’s take a moment to speak of the “beautifully haunting soundtrack.” Junkie XL a.k.a Tom Holkenborg composed the music. He’s also co-composing a smaller film that releases next March and stars Ben Affleck. Have you heard of that one? “Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice”? (wink wink) He’ll be composing the music for Batman whereas Hans Zimmer will continue to build off of his themes he created for “Man of Steel.” But, for now, we have the soundtrack for “Fury Road.” Loud, bombastic, engaging… I could go on. I felt that he was able to tap into the stylings of Hans Zimmer and possibly even Henry Jackman and Harry Gregson Williams, but really turn it on its head. The music blended seamlessly into the film! Literally!
Daniel Kline: A movie’s soundtrack is so important to good film-making. It’s almost an additional character and way more integral than crazy special effects. Hopefully, you get both in a sci-fi movie, but if you have to choose one or the other, you go with music every time. It gave me non-verbal cues of what to feel and when. The soundtrack in Fury Road added some nice undertones to the film’s long chase scene and emphasized crucial moments like the despair-end-of-the road one with Furiosa. Overall, there was a mix of classic orchestra with the grit of modern electronica in a complementary, non-clash way. You’d get these epic horns and strings in the background for the Citadel, which reinforced it’s grandeur followed by the rock music of the War Boys. The soundtrack itself was personified in the blind guitar player attached to the War vehicle AND with the ridiculous amount of speakers? It not only added to the over-the-top spectacle (how wonderfully absurd and outlandish is this mobile warrior ministrel!) – it conveyed the soul of the bikers – fearless, obnoxious, genius, and insane, but in the end only dangling over the edge of self destruction, blind to justice. You get this reinforced when the Bullet Farmer is blinded and charging forward. The War Boys are not as free from constraint as they think and justice has a cruel irony. How cool to convey this with a soundtrack avatar!
Steven: As you could see, “Mad Max: Fury Road” is unlike many other summer blockbusters. It’s big, it’s loud, but it’s smart. There aren’t too many films that I’ve seen recently that have generated topics of conversation among such a diverse group of people. That’s one of the aspects that I love so much about what George Miller has created. I would have never thought Fury Road would be the movie that I’d see this summer and find myself thinking about so much. I knew I was going to enjoy, but not to this capacity. Whether you’ve seen the movie or not, loved it or hated it, there’s no denying that your friends and family have been speaking about Mad Max. How great is that? Almost 40 years later, people are still talking about Mad Max!
One thing is for sure, while we may not need another hero, we still need Max. And, the future belongs to the mad!
“Mad Max: Fury Road” gets five stars from Steven Biscotti, Daniel Kline, and Jake Leonen.
For more on the authors of this furious review:
Jake Leonen is a sort of typical guy from Rockaway Beach, Queens. He studies computer information systems in business school and puts much thought on things that he probably shouldn’t. He lives on black, sugarless coffee, Mumford & Sons and the existence of V8 engines.
Daniel Kline has just returned to the United States after teaching for a year in Fiji and traveling the world. Fortunately, he did not travel through the wasteland, nor did he run into The Hulk while there. He is currently transitioning back into his given field and could be found somewhere in Philadelphia, PA.