For many, many years – more than I’d like to count – getting another Mad Max movie seemed like an impossibility. But as we’ve come to learn this year, if Glenn Danzig and Jerry Only can reunite for Misfits shows, then ANYTHING is possible.
I have a challenge for you, dear reader. Can you tell me of another franchise to have a “fourth” entry 30 years after the last one and have it NOT feature its megastar attraction in the lead? A fourth entry that not only slays the box office (considering its $150 million-dollar budget), but also ends up being a critical success that storms the Oscars! Because I cannot think of a single one…
My joyous fanboy heart was an overflowing cup of “guzzoline” when I was watching Fury Road for the first time. I sat there on the edge of my seat with my jaw dangling below, almost touching the sticky floor of the theatre because of the sheer awe I felt. In this revelation that I was somehow, in some way, watching a genuine sequel to one of my all-time favorite franchises.
Except that I sort of wasn’t… It’s certainly not the filmmaking or the chosen aesthetic. For me, it is a visual symphony of constant motion (for BEST results, track down the fan-created Black & Chrome cut until the official Black & White version comes out on the German boxed set). The action is a dynamic roller coaster that goes up and down, and up again, with a mastery of cinematography, stunts, and TASTEFUL CGI augmentation. The detail SOAKED production design, PREGNANT with Easter eggs (referencing the original trilogy) left an enduring legacy of rewatch value, I simply never get tired of revisiting this movie. Every sublime, visual detail is a hint as to what has happened before. It’s pure cinema. Perhaps the result of having 3000 storyboards for a script (Fun fact: One of Fury Road’s screenwriters plays the grease monkey friend to Toe Cutter’s gang in the original Mad Max).
So what is it dear then, dear reader? Why can’t I allow myself to stay in the Matrix and accept this glorious offering as another Mad Max movie? Is it the plot? Definitely not. The story is a beautiful contradiction in its simple, straightforwardness – because it is anything but.
The film starts in its second act and never boomerangs to the beginning like every Tarantino movie. It doesn’t owe us that. It doesn’t need to explain itself because it works in the rawest, truest form of conflict: The protagonists are trying to flee from the tyrannical antagonists, but the protagonists come to realize that they can only truly escape by returning! It doesn’t bother with all the pesky backstory because it is hidden in all of its rich, wonderful, visual details. Because it respects its viewer enough not to spoon-feed or shove exposition down our throats.
[Side note: There is a wonderful comic book companion to Fury Road that can answer any questions you might have about the backstory.]
And I’m sure you dear reader will say, “Maybe it’s because Tom Hardy is not Max Rockatanksy”. And I can tell you, that isn’t it. Tom did just fine. Is he Max? Yea, Sort of. A unique distillation, through another actor’s perception. I liken it to the way you can have Sean Connery and Roger Moore as James Bond. We all accept it… Except, deep down in our hearts we all know that Sean Connery is the only James-Motherfuckin-Bond.
We are never getting Mel back. And I suppose that is okay, because that means that Max has a future with a very talented actor in Tom Hardy. It means that – like Batman, like Superman, like James Bond, like Sherlock Holmes – Max will transcend his creator to become timeless. And that’s awesome.
And then, dear reader, one of those idiotic, boycotting misogynists comes along spouting his hateful, incoherent dogma about Furiosa – Immortan Joe’s badass Imperator who commands his prized war-rig. It is the catalyst. I come to a realization after my first revisit. I finally can put a finger on what it is that just doesn’t feel right. It’s Furiosa.
This is her movie, not Max’s. She is a lightning rod that imbues this film with its glorious feministic energy. Furiosa is at the centre of the truest underlying theme of this drastically simple story: In a dying world, grovelling amongst the remains of a failing patriarchy, one must embrace the feminine in order to survive.
Immortan Joe struggles to dominate this feminine energy by enslaving it for his own purposes, to ensure his Dynasty’s Legacy. But it won’t submit, it refuses to be enslaved, launching us into our story. Trying to bring it back becomes Joe’s ultimate and ironic folly. Max on the other hand is able to overcome his struggle and realize he’s not going to make it through unless he can work together with this power. And he does, although it is most telling in the smallest way: Overcome with frustration that he can’t land a sniper shot with preciously scarce ammunition, he relents and hands over the rifle to Furiosa – and she effortlessly nails the target with the last round, neutralizing the incoming threat.
It’s easier to understand when you go back to Fury Road’s origins. Furiosa and the five wives were on the run from Immortan Joe before George Miller ever realized that this could be a Mad Max story. I am sure at some point one could even imagine that George Miller originally intended to make this film without Mad Max altogether… who knows. But with each revisit, it becomes more and more apparent to me.
What do these characters want? Immortan Joe wants to ensure his legacy. The Wives want their freedom for themselves and their unborn children. Furiosa wants redemption by freeing the wives and bringing them to her homeland. Nux, the War Boy, wants to fulfil his purpose through sacrifice.
And Max? Well he’s kind of a head scratcher… He’s nothing more than a feral, burnt out, shell of a man from losing those he’s loved. But we know this best by what’s come before in the previous films. Apart from seeing the ghosts that haunt him, I really found Max far too undeveloped and paper thin to be the centrepiece of Fury Road. Instead, he ends up as a supporting character to Furiosa and her struggle.
And then, dear readers, it hit me! Fury Road is NOT a Mad Max movie! It is a wonderful post-apocalyptic film that oddly enough, HAS Mad Max in it. This clarification is not a bad thing. It has helped me to reconcile a discrepancy that felt like the itch never satisfied by any scratching. And so from now on I only refer to the movie as “Fury Road” and nothing more.
Rabid Mad Max fans have been endlessly debating as to whether Fury Road is a true sequel, a revisiting or a remake. But I think it’s none of the above. It is a spiritual companion to the films that have come before it. If it was a true sequel, there would be more continuity connected to Thunderdome (although the comic book companion suggests otherwise).
If it was a revamp/remake it would have gone back and told Max’s origin. So I think it safe to say we can rule both of those out.
In the end, Fury Road has given the character of Mad Max new life and relevancy that it hasn’t had for 30 years. It has made it possible for Max to appear again and again in the future without Mel Gibson (although a cameo would be nice – maybe the next villain?).