Mad Max is a post-apocalyptic… reads every review ever. An accurate statement that may have you tuning out anything to follow. You picture a handful of rusty cars kicking up dirt for two hours while we circle with the vultures, swooping in routinely post-explosion to peck out a plot – some shards of revenge, a tendon of life story, the soft bloodshot eye of omniscience, and two impossibly hot characters meandering towards sex – then with our scant meal we fly off trailing credits into the hazy sun of whatever the hell little it all meant. Well, depending on how cynical you are, Fury Road may not prove the instinct wrong. It should.
As we wade in superhero adaptations for the big screen, it’s Mad Max, with no relation to the genre, that actually feels like a graphic novel come to life. It’s a narration of images, each shot with a purpose beyond table-setting dialogue or stringing along conflicts. It may seem a circuitous way of complimenting its cinematography and direction (two cinematic studies which clearly influenced the evolution of comics), but the focus on iconic imagery warrants comparison. A cell is wasted if it presents text at the cost of demonstrating the inertia of its moment. And so goes Fury Road, if not to a further extreme.
Rarely is this inertia one of rest. If there exists 15 seconds for Max or Theron’s Furiosa to stand stoic, there’s 15 minutes for vehicular Frankensteins to blow one another to hell. All of which is caffeinated by the frame rate. Speeding up and/or slowing footage down is often a lazy way to hide choreography or artificially create “action.” Luckily, as much effort was put into the action sequences as the imagery, at times becoming one and the same. Filling in for de-facto gradations of dirt is an exotic world of dilapidation; the palette pinched, wanting green, but the life emerging, brilliant and rabid. All colliding according to two rules: there is real weight to the proceedings, and we get to see it. Nothing is hidden by pointless cuts and shaky, up-close camera work. The manipulated frame rate serves to heighten what we are seeing, not mask it. It’s a divisive stylistic choice that works for Fury Road and will likely be aped painfully.
If you haven’t noticed the absence of commentary on plot and acting, notice it now. There is nothing wrong with what we’re given of either, but it’s clearly of tertiary importance to action and more action. Hardy and Theron give strong performances without leaving the territory of “bad ass.” The plot is brain dead on paper but comes to life unspoken. You’re sucked in because it’s so damn striking, and the movie doesn’t give you much opportunity to drag your mind away from it. Rather then explain the hierarchy of the powers that be, or talk us through origins and motivations, Fury Road is somewhere between assuming you’ll understand these bureaucratic elements at a snippet and knowing they don’t really matter.
While we’re sandwiched between Duh and who gives a shit, let me quickly point out the bickering over feminist undertones is completely unfounded. Thereon merely plays a woman empowered by something other than her sexuality. Sadly this may pass as laudable; kill me if it’s feminism. If this angle is what attracted you to the movie, skip. If it’s what repulsed you, skip as well – you clearly don’t need any more escapist fiction.
The rest of us can enjoy our two-hour retreat. Mad Max: Fury Road is a tried subject that’s shockingly imaginative in its execution. It’s stripped to the waist but for elaborate war paint that means nothing and anything, but there’s enchantment in its leery eye.