There are a great many people who consider Mad Max: Fury Road to be a modern masterpiece, particularly in the wake of the ridiculously manufactured internet outrage that emerged at the time of release. As a big fan of the original Mad Max trilogy, I was really looking forward to Fury Road. It was being helmed by George Miller, the creator of the original franchise. The trailers looked absolutely fantastic, with a clear focus on practical filmmaking rather than CGI special effects. Even the idea of Max playing second fiddle to a female character didn’t bother me. My favourite in the Mad Max series, The Road Warrior, features Max as a cog that works within the engine of a larger story, centered mainly on the group of settlers in the oil refinery and the gang who want to take their resources. In Road Warrior, Max is the weight that tips the balance in favour of the settlers as much as he is the overall protagonist of the movie.
I saw Fury Road at the time of release, and I went in wanting to love the movie. Then as the credits rolled I was left confused at how much I didn’t enjoy it. I was then further baffled by how much everyone else seemed to love this film. I have since wondered if I was being unfair, and so, three years after that first viewing, I gave Fury Road another try.
I think it is finally safe for me to say…I hate Mad Max: Fury Road.
Honestly, there are so many things that bug me about this film that it’s hard to know where to begin. The story leaves so many questions, and has holes so big you could drive a war rig through them. The characters have no depth, so much so that I honestly wonder if those who hail this movie as a gamechanger in storytelling and character development are playing some kind of elaborate joke on the rest of us. Rather than get bogged down in a rant I’m just going to break everything I hate down section by section, first by saying…
THE SETTING CONSTANTLY BREAKS ITS OWN RULES
Now, don’t get me wrong, the cinematography, set design, and costuming in this movie look fantastic. There is so much attention to detail here that Mad Max: Fury Road is a veritable feast for the eyes, and a lot of what you see is meant to connect with the lore of the dystopian backdrop. However, these aesthetic touches, pretty as they are, actually detract from the setting, and go against the main ideas of the story. The core focus of the post-apocalyptic world is that resources are scarce, and so whoever controls the majority of the resources becomes a god in the eyes of those without those resources. There’s no soil to grow food, the ground is a desert, there is no rain, and there don’t seem to be any animals (beyond the occasional two-headed lizard)
Yet with all that, there is so much in this movie that doesn’t fit within the rules of the setting, right from the moment Immortan Joe casually slips on his fully moulded, bulletproof Plexiglas armor (I bet those are a pound a penny once the world has ended) Technology is severely limited, yet all the vehicles are ridiculously tricked out with metal skulls, huge grilles, and customised steering wheels.
Things that are also apparently common include needles and plastic tubing for blood transfusions (they can also tell what blood type you are, presumably by magic) I can’t imagine they have any way to clean or sterilise those needles so yeh, sorry about all the bloodborne diseases now swimming in your system, Max. Don’t even get me started on the cars with flamethrowers, and the guy with an electric guitar and speakers. Seriously? Food is such an issue that you have to attach pumps to large, lactating women as if they were cows and drink their milk to survive, but you have the means to power a rock concert on the back of a moving truck?
While we’re on the subject, if control of the scarce resources is what makes the post-apocalyptic world go round then WHY IS EVERYBODY CONSTANTLY WASTING RESOURCES?!? Immortan Joe speaks to the people about not becoming addicted to water, but then jets out the water to the waiting people below him in what is probably the most inefficient water rationing system ever created. The people fight to fill up their receptacles with the now filthy water, but most of it will sink into the sand and be completely wasted. In another scene, the wives are casually using water from a hose on the truck to wash the sand off themselves IN THE DESERT, spraying it everywhere like they had plenty more where that came from. This connects with another complaint…
THE CHARACTERS ARE BADLY WRITTEN
Ladies, I know you’ve been through a lot, but making a pit stop to shower off with the only water you have in the scorching hot desert while you’re trying to escape the lunatics you KNOW are right behind you is a truly terrible idea. You also don’t appear to have brought any food with you on your escape, apart from mother’s milk. I would point out that adult humans can’t live on human breast milk long term without suffering from huge iron and zinc deficiencies but it doesn’t really matter, since Max just uses the milk (the only food source you have) to clean blood from his face.
You see my point? The characters in this movie are so shallow, so one-dimensional, and so irritating that I cannot bring myself to be invested in their fate. I know I’m supposed to read between the lines regarding a lot of character backgrounds and motivations, since the movie only drops the vaguest of hints about them. The problem with this is that the minimal dialogue is often garbled or whispered, to the point where it might as well be in subtitles, and the characters are constantly doing things that make no sense. The wives in particular are a huge problem for me. The movie tells us that these women are people, not objects, yet the movie itself doesn’t treat them as anything BUT objects. They are merely macggufins that exist to be moved around, taken, injured, or killed off, as the movie progresses. Fury Road doesn’t respect them enough to give them a personality beyond one easily identifiable character trait, such as the pregnant one, the crazy one, or the redhead. Their names are barely used. What they have suffered as slaves and rape victims, that in this future would be almost certain to die in childbirth, is never addressed. The pregnant wife sacrifices her own life, and the life of her unborn child, to protect Max, but since the camera treats the wives like the objects it claims they are not, her fate is rendered utterly meaningless. Then to add insult to injury, the wives reach the many mothers who immediately proceed to look over them like they are prized cattle, with one remarking in amazement that the crazy wife has all her own teeth. But remember, these women aren’t objects.
Furiosa is the only one whose name is used regularly, the only one given any real character, and consequently the one that people like to gush about the most when it comes to this movie. However, the presence of Furiosa is slightly baffling. The movie refers to her as an Imperator, what that means beyond being able to drive a really big truck is never established. She is also the only woman we see from the citadel that is allowed to drive the war rigs, which begs the question: If women are a valuable resource to the point where Joe has several supermodel wives that he keeps LOCKED IN A VAULT in order to breed healthy babies then why isn’t Furiosa a breeder? The only other women we see are the fat, lactating women who are strapped to breast pumps. I would assume that these women are also raped, just not by Joe. What makes Furiosa different? One of her arms is missing at the mid-forearm, but the movie never explains if this is a birth defect or the result of an injury. If it’s not a birth defect then the movie is asking me to believe that CHARLIZE THERON isn’t attractive enough for Joe to use as a breeder. That is a lot to buy.
However, that isn’t the biggest problem with Furiosa, the biggest problem is that while Furiosa is lucky enough to get a character, she doesn’t actually get an arc to go with it. She may be what media critics love to call a ‘strong, female character’ (as if being a woman who doesn’t solve problems with violence is weak) but she doesn’t change, she doesn’t grow, and she doesn’t discover anything about herself as the story goes on. This is in sharp contrast to male characters like Max and Nux who are allowed to grow and change, the former by rediscovering his humanity and the latter by rejecting the religious doctrine he has grown up with and deciding to make his own choices. Furiosa speaks about seeking redemption. For what? Never explained. I would suppose that she had to do some terrible things to become an Imperator, but since what an Imperator is is never explained either it all seems rather pointless. I can’t read between the lines if there are no lines.
These are just some of my smaller issues with the characters, but they indicate a larger problem…
MAX DOESN’T NEED TO BE THERE
As I mentioned before, a key feature of the Mad Max franchise is that Max is usually a part of a larger story. The only exception to this is the first movie, which focuses on the loss of Max’s family. In the sequels, Max serves the purpose of a stranger that is dragged into events and power struggles which have been orchestrated by others. However, usually his function within these stories is to serve as the ace in the hole. His presence, and his skills, serve to tip the balance in favour of those he is helping. In Road Warrior, Max is pulled into the conflict between the settlers in the oil refinery, and The Marauders. Max volunteering to drive the oil tanker that serves as a diversion is what allows the settlers to escape with their lives, and with the precious fuel that allows them to found The Great Northern Tribe. In Thunderdome, Max becomes a pawn in the struggle between Aunty Entity and Master Blaster over who controls Bartertown. It is Max purposely crashing the car in order to clear enough runway that allows the feral children, and Master, to escape Aunty’s henchmen.
However, in Fury Road? Max has absolutely no reason to be there. He is caught by the War Boys, then finds himself in the war rig with Furiosa and the wives. He isn’t really needed for anything, most of the time he’s just along for the ride. He can drive the rig, but so can Furiosa and Nux. The only thing Max does that is of any note is to suggest that everybody return to The Citadel to oust Joe for his resources, instead of going out into the open desert on a wing and a prayer. However, the Many Mothers have a huge bag of seeds, some of which can grow food. These seeds would be a veritable treasure. The Mothers must already be trading with Joe’s people, or they wouldn’t have fuel for the motorcycles they ride. So why have they just sat in the dessert, dying one by one, with a highly valuable collection of seeds, for 20 years? Were they really just waiting for some random bloke to show up and say “Hey! Maybe instead of heading out into the wasteland in the hope of finding anything except a slow, lingering death, you should take the seeds to The Citadel where water and inexplicable growing dirt already exist?” One of the Many Mothers has medical knowledge, something which Max has never displayed, and yet Max is apparently the only one who can save Furiosa from her injuries. This isn’t just the characters being badly written, this is the movie choosing to make its own characters look completely incompetent just to give Max SOMETHING to do.
Perhaps it would help if Tom Hardy’s performance as Max wasn’t hugely dull and unlikable, but it is. Say what you like about Mel Gibson, but at least with him you got a sense of Max as a burnt out, traumatised man who once adhered to a strict code of honour. The loss of Max’s family and the descent of the world into chaos had led Max to have to compromise that code in order to survive, but at least you knew it had been there. In Fury Road they have to shoehorn in moments of ghosts haunting Max. These moments occur in irritating snippets that can’t even reasonably be called flashbacks, serving as a ham-fisted attempt to cover Max’s backstory. As a character Max doesn’t require a lot of charm or charisma, but he needs to have something that makes it believable that others would trust him. Tom Hardy’s Max is flat and dull. This along with the writing manages to make Mad Max, MAD MAX of all people, a completely forgettable and pointless character in his own movie.
Last, but not least, we have…
So after driving all the way out into the desert, Furiosa, Max, and the wives fight for their lives and their freedom. They then drive all the way back to The Citadel and display Joe’s body in front of the people that knew him as the one that provided them with water…and all of his sons…and the fanatical War Boys that believe Joe is the god who controls the shiny, chrome-plated gates of Valhalla…AND THEY ARE HAILED AS HEROES? How does that even work? They have killed the man who is the centre of the religion in this place, and the War Boys then just meekly let Furiosa and the remaining wives up into The Citadel and let them take control. It makes no sense that no-one calls for revenge, or is willing to fill the power vacuum left by Joe’s absence.
Then what does Max do? Before the women have even gotten into The Citadel? He leaves. Why? No idea. How does he know that those in The Citadel won’t just kill Furiosa when they get to the top? Pass. Where’s he’s going to go without supplies or a vehicle? Haven’t got a clue. The movie tries to paint Max’s leaving as some kind of noble sacrifice, he did the hero thing but he has to go now his planet needs him. It seems like the movie couldn’t be bothered to come up with a legitimate plot reason, they’re banking that the audience will accept Max leaving because it’s a trope of the franchise. Max ALWAYS leaves, the road warrior going into the sun, a survivor who always ends up alone. However, in this particular case, it really makes no sense for Max to leave, at least at that point in the story. Without the means to travel, or food and water, the only thing that awaits Max is death.
Now I know what you may be thinking at this point, why are you thinking about this so much? It’s an action movie! It has explosions and stunts! It doesn’t matter if it’s dumb, can’t you just enjoy it because it’s exciting? Well, I have nothing against no-brain-needed entertainment, and I’m aware that the other Mad Max movies are not without their problems. I mean, where do you get leather fetish gear and the stuff to make your hair into a bright red mohawk after the world has ended? Yet, even if I left everything I have set out above, I would still hate Mad Max: Fury Road.
Sure, everything in this movie looks great. The cinematography, stunts, and practical effects all look really cool. However, awe-inducing scenery is no substitute for a great story, and practical effects will never replace well-crafted characters. It isn’t like the Mad Max franchise is incapable of silliness, Thunderdome is obviously meant to be goofy as hell, but it works because it earns the investment of the viewer. Fury Road offers no emotional investment. The action scenes are really well shot, but they don’t escalate as the movie progresses. It starts out with chase scenes, car crashes, and explosions, and ends with exactly the same.
I could get behind Fury Road if the intention was to create a dumb and shallow action movie that wasn’t trying to do anything other than make something nice to look at. However, that clearly wasn’t the intention, they were trying to make something deeper. Pregnant wife screams “Who killed the world?” at the audience as if it were some kind of deep, meaningful philosophical question. The problem is that I just don’t care about the answer. You could tell me that the apocalypse was caused by a plot to end the dominance of the human race that was concocted by an evil alliance between cats and dolphins and all I would think is that that would have been a better movie than Fury Road is. The focus on aesthetic over backstory, development and character arcs, removes any dramatic weight or tension from the story that the movie is trying to tell. Mad Max: Fury Road is a dull, empty shell of style over substance that used the current political climate within film analysis to fool everyone into thinking the film is saying more than it really is.
The only thing that Fury Road said to me is that you can make the emptiest, most vacuous movie possible, that treats its female characters like they’re nothing, but as long as you goad some internet trolls into being mad at you? You’ll get that film hailed as a masterpiece.