I'm not going to lie; I am a man guilty of theft. I am the man who grabbed the sun (downloaded Mad Max: Fury Road on DVD) riding to Valhalla. I've seen the movie four times in theaters, three of those in 3D. And I have watched a cam recording and the DVD rip collectively ten times. Fury Road has become more of a hobby for me, and no, I don't believe I was entitled to steal the film just because I went and spent over a hundred bucks in theaters to see it over and over. I'll make it up to George Miller when I buy it on Blu-Ray later this year. It has become a hobby, an obsession, and a passion of mine to watch, think, and talk about Fury Road.
The movie doesn't need a review. It is by most accounts the best action film in a decade. In my personal opinion, the best action film of all time. A major factor for the success of the movie is slick pacing and a simple story.
Right from the first two minutes, we are being told things about the world from a visual perspective alone, and none of it is random. Max steps on and eats a two headed lizard whole, and it's clear he hasn't had a haircut in at least a few days. He puts this one pound creature in his mouth and eats it, bones and all, alive. He's hungry, and probably kind of crazy. Done.
He gets attacked and captured by white painted war boys. They are branding him with information about blood type, so we can glean something about their little society instantly. And when he makes his escape, he sees the top of a canyon butte with greenery on it before being pulled back in to his doom.
Then we are shown Furiosa and the brand on her neck. A chant about war boys, gas town, and what they are bringing there. The dregs of humanity down below, Immortan Joe and his sons above. And we are given a brief moment to see a very humanized image of the main villain Joe as his horrible scarred, cancerous body is dusted with dry war paint. He is half carried to the balcony of his fortress and in a very Hitleresque way, roars down to the peasants below about how he is their redeemer. And in symbology obvious to anyone, trickles a bit of water down to them before cutting them off.
First of all, this all happens in the first five minutes of the movie. We establish a world. We see a very familiar way of presenting a villain; as a flawed human presenting an image to the public. Much in the way we see Darth Vader's burnt skin exposed in Empire Strikes Back, his isolation chamber creating a clear distinction between him and his human commanders. This effectively allows us to see the villain as a flawed, real character and not some overbearing cipher of doom everyone is powerless against. The order he has established is fragile, and breakable, based on a dogmatic devotion he has instilled in his followers. And it only takes one errant Imperator to make the whole thing come crashing down.
We see the worship of the V8 engine, the V8 schematics tattooed on Nux, and hear little details throughout the film. The constant reference to the word Cola from Aquacola to Max' own modified car, called the Razor Cola in this film. We see the erroneous but still appropriate use of terms like Fukushima used to represent the war boys knowledge of their irradiated half-life. They are Kamakrazee, an alteration of Kami Kaze which they understand to represent their own sacrificial attack method. And in a wasteland of brown, rust, dirt, and blood, chrome represents the purity and glory they are fighting for, and likely comprises their hopeful second life in Valhalla.
All of this is told to us briefly, and most importantly, in a way where the characters in the film are actively living this reality. It isn't explained in unnecessary expository dialogue; it is up to the viewer to piece the puzzle together because the film is far too concerned with keeping pace to care if the viewer is following along. And ultimately, it serves as window dressing; knowing these things and understanding them take second place to the simple plot, which can be summed up in a sentence.
Immortan Joe's Imperator Furiosa has stolen his prized breeders to take them to a promised land known as the Green Place, and he has assembled his war party to go and get them back.
In a lot of ways, the film mirrors the original Star Wars. Where Star Wars spent a lot of time establishing the youthful Skywalker and dead end life which was transformed upon meeting Ben Kenobi and the death of his surrogate parents, Max Rockatansky is more of a Yojimbo. We don't really need to know much about Max, and what we do is told to us in flashbacks; he is a lone wanderer driven insane by guilt about the people he allowed to die, and he wanders the wasteland going from place to place and usually helping people in the process before wandering off on his own again. Done.
Both Skywalker and Max are pulled into a bad situation. Luke is taken prison on the Death Star, and has to affect his escape while trying to save Princess Leia who he discovers is captured on board. Max is taken prisoner by the war boys, and is given the opportunity to escape from them and Immortan Joe when he meets Furiosa and climbs aboard her war rig. The motivation for the characters is slightly different; Luke went with Obi Wan to Alderaan before discovering it was destroyed and then subsequently being captured. Max was simply captured, but both characters eventually become part of a clutch of characters and have to do some things and make some decisions that will allow them to escape their situation.
Eventually, they do. Luke and his party escape the Death Star thanks to the sacrifice of Obi Wan, and Joe's prized breeder, The Splendid Angharad, dies in the midst of the chase. This impresses upon is a clear sense of danger in the situations at hand. Both parties eventually reach a kind of safety and assemble with a larger force, the rebels in the case of Luke, and the Many Mothers in the case of Furiosa and Max. And the decision made during this period of respite on both sides is that they have to go back; to return from where they escaped, and neutralize their enemies.
It's simple storytelling with several clearly definable parts, but this same flow that made Star Wars so timeless is exactly what works in Fury Road. The movies end in a similar fashion with an explosive climax and a reasonably short few minute, almost dialogue free sequence at the end to tie up the loose ends. The credits roll without any inference of a sequel, without any after credit teaser sequences. Short, simple, and complete.
Fury Road is an action extravaganza, a hi-octane thrill ride that isn't afraid to fang it. But it's cut almost to the bone of all the fluff while still offering up a lot of originality in its world creation. I really wish we had more movies like this. It's a popcorn movie in every conceivable way while retaining enough unique flavor and depth to be timeless and watchable over and over again. Not since Star Wars have I been so thoroughly mesmerized by a movie.
That being said, I'd like this standard to be applied more often to video games as well. Bloodborne does a similar thing despite being an in depth, 30 hour quest. The story is given to us by way of our observation of the world, and not as a necessity to drive the gameplay or relatively scant narrative. Even simpler games like Mario work in a similar fashion presenting just enough of a story to keep us engaged in the gameplay. Much harder to do in a game, but you'd think it would be easier to accomplish on screen. It's a hard balance to find, especially in the action genre where there needs to be a small emotional core to invest us in the characters and our plight, to make us care what happens to them, a requisite of storytelling action mongers like Michael Bay so often fail to put into action.
Nevertheless, if there is never a movie like Fury Road to be seen again in the future, it will still remain. As will films like Star Wars, Aliens, and Terminator 2 which have a similarly strong execution and prove that a proper pacing and simple narrative is all that is needed to form the bedrock of a great action movie.
May we all ride eternal, shiny and chrome!