George Miller's “Mad Max: Fury Road” is savage technical brilliance
Max Rockatansky has endured a lot since 1979. After seeing his family run down by a motorcycle gang, he has witnessed the apocalyptic breakdown of an entire society and the rise of quasi-religious warlords bent on fighting for the dwindling resources of a vast, sand-filled wasteland.
Each installation of the Mad Max series is madder than the previous—the original film seems positively civilized when compared to “Beyond Thunderdome.” Director George Miller, it seems, has visions of the future that are more outlandish with each installation.
Given that there hasn’t been an addition to the “Mad Max” series since 1985, it follows that “Mad Max: Fury Road” paints a picture of a world that no longer has any recognizable connection with our own. There is nothing from the original film that remains, save Max himself and, for a few moments, his classic vehicle.
Yet, with “Fury Road,” there is a return to functional filmmaking that has been sorely lacking in the modern theater. When “Jurassic Park” first thundered across the country, audiences were awed by the computer-generated dinosaurs. Many years later, CGI is passé. Today’s audiences are just as wowed by practical effects. We go the movies to see things that we can’t see elsewhere. “Mad Max: Fury Road” shows us what we’ve been missing.
It is the stuntmen and women that deserve all of the praise in the film. Tom Hardy and Charlize Theron are talented and capable actors. However, their presence in a film like this one isn’t necessary. Any number of actors might have filled these roles without negatively changing the result.
This isn’t a criticism: “Mad Max: Fury Road” doesn’t suffer from the burdens of intricate plot-weaving or complicated character development; therefore, the abilities of excellent actors are nullified by the content of the film itself. It is without apology an action film. There are very few scenes that don’t feature explosions or death. It is essentially a two-hour car chase.
But within this spectacle of the preposterous is unmitigated beauty in the form of violent choreography. Some 90 percent of the special effects are practical. Very little of what you see was created on a computer. Miller was able to achieve this by casting members of Cirque du Soleil and Olympic-level athletes as stuntmen and women.
That these dances of death were performed on moving vehicles is nothing short of brilliant. Additionally, the scope of the wider scenes, the ones that likely used CGI to reveal the sheer scale of the badlands of Max’s world are staggering.
Of particular note is the way that Miller manipulates the frame rate of the film. A typical movie runs at 24 frames per second. For certain scenes, Miller felt that this was too fast for the audience to capture everything that was happening. To fix this issue, he slowed the frame rate down to ensure that viewers catch every piece of insanity found onscreen.
Sometimes, if a scene had the opposite problem, the film would be sped up (this is especially noticeable during the opening scenes), giving the action sequences a manic feel befitting the title. This careful manipulation of the frame rate is not common in modern filmmaking, which makes “Fury Road” stand out among modern action films.
“Mad Max: Fury Road” is, of course, completely absurd. All of the Mad Max films are. This latest installment simply builds on the well-developed world found in the previous films. Much of the critical praise of the film is focused around the filmmaking rather than the story because there is little to defend—the Mad Max trilogy is neither deep nor thought-provoking. It doesn’t intend to be.
Still, at two hours, the film does become repetitive. As fascinating as it may be technically, basic storytelling requires a satisfying arc, and when a story is all climax, the experience begins to wear thin. Of course, fans of the “Mad Max” series will be satisfied.
Part of the high praise “Fury Road” has received is likely based on the nostalgia from the current crop of critics that grew up with the films and fell in love with the post-apocalyptic world. “Mad Max: Fury Road” is a contender for the best modern reboot of a franchise. I can’t think of another that even comes close.