Hammering Out... Mad Max: Fury Road

Hammering Out... Mad Max: Fury Road

Hammering Out... is a series of movie reviews featuring a lively he said/she said discussion between John and Julie. Next up: MAD MAX: FURY ROAD.

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JOHN: Die Hard. Terminator 2. Speed. The Road Warrior. Raiders of the Lost Ark. Aliens. The Raid 2. The Matrix.  For my money, these are the greatest action movies of all time.  Director George Miller and his Mad Max franchise are already represented on that list with the inclusion of 1981's seminal, game-changing sequel, The Road Warrior.  That movie featured some of the greatest car chases and stunt setpieces ever captured on film.  But, as good as Road Warrior is, Miller just threw down the gauntlet/dropped the mic yet again, not only topping himself but, perhaps, topping every other action movie ever made.  That reads like hyperbole, but after you've seen Mad Max: Fury Road, you'll accept it as truth.  Fury Road is a stunner.  It's a lean, mean, jaw-dropping, non-stop, 2-hour chase film that makes other recent action films look like kiddy play.  Furious 7? Age of Ultron? Instantly forgotten.  Fury Road is the real deal, filled to the brim with one "holy shit!" moment after another.  It instantly joins the ranks of all those other films I listed above.  Just go see it already.

Okay, I'm done with my sales pitch.  Let's get into it.  What'd you think, Jules?  I know you're not the biggest action movie fan (speaking from experience, you usually fall asleep during big action sequences - I mean, I don't think you've ever really seen the last 40 minutes of The Matrix), so I'm interested to hear your take.  Did you feel lost as a newbie to the franchise, having not seen any other Mad Max movies?  And, more importantly, is Fury Road the GREATEST ACTION MOVIE OF ALL TIME?

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JULIE: This is the dumbest movie I've ever seen. I mean, really, just moronic.

I kid. I loved Fury Road. Loved, loved, loved it. I do tend to get bored by action movies. They put me to sleep. My theory is that my brain just shuts down when there's so much mindless action and no story connected to it. I need something on top of explosions and cool car chases to hold my attention. I need characters. I need a point. Mad Max: Fury Road is basically one giant, two-hour long action sequence, but I was on the edge of my seat the entire time, because of the characters and because of the stakes.

Most of the (scant) criticism around this movie has centered around its plot, or lack thereof, which I think is complete B.S. Will the plot go down in the annals of the twisty-turny hall of fame? No. It's about a woman who's trying to save a bunch of other women. It's about her journey home and her need for redemption. There aren't hidden identities or Shyamalan-style twists, but there doesn't need to be. The plot is simple, yes, but the characters are so, so richly drawn that it doesn't even matter. I would follow these people anywhere.

I compare this movie to Gravity, (another movie picked on because of it's simple structure). Both films are basically all showing and no telling. We don't know why Charlize Theron's Furiosa is missing a body part. We don't need to know. It's never stated why Tom Hardy's Max is a man of few words, because we get it. The structure of the Citadel's society is never specifically laid out for us or explained, but it's brilliantly drawn for us through small character moments and breathtaking visuals.

And now that we've gotten all that out of the way, let's talk about the most important part of the film -- that electric guitar dude suspended from one of the war rigs.

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JOHN: Yes!  The electric guitar dude is amazing.  I'd love to see a movie detailing HIS origin.  Miller jam packs every frame of the film with astounding visuals, and the dude who wails on the guitar that spews fire is just one of many delightful oddities to catch and please your eye.  I like that you addressed the plot up front because yes, it's simple, and no, not every movie needs an intricate, layered plot.  Some movies are about more than that.  Gravity is an excellent example.  Fury Road is another one.

I don't think the Academy will be cool enough to nominate this for too many awards come Oscar season, but from where I stand, this is as strong a film as I've seen when it comes to costumes, music score, art direction, cinematography, make-up, visual effects, and direction.  You know, basically everything that goes into what constitutes a Best Picture.  And yet, awards glory was probably the furthest thing from Miller's mind as he was filming this.  He toiled to bring this movie to screen for about 15 years, and his passion for the material is as plain as the nose on your face.  Miller gets this movie.  Hell, he is this movie.  Nobody shoots car chases better than him.  He proved that in Road Warrior, and now he has the backing of Warner Bros. and a budget of over $150 million to play with.  It shows.  Every dollar of that budget is up there on screen.  We went to the twilight show yesterday and paid $5 for our tickets, and I loved what that one guy said to you afterwards: "That was a lot of action for $5."  Yup.

I also want to point out how refreshing and exhilarating it is to see real action with practical stunts and invisible CGI.  A few months ago, I pointed out that Furious 7 should be commended for its real stunts.  Well, Furious 7 looks about as real as the Star Wars prequels compared to Fury Road.  We talked about this a bit, but I think the scales are starting to tip back away from overuse of CGI.  The Mission: Impossible movies have enjoyed great success because they make a big deal out of the fact that Cruise is actually doing those stunts.  Star Wars: The Force Awakens is making a concerted effort to go practical with its effects whenever possible.  And now we have Fury Road.  I don't want to call it a game changer, but that's kind of what it is, right?  Also, you touched upon this a bit, but I'd like to talk about performances.  What'd you think of Theron and Hardy?

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JULIE: Yes, the guy who talked to me after the show. This is the kind of movie where you leave the theater and start chatting up strangers because your mind has just been blown and you need to talk about it. It's so visceral.

As far as the performances go, I know you had some issues with Tom Hardy as Mad Max (namely that you wish they'd given Mel Gibson a chance to reprise the role and that Hardy sounds like Bane here). I completely disagree with you on both counts. 1) Gibson is too old. We wouldn't have gotten the same stunt work with him that we got with Hardy. The things he and Charlize have to do in this film...well, no wonder tempers flared during production. This had to have been a grueling shoot. Also, I loved Hardy's voice/line delivery in this film. It's something that's unspoken, but Max has been alone for so long that he barely has language anymore. It's genius, and just an example of one of the brilliant character tics in this film.

Charlize, holy crap. She's obviously a very good actress, but her physicality in this film is what makes it. She's the whole package. She's tough, but there's humanity underneath.

I'll say, too, that I love how this film turns every action movie trope on its head. This is one of the most feminist movies of the year (hey, so's Pitch Perfect 2, which we saw in a double feature with Mad Max). When I saw the preview for Mad Max, I groaned at the scantily clad model-types everyone was trying so hard to save. Of course they're model hot and wearing bikinis. It's an action movie. But in Mad Max, there is a reason for their hotness and their outfits, so it doesn't seem gratuitous. And all of the hot girls are given actual mini-arcs, we're not shown any of the abuse they had to endure, and they all pull their weight in the quest.

One more thing -- We saw a bunch of horror movie previews before this movie. For much of the 21st century, we've had to endure a lot of gore and torture porn. Last year, Snowpiercer bucked that trend by giving us a violent movie that stopped short of showing the actual violence. Mad Max is similar in that way. When there's blood, it's meaningful blood. Miller had a lot of opportunities to show us the grossest images, but he didn't, leaving much of the violence to the imagination.

What else do you have to add?

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JOHN: Not too much, but, as you pointed out, if I have one (minor) issue with the movie, it's with Hardy.  I think he's a fantastic actor, and he is definitely good enough here.  You make solid points about his character choices, and the way his isolation leads him to lose his language.  I get it.  He still sounds too much like Bane.  Maybe I'm influenced by the fact that he has a mask on for half of film.  Whatever.  It's not a deal breaker.  But, as a fan of the first three movies and with Mel Gibson's take on the character, I would have really enjoyed seeing Gibson in the role one last time.  I get why he's not.  Too old, too unmarketable in the lead.  And I'd never want to sacrifice any of the stunt work in this film to accommodate him, but it would have been nice to close the chapter on Max.  Then we could have just followed Theron's Furiosa for any future movies.  She's the real hero of this movie anyway, and Theron is flat-out fantastic.  So is Hugh Keays-Byrne as Immortan Joe, the main villain.  He was so menacing as the villainous Toecutter in the first Mad Max, and it's nice that Miller brought the actor back to the franchise in another memorable role.

Final thoughts?  Rating?  Let's do it.

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JULIE: If they had brought Mel Gibson on to do a minor role -- one of the bikers they meet along the way or something -- it would've been cool. But at some point, old dudes doing action movies just becomes sad (Hi, Terminator trailer). That said, an old dude directing the movie (Miller is in his seventies) works here for some reason. Take that, Clint Eastwood and your chair!

I'll get to the rating. On a Mad Men scale from Peggy Olson to that stupid waitress no one cares about except Don, this movie gets a solid Peggy carrying vintage erotic art through the halls of McCann.

JOHN: I'm going go out there and give this sucker the first 5-star rating of the year.  This is a must see, folks.  Don't believe us?  Just read every review from every other critic everywhere.

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