Since George Miller’s Max Max: Fury Road was released back in May of this year, this is not so much of a review as a rumination on a wider social phenomena. Namely: why the hell did this film get such good reviews?
Let’s back up a bit: my girlfriend Arlys is a dyed in the wool film buff who has introduced me to many classics, courtesy of our Netflix subscription. Her favorites are the work of the masters Hitchcock and Kurosawa. In turn she indulges my love of anime and science fiction. Understand that Arlys does not have a “girly” taste in movies; for example, she detests most romantic comedies. In addition, she loved the original “Mad Max” movies, especially the 1981 Road Warrior and 1985’s Beyond Thunderdome. Yet she hated this new one so much that she gave it a score of zero. Her reasoning: a completely implausible plot and the marginalization of the Mad Max character, who had lost all of his redeeming characteristics from the earlier movies.
I have to agree, partially. As brainless action fun, I’d give it two stars out of five. The mixed reports I’d heard about the movie gave me low expectations, and I was pleasantly surprised. In fact, I enjoyed it more than Star Wars: The Force Awakens because the high hopes I had for that one were rudely dashed. Yes, the plot on the earlier Mad Max incarnations was thin but this last one was idiotic. As a sci-fi fan I like to have at least some degree of plausibility. My biggest issue was how did this post-apocalyptic society function? Nowhere did I see any crops or animals, except for the mutant lizard that Mad Max (Tom Hardy) munches at the beginning. The evil Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne) has enslaved some well-endowed women as milk cows, but what do they eat? The bad guys also imprison Mad Max and extract his blood but what do they feed him? One of the fattest villains is called “People Eater”(John Howard) but again, you’ve got to have something for the herd. Speaking of the herd, all around the bluffs that serve as Joe’s headquarters is a huge crowd of rabble, whom he occasionally drenches with the life-giving water that he has monopolized. These people don’t have any jugs or buckets; they just wallow in the mud. They don’t appear to have any mud huts or caves to live in. And why is Joe doing this? We know he’s a bastard, so what’s in it for him?
We’ll grant that an action movie can be light on world building, but I’m just getting started. How does Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) get access to Joe’s wives to rescue them? Why does the “war boy” Nux (Nicholas Hoult) strap Max to the front of his car as he pursues the fugitives? If Max is killed, the precious blood Nux is siphoning from him would be gone. Why does Max, who is tortured by flash-backs of all the people he couldn’t save in the past, attempt to abandon Furiosa and Joe’s wives to die in the desert? How can Max possibly be so young? He’s a survivor from before the nuclear war, which was clearly decades ago, especially if Furiosa has lived her whole life since that time. I could go on for pages, but I won’t.
The thing that mystifies me most is, why did the critics rate this awful movie so highly – on Rotten Tomatoes it’s 97%, higher than the audience score of 86! Don’t critics usually hate brainless action movies? Is it because this was reputed to be a “feminist” Mad Max? I say that because on the Web, I saw articles by conservatives grousing about how Max had been upstaged by a woman. If so, I don’t get it. True, Furiosa is a great female action hero, but they’re a dime a dozen these days. Most of the other female characters, the wives Furiosa is rescuing, are helpless bimbos in scanty dress. Or is this movie feminist in the politically correct “white men are evil” sense? Joe and his followers are indeed bad guys, but this is a post-nuclear wasteland. Savagery is the rule of the day. If the critics fell in line to praise “Fury Road” because they didn’t want to seem sexist, George Miller’s got one hell of a scam going on.
To be fair, I looked up the Rotten Tomatoes entries for the previous “Mad Max” movies and discovered to my surprise that the rankings for “Road Warrior” were almost exactly the same – a 98% critic score versus 85% audience. Perhaps this invalidates my theory, since that one starred racist white guy Mel Gibson. Admittedly “Road Warrior” was a far better movie than “Fury Road” but even the earlier one wasn’t that good. I’m beginning to question Rotten Tomatoes as an objective guide.
If I had made “Fury Road,” I’d have kept Charlize Theron, but I’d change practically everything else. Casting a geriatric babbling Mel Gibson as Max would have been quite amusing. Better yet, I’d call it “Furry Road” and have all the actors wear animal costumes. Furiosa would be adorable as a she-wolverine, though we’d definitely keep the robot arm.