First, I would like to thank the self-described “men’s rights activists” (MRAs) who alerted me to the fact that I needed to see this movie with their claim that it is feminist propaganda. I was lukewarm about seeing it in theatre, but they convinced me and I’m glad they did—so here is my spoiler-free review.
First, the style.
Mad Max: Fury Road is full of nearly non-stop action, pausing just long enough between plot segments to let you get your bearings. It has enough explosions to keep Michael Bay happy, and beautifully choreographed fight scenes.The stunts are so over-the-top, you’ll think it’s all computer graphics but in fact the CG enhances bad-ass old-school pyrotechnics and stunts.
The cinematography is gorgeous, with the post-production perfectly highlighting the drama through visual details. The use of different colour palettes and monochrome scenes in different hues serves as a language of its own to convey themes. The aesthetics are straight from the 1980s—the good part of the 80s, that is—but backed by today’s movie-making technology and lots of money. The soundtrack by Junkie XL is excellent and crazily topical.
The visual elements show not only mastery of a subgenre which director/producer/screen co-writer George Miller practically created, or at least greatly shaped (the post-apocalypse road movie), but also of other contributions and inspirations, including other movies, comic books, and games. George Miller is not stuck thirty years in his own past like some movie-makers, but has moved with the times. The casting is quite good and in some instances delightful. It’s also a who’s who of people with extensive family connections in the world of stardom.
The editing is tight, and used to support a “show, don’t tell” approach that I wish was more frequently used. Explanations and implications are there, but no narrative time is wasted in belabouring the obvious. If you’re the kind of people who likes for things to make sense, it’s there but you have to pay attention, there will be no lengthy exposition. If you don’t care, you can just follow the action uninterrupted.
And now for the substance.
The fearful MRAs are right: this movie is everything they hate. The fact that it’s also everything they usually love is just hilarious bonus. The movie’s bad guys so well represent the MRA platform!
Mad Max: Fury Road is chock-full of very clear messages about institutions, social mores, attitudes, and current issues that are squarely driving on the left side of the road. Interesting points are made about environmental degradation, aggression, territoriality, concentration of wealth, resource waste, religion, authority, education, and more. And the status of women is only one of these topics, but it’s beautifully handled.
For a spoiler-heavy review of the subversion of sexist tropes, go see Donna Dickens’ overview on HitFix—but only after you’ve seen the movie if, like me, you enjoy discovering a work of fiction with fresh eyes.
And I so greatly appreciated that the narrative was there, that it was not just gratuitous special effects, and that it was handled deftly. Miller does not talk down to his audience.
In short, it’s great fun and I want to see it again on the big screen.