Sunday, January 17, 2016

Fury Road

We finally received "Mad Max: Fury Road" from the library and to say that I was really excited to watch it is an understatement. It has been universally praised all year as not only one of the best movies of the year, but one of the greatest action films of all time. It's been nominated for Best Picture at practically every awards ceremony out there, with George Miller being nominated for Best Director, as well. It's been a long time since a movie has been this hyped up. Pretty much everyone in the film world has great things to say about it, across both the mainstream establishment and independent critics.

So let's get at it then. Is "Mad Max: Fury Road" a great movie, as everyone has proclaimed?

The movie is a ridiculous spectacle, a video game transported to the big screen with comic book sensibilities. It's a delirious cinematic thrill ride, if there ever was one, a fun-filled feast of entertainment bonanza. The action is impressive, with incredible stunts and seamless editing. It must be extremely difficult to film these sequences and keep them in order, so that everything makes perfect sense, as these maniacal machines careen around the desert at vicious speeds. There's a fine line between making that aspect of an action film appear professional or amateurish. George Miller and company get it right. It's an impressive display, exciting and immersive...for about 30 minutes. Then I became numb to it and found it a bit tiresome. So, Fury Road is basically an action movie that is 1 1/2 hours too long.

I know that doesn't sound like a ringing endorsement, so far, but let me point out one other part of the film that is truly outstanding. It's Charlize Theron's Imperator Furiosa. Her presence on the screen almost makes watching this entire film worth it. It's wonderful to see a badass woman take control of the situation and battle a storm of oppressive forces bent on destroying her. And Theron embodies every ounce of emotion this movie is attempting to convey; in her eyes, in her movements, her body language, her essence. Without her this movie would be a total bust.

It seems like the entire film community would agree with me on this point because everything that I have read about Fury Road is quick to point out its feminist spirit. That's completely due to Theron's performance in the film, nothing else. It's true that Miller placed her in the midst of this crazy world, and props for convincing the actress to take part, but he does everything possible to undermine this feminist agenda that so many critics out there wish to applaud. I know, it's hard to believe that an old white guy might have trouble presenting a feminist perspective but it happens to be true in this case.

First, the introduction of every other woman in the film is problematic. The mother's who milk are all overweight cows being used like animals, not an ounce of humanity here. The beautiful breeders are introduced in typical spring break beer commercial fashion, with bikinis and wet t-shirts galore, strictly presented for the male gaze, embodied in our omniscient narrator, Max Rockatansky. The Vulvalini, name pretty much says it all, are a bunch of feminist shrews who are actually too dumb to protect themselves, as our perfect man is quick to point out.

Then, after all is said and done, after Furiosa has her heroic moment destroying the big bad symbol of patriarchy, she must then be saved by Max, of course. Not the women who know her well, or even one of the nurturing Vulvalini, the many mothers who might possibly know a thing or two about human medical care, having survived so long together in this apocalyptic wasteland. No, it's the police officer who saves the day, the lone silent reluctant wanderer who just needs a purpose and has finally found it in this moment. Because, really, this is Max's story, after all, a tale of love. Furiosa can't die because she means something to him. He's even told her his name, allowing her this intimate connection. He'll even give his blood for her, his heart mingling with hers in such glorious redemption. No, Furiosa's great story isn't really feminist at all because it ultimately comes down to her connection with Max, her great white male savior. Only the oldest most patriarchal story ever told.

So, after taking away the feminist angle of our film, what do we have left? A barrage of car chase explosion porn and that's about it. Sure, it may be fun and exciting and gripping and totally awesome, but can we stop pretending that it's anything more than a movie for the teenage boy in all of us. Is it really worth all the critical accolades and awards ceremonies? I tell you what comes to my mind when I see it being nominated at the Academy Awards, over amazing films like Todd Haynes's "Carol" or Cary Fukunaga's "Beasts of No Nations", when I see it being universally praised by practically every critic in this country, intelligent or not. It suddenly makes a lot of sense that Donald Trump is leading in the polls. I'm sure that he loved this movie and totally identified with Big Daddy Immortan Joe. Hell, he probably even got a few pointers on how to run America.

"Mad Max: Fury Road" is no grand work of art. It isn't the shiny chrome expression of perfection delivering us to hallowed halls of action film valhalla. No, with the famous words of Immortan Joe, it's really just "mediocre".

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