Retrospective Review: Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)

Posted December 4, 2015 by Jean-Luc Botbyl in Movies

With the year coming to a close and “best of” discussions beginning (both casually amongst friends and for the site), I’m taking some time to delve into media that I did not consume when it first came out. I’m also revisiting some media so that I can be as informed as possible in these discussions. I’ve decided to turn this process into content, and so I’ll be reviewing as much of it as I can. In some cases, this is self-serving–I really want to write about Mad Max: Fury Road, for instance–In others, I’m watching something for the first time. For the most part, these reviews will be of film, though there may be some video games, TV, and comics mixed in there. The reviews may also be shorter than normal, considering the rapid pace at which I’m going. Who knows, maybe this could become an annual occurrence.

As some readers may know, a review of George Miller’s Mad Max: Fury Road already exists on We the Nerdy. You can read it here (and I encourage you to do so). For the most part, I think that Ian, who reviewed it, absolutely nailed it, though there are a few points at which our opinions diverge. So much so, that I’m actually going to steal a quote from his review to kick of my retrospective review:

“Years in the making, director of the original Mad Max trilogy George Miller crafts the most exciting film in the franchise yet.”

In many ways, that encapsulates what Mad Max: Fury Road is. It’s an exciting, visceral, event of a film that relies heavily on action to keep its wheels spinning. Haha, funny car pun. Anyways, there’s a lot more to Fury Road than the explosions and chase scenes. All involved parties crafted something that has a surprising amount of depth in terms of writing, cinematography, and acting. It’s a film that has generated a lot of discussion since its release this summer, which, for the most part, is still ongoing. Looking back, this film had (and still has) staying power.

Anyways, let’s start with the explosions. Not just the explosions, I guess, but all of the film’s action sequences. First: those are all practical effects, which is insane to think about. Miller really makes a case for the use of such effects, even in a world dominated by CG technology that is consistently improving–and at a rapid pace. Going in the first time, I didn’t realize it was all practical effects, so just how stunning they are was lost on me. Having gone through it now for a second time, I find myself truly appreciating the film. It’s essentially a two-hour chase scene with a guitar that shoots flames and countless other insane occurrences that words simply cannot hope to describe.

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The visual aspect of Fury Road is key to the movie functioning. The coloring is especially important–switching between light and dark pallets to evoke a certain mood from the audience is by no means a new technique, but Fury Road does it better than nearly any other film I’ve seen. The filters are also used to much greater effect than that, for the most part. Furthermore, what they did with the frame rate and filming in slow motion then speeding scenes up, gives the movie a unique feel. Watching it isn’t quite the same experience as watching your run-of-the-mill action movie; it’s a far more involved experience. Miller and co ensure that everything feels as over-the-top as possible, while still lending meaning.

Fury Road, after all, is far more than just an extended chase scene with excellent cinematography and direction. There’s a degree of depth here that sets it apart from the rest of its genre. Not only does it shame its competition in terms of big set piece moments, it’s also proof that action movies can also be thought provoking. That is certainly an impressive feat. The film deals with important issues like gender equality and human dignity in an intelligent (and timely) manner. Furiosa and the wives are really the stars of the movie, sending Tom Hardy’s titular Max to the back seat. Of course, he still gets his fair share of time in the limelight, but he never feels as important as the rest of the cast.

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In some ways, this is detrimental to the film. Hardy and Charlize Theron have excellent chemistry as Max and Furiosa, but Max’s character is a little bit underwhelming. Of course, that’s kind of the point: He’s a wandering vagabond that got caught up in all of this mostly by accident. Fury Road is not his story. He just happened to be present to witness it.

It is in terms of theme that Fury Road really finds its depth. The film could easily be described as a social commentary, and it definitely has a lot to say about the how our society functions. This is fairly traditional sci-fi fare, unfolding our world to impossible extents as a form of shock therapy, in the hopes that we wake up and realize that something has to give. Thematically, the film also delves fairly deep into the human condition and what motivates us as a species to continue living. Resilience is a major part of this movie, and that’s conveyed in a truly spectacular fashion. A lot of this is in thanks to the characterization, but the action and setting carry some weighty symbolism that contributes as well.

I think it’s necessary to mention the film’s use of dialogue. There’s very little of it, but what little there is ensures that it has to be spot on, which it is. The lack of dialogue actually makes the quieter scenes that are driven by it all the more effective, since the simple act of taking time to talk carries weight. Fury Road truly encapsulates using the “less-is-more” philosophy to great effect–in everything but the action where more is most definitely more.

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Fury Road is a combination of everything that I look for in a movie: complex themes and characters, massive action set pieces, brilliant effects, and somewhat unique cinematography. Sure, the plot may be a little lacking, but everything else about this film is top notch. It’s more than just another action movie. Much more. It’s thought-provoking and has staying power, and that’s probably the highest praise anyone can give to a film.

About the Author

Jean-Luc Botbyl

Jean-Luc is a grizzled veteran of We the Nerdy. Most days, he just wonders why he hasn't been formally fired. Follow him on Twitter at @J_LFett to make him feel validated.