"Are you even allowed to make movies like this?" That was the phrase I kept asking myself while watching Mad Max: Fury Road. The action is so thorough, so razor sharp and so exhaustive, I'm not quite sure how this movie made its way out of the Warner Brother vaults. Usually, on a film as troubled as Max's production was, you'd have the feeling of corporate interference all the way through. That's why I'm shocked at how Fury Road succeeds in being a visionary action movie that feels like it comes from one creative mind.
It's been 30 years since Beyond the Thunderdome and George Miller has returned to resurrect the franchise he helped birth. His passion for this franchise is something that is pretty rare in a filmmaker. Too often, directors are herded around from movie to movie, franchise to franchise. While its clear many care about the project they are working on at any given time, Miller's enthusiasm spans nearly 40 years now. His love of this universe is deeply evident.
And it shows in every single second of Mad Max. There's an unhinged enthusiasm that roars through Fury Road that's rare to see in an action movie of this scale. The last time I remember seeing something like this was The Raid, where a very competent filmmaker showing how much they love the action material they are working with.
But honestly, one of the best things about Mad Max is how is plays with structure. In reality, the movie is more or less one long action scene. It begins at point A and involves the characters needing to get to point B, and the rest of the story comes from a protracted chase scene. In blockbuster narrative structure, you're often playing with a specific set of story beats. First off, 15-20 minutes of drama, maybe then 10 minutes of action, 20-25 minutes of drama, another action scene and so on. Fury Road seemingly inverts that by giving us 20 minute action scenes with 10 minute breaks where the film focuses on the story. In other hands, that would be disastrous, but everyone is pulling their weight to sell this and create a movie that feels brutally honest.
And everyone is trying to sell it. Tom Hardy's Max is a more of a chaotic force in this movie than a fully fledged character. In the context of this story, that works perfectly. He is a mad dog who is swept up in the literal tornado of the story and is dragged along by the narrative, doing crazy shit when it's called upon him to do crazy shit. The real protagonist, in terms of propelling the audience forward is undoubtedly Charlize Theron's Imperator Furiosa. This is her story, her mission and everything you might have heard about this being a female lead movie are absolutely true. The group we are taken on this journey with consists of only two men and near enough ten women at some points. Now, that wouldn't necessarily be a point of approval if it weren't that we just don't see this group dynamic in a testosterone action film very often. Just by changing the make up of this social group, it creates a freshness that I'd love to see more of.
Now, if Fury Road has a glaring flaw, it should be somewhat apparent. The way the film is structured means that it can feel a little light dramatically. If you took out all the action set-pieces from the script, you'd probably be dealing with less than 40 minutes of solid content. Of course that isn't an entirely fair breakdown, as a lot of character work happens within these setpieces, but the time to take your breath in between death defying feats is minimal. However, In a full picture, this plays into Fury Road's favor. If you carefully look at the seams of these characters too closely, they may begin to look flimsier than they feel. But the movie never makes that its focus, so you never have to actually consider it for very long as you're dragged along by a chain to the next action set piece.
"Are you allowed to make movies like this?" I ask again. It takes everything we know about structure, simplifies it and then subverts it. The movie is one of the wildest visions I've seen come from a blockbuster action film in quite some time. This is fire, sand, metal, rust and gasoline put into a blender at full power. George Miller has reinvigorated the series he once brought to the world with a passion that burns hot and gives us a glimpse at what an action movie from a major studio can be. This is a provocative film, and it almost certainly will generate a visceral reaction in you.
So, "Are you allowed to make movies like this?" Evidently yes. And I want to see much more like it.