Friday, May 22, 2015

How Mad Max: Fury Road Succeeds by Embracing Genre


            Blessed is she or he who watches Mad Max: Fury Road and can write coherently about it. The latest entry in George Miller’s gasoline-fueled, apocalyptic series unfolds as a fever dream, an extended action sequence so relentlessly kinetic that the few periods of quiet and stillness feel downright unsettling. Even now, I’m not entirely convinced this is a real film that I experienced while conscious, let alone one that’s legitimately good.

            By all rights, a movie involving an electric guitar that literally spews fire should fall into the “guilty pleasure” category at best; to tell the truth, there were a couple times when I wasn’t quite sure if I was laughing with or at it. Yet this eagerness to revel in the ridiculous is ultimately why it works, along with the abundance of distinct female characters; the quietly riveting performances from lead actors Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron and Nicholas Hoult; and the mind-blowing commitment to practical effects over digital trickery.

If stuff like this doesn’t make you appreciate stuntmen and women, you’re hopeless.

I tend to be skeptical of the idea that there’s inherent value in deliberately over-the-top art. White House Down may be aware of its stupidity, but that doesn’t make it any less stupid or more fun to watch. Fury Road, however, is not over-the-top just for the sake of being over-the-top. As a friend of mine pointed out, it’s highly interested in exploring the concept of madness, on both an individual level (see: the main character’s name) and a societal level (the dystopian community led by villain, Immortan Joe, revolves around a manipulative cult). The first ten or so minutes put us directly in Mad Max’s head, using various aesthetic techniques, such as rapid edits and sped-up motion, to produce a sense of mania and disorientation. As a whole, the exquisitely grotesque production design effectively captures a world in disarray, where there are no rules and nothing makes sense.

            At a time when Hollywood churns out big-budget spectacles like assembly-line products, the passion of Fury Road feels not only refreshing but vital. Here is an action movie that unabashedly adores action, staging scenes of destruction and mayhem with the mischievous glee of a kid experimenting with fireworks. Explosions, shootouts and armored cars collide in a frenzied, hypnotic ballet, set to the grand, cacophonous score of Dutch instrumentalist Junkie XL. It’s light-years away from the self-conscious irony of such flicks as 21 Jump Street and Guardians of the Galaxy, which seem faintly embarrassed by their own existence, and the slick yet soulless tedium that plagues so many tent-poles, like The Amazing Spider-Man, whose novice director Marc Webb was clearly more interested in making a sweet romance than the flashy extravaganza he was obligated to deliver.