credit: Warner Bros. Pictures

Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) *****

Baroque isn’t the first word most folks would associate with Fury Road, but I’d argue this movie exemplifies the concept. I recall Guillermo Del Toro describing certain projects as baroque when they are detailed down to the most minute elements; his art style can be rather baroque. Whether you look closely or step back for a wider look at his films, you will see absurd levels of detail. Everything is considered.

George Miller’s style of filmmaking for Fury Road is similar, even if the aesthetic is post-apocalyptic.

An enormous ensemble is filled with distinct characters who have obvious lore associations that is mostly explained via aesthetics. Actor performances are outsized. You can be confident these characters are filled with character even if you haven’t seen the other movies, read the comic books, or seen interviews with the cast and crew sharing details. Just doing a few searches for Fury Road information brought up so much Mad Max lore that my head’s still spinning.

The editing is also baroque, packing so many quick shots into sequences that it feels like you’re somehow watching action occur from inside and outside vehicles simultaneously. A conscious focus on clarity of framing (trivia says they chose to center characters in the frame to make it easier to track) means you can absorb a lot of the exhilarating details without losing everything to the blur of violence.

And oh boy, the violence. These creative characters smashing around the movie are doing so with gleeful, drug-hazed brutality. The energy is usually frenetic. There are so many explosions and car flips. I’ve never seen another movie with stunts that feel as visceral as these ones. Though the special effects aren’t exactly hidden — often, the visuals look like a really cool art wall at a tattoo parlor rather than shooting for realism — a shocking amount of the movie was produced with practical effects, and you can feel it. Fury Road is a movie made out of exclamation marks with hardly a comma to breathe.

With this level of detail everywhere you look, it’s fitting that the actual plot of the movie is simple. Our Heroes try to get from point A to point B with minimal deaths, then are forced to turn around and return to point A. There isn’t much to follow if you don’t care to do so. The main character doesn’t talk very much.

If you do pay attention, you’ll note character development all over the place. Max goes from a feral blood bag to someone who goes to any end to save Furiosa’s life, the brides each find different routes to becoming fighters in charge of their own destinies, Nux turns his zealotry away from Immortan Joe–but while the presence of these arcs serve as a rugged scaffold to connect action scenes, Fury Road is still mostly about action scenes.

It’s fun to have such beautiful models centered in a fashion that seems typical for genre movies — presumably, under-dressed for our titillation as much as Immortan Joe’s — who each let slip quite a bit of character in their depictions and coexist in the movie alongside elderly and disabled women. They’re a great example of how Fury Road subverts the very tropes it benefits from. Despite the whole movie ostensibly being framed as another episode in Max’s life, this is one of the more radically feminist movies in the genre.

Behind-the-scenes trivia is worth reading for this one. The shoot it took to produce a ballet of exploding Burning Man cars was as harrowing as you’d think, and I can’t begin recapping all the trivia here. It starts with “Charlize Theron and Tom Hardy hated each other” and carries through “the oldest actress was 78 and did her own stunts” into “the nearly-naked girls nearly froze to death because the desert is flipping cold” and beyond. Hopefully everyone got over the difficult shoot well enough to feel proud of their contributions to one of cinema’s modern classics in retrospect.

My love for Fury Road isn’t anything new; it was one of the most popular movies of 2015. We knew Fury Road was a classic when it came out. For my money, it’s as good as Dredd 3D, the under-performing 2012 release that also featured an oppositional male/female pairing getting closer through killing people. The front half of the decade was so good for SF action movies!

(image credit: Warner Bros. Pictures)

Leave a Reply