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Mad Max and the Awards Season Or: Let It Go, Let It Go...

And so, the Oscar race has officially begun, with the Nation Board of Review's annual best of list, applauding and honoring the creme de la creme in film for 2015. I definitely didn't expect to see films like Sicario and Straight Outta Compton to be on their list of the 10 best movies of the year, so big brownie points to them for their inclusion. Drew Goddard winning Best Adapted Screenplay was a shock, and well-deserved for taking the source material and creating a funny, exciting script where Matt Damon "has to science the shit" out of being stuck on an unforgiving planet like Mars after being marooned by mistake by his fellow astronauts. I think The Martian is easily Ridley Scott's best and most enjoyable film in years (yes, I'm taking into account that I liked Prometheus) , and it's fun to see the director this playful, though I think Damon winning Best Actor and Scott taking Best Director is a bit of a stretch.

But then came the pick for Best Picture, and the fawning over Mad Max: Fury Road reached a new level of annoyance. The action-thriller won the top prize, and, for a lack of a better word: I somewhat snapped. I wrote about Fury Road earlier in the year, but after sitting on the film for months, I'm just going to come out and say it - this is probably an unpopular opinion, and one I might get some heat with, but to hell with it...

Mad Max: Fury Road is the most overrated film of 2015. There, I said it.

I didn't hate it - far from it. To reiterate: It's a marvel, purely on a production level alone. Cinematographer John Seale came out of retirement to capture the look of this apocalyptic wasteland, and it's gorgeous, with the teal tones and the perfect use of a day to night filter. Composer Junkie XL does great work with the score, capturing the intensity of the characters involved, from warrior goddess Furiosa, to the crazed righteousness of Immortal Joe and his War Boys. And I haven't seen a composer sample Giuseppe Verdi's "Requiem" and breathe new life into the piece since Masamichi Amano did it with the score to Battle Royale. The acting by Charlize Theorn as Furiosa and Nicholas Hoult as Nux are first rate, dynamite performances, and some of the action scenes are very fun to watch. And the feminist subtext thought the film is a refreshing take on how female characters can be - and should be - used in mainstream fare, and in the medium in general.

Having said all of that, and I cannot stress that this is merely my opinion, Fury Road becomes something of a chore to sit through, despite it's 120 minute runtime.. The "plot" of the story threadbare is threadbare at best - Furiosa betrays Immortal Joe by stealing his prized wives and escorting them to her native clan for protection; hot on their trail is Immortal Joe himself and his army of War Boys, one of them, a young zealot named Nux who uses Max as prisoner/"blood bag" who manages to escape his captor and reluctantly agrees to help Furiosa and the Wives on their quest. I don't have a problem with a movie using a simple premise or having a basic plot to drive the action (it worked wonderfully with The Raid: Redemption and Kill Bill Vol. 1), but there has to be solid character development to make the whole thing work and not feel like the filmmakers are borrowing from the Michael Bay playbook of making an action film.

Yes, we get fully fleshed out character arcs from Theorn and Holt as Furiosa and Nux respectively, but I feel the same cannot be said for Tom Hardy's titular Max Max. I should note that going into Fury Road, I never saw any of Miller's original Max Max movies, so I based the film on its own merits. I liked that he's this mysterious drifter in a world where survival has become the basic rest impulse of  a broken society, but we hardly know anything about this version of Max Rockatansky: Where did he come from? Has he been traveling alone all this time? I had to look up the character's backstory on Wikipedia months after seeing the film, because it never came through in this installment, which is a big failing to me, as someone who's very new to the Mad Max universe. Similarly, the Wives (Rosie Huntington-Whiteley as The Splendid Angharad; Riley Keough as Capable; Zoe Kravitz as Toast the Knowing; Abbey Lee as The Dag; and Courtney Eaton as Cheedo the Fragile), though helpful to Furiosa and Max on their quest in numerous fights with the War Boys, are short-shifted in terms of character development. How did each young woman become Joe's wife/slave? Were they sold or kidnapped from various clans? Have they been in contact with Furiosa this whole time leading up to the daring escape? Stuff like this I felt needed to be explained to give the five Wives' characters more depth, and we never really got that.

Lastly are the action scenes; primarily how underwhelming they are. For every cool scene like driving through a mega-sandstorm, or seeing War Boys swinging around trucks and cars in motion, or even seeing a guitarist shredding while it spits fire (which is still one of the coolest moments I've seen put to celluloid in 2015!), the whole affair is just one shoot-em-up, explosions galore chase scene after another, and it becomes very boring very fast. Say what you want about the increasingly silly Fast and Furious franchise, but those movies had creative and well-choreographed action scenes, from the robbery sequence in Fast Five, to driving out of a moving military cargo jet and doing battle with an armored bus, complete with armor-piercing rounds in Furious 7. When you've seen Furiosa and Max shoot at a car or motorbike that either crashes and/or explodes, you've seen the same effect a hundred times.

Despite my ranting at the time of me writing this piece, Mad Max continues to rack up admiration, wins in the Editing, Cinematography and Directing categories in major critics circles, from the Boston Society of Film Critics, to the L.A. Film Critics Association Awards, including winning for Picture from the Boston Online Film Critics Association Awards and a Second-place finish for Picture and Director with the New York Film Critics Circle, with many more awards to come, I predict. It's a bonafied candidate for Best Picture at the Academy Awards this year, and regardless of my opinions about the film, I'm firmly in the minority in my views, and it can't be helped. That's fine with me. I'm going to take advice from a certain character who had problems of her own, until she decided to say 'fuck it!' and move on; albeit in nicer terms and in show-stopper fashion.

Comments

  1. Jonathan, you've made some great and valid points. I actually agree with you, despite how much I love this film.

    You are right in comparing it with the Fast & Furious franchise, and how those films are always trying new action sequences, where Mad Max felt like the same one to varying degrees. I don't know if I'll ever feel it's overrated, but I can't argue with anything you've said here. As you've mentioned The Martian, I agree it's Ridley Scott's best film in years. For me it's his best since Gladiator in 2000. I have fallen into the "I want to root for" The Martian to win awards, including Best Picture. Of course, I feel this way until I see The Hateful Eight and The Revenant. I suspect I'll like those more. But anyway, great piece of writing, and thank you for sharing.

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  2. Great write-up, and you are a brave man. Bravo.

    However, the easy comparison with Furious 7 says more about what you think the film-makers intended in their respective efforts. George Miller has crafted a sweeping epic of action, vivid in color and production. A hazy kind of flip of the genre's set pieces, although slick and beautiful this never goes too far - it appears credible in it's doomed world and you allow it to suck you in. Furious 7 and the previous films are a completely different ball games of the modern world, I doubt they ever wanted to be taken seriously, and while they are certainly playing around to full capacity with the genre (to the extent of ridiculous, self-parodying comedy) there is no way these films ever strived to be in the same vain as Mad Max: Fury Road in intention or execution.

    Love reading your "devil's advocate" pieces though. Keep it up.

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