No doubt many will choose “Mad Max: Fury Road” as Memorial Day entertainment. It’s now playing at the Lake Theater.
The opening scene of “Fury Road,” the latest installment of what is now the Mad Max tetralogy, features the eponymous hero stomping and then chomping on a two-headed lizard (likely mutated by the now irradiated natural world). This scene – likely an allusion to the memorable scene in “Road Warrior” when Max enjoys a tin of dog food – echoes the oh-my-god-it’s-come-to-this post-apocalyptic worldview of the other three movies in this series.
There are, not surprisingly, a lot of similarities between Fury Road and the other Mad Max movies. The feature being touted most fervently as the major innovation in this film, however, is the feminist perspective.
“I hadn’t foreseen its Feminist ambitions.” New Yorker
“The new Mad Max movie is so feminist my scrotum killed itself.” Jezebel
“At once unpretentious and unafraid to bring home a message.” New York Times
My feeling about the Times quote recalls the wonderful line from filmmaker Alfred Hitchcock: “If you want to send a message, call Western Union.”
Yes, I suppose “Fury Road” has a “sisterhood is powerful” message. That’s nice, and the one-armed Imperator Furiosa, played by Charlize Theron, is a dynamic and intriguing character. I don’t think, though, that anyone with a vagina in this sequel equals the power of Aunty Entity, the Tina Turner character in “Beyond Thunderdome,” though that’s actually beside my point, and I’ll be damned if I applaud a director simply because his or her political sympathies match mine.
This movie, like so many, many others this coming summer and always, is a celebration of gun culture. Now, as a tax-paying/voting American, I don’t have a problem with people owning guns and killing each other now and again, but it makes for boring cinema.
Regarding movies, for me, it’s come to this: if I see a movie poster that features a good-looking person holding a gun, I pretty much know how the movie ends. The good-looking guy/gal shoots the bad guy/gal, the end, fade to black: boring, predicable and bankrupt in both its aesthetic and moral philosophy. I don’t have a moral objection to guns; I do, however, think that they are poor tactical tools for problem solving.
And that’s why the choice of going to see “Fury Road” on Memorial Day seems ironic to me. This is the day when we honor those who sacrificed for their country, and I’m guessing that the vast majority of veterans did not enjoy the time they spent shooting and being shot at. Some may have, perhaps, and this isn’t to judge their valor or the justness of their cause, but undeniably war is hell and should be a last resort rather than the top option of responses to a bad situation. Often, in movies like “Fury Road,” the outcome of dramatic action is determined by a well-placed bullet.
No doubt, there’s a lot in this movie that will make you think to yourself, “Damn, that blow’d up good! That blow’d up real good!”
I will admit, I did get a visceral thrill from seeing souped up battle wagons blast across the (presumably Australian) desert, flames throwing everywhere, including from the guitarist mounted in front of massive speakers, a kind of punk bugler harrying forward the troops of white-skinned War Boys. And all this done, director George Miller assures us, with minimal CGI, which adds to the immediacy of the action and is a significant achievement. But after a while, violence piled on violence becomes action without meaning, practically porn which you may perhaps find stimulating but is ultimately a senseless and dead-end exercise.
To use a standard of movie excellence that the great Ebert regularly invoked “Do we care about the characters?”
I seriously doubt that anyone watching this movie cares much one way or the other about the fates of any of the characters…except, perhaps, for the principal War Boy who ends up helping Max. This bald, whitewashed young warrior seems to fall in love with one of the strong women. Holding her, he notices a bug crawling, and he picks it up and plays with it for a moment, almost tenderly, and then he eats it. Entomophagy usually revolts most people (not me, but most) and there was not a gasp in the theater during this quiet moment when he scarfed the bug. After having seen ultra-violence on a large scale (“so chrome,” as the War Boy himself gushed), a little bug goes down easily. Unsurprisingly, it’s those little moments – eating the lizard, eating the bug – that I remember most from the movie. With few exceptions, I do not think I could recount, with any accuracy, how one or another vehicle or character met their end because, ultimately, I didn’t care.