I just saw “Mad Max: Fury Road” and it blew my face off. It’s a lot to process, so I figured it would help to write down what I loved about this movie and why it deserves the high praise it’s been receiving. I won’t address the feminist aspects, as I believe those points have already been covered in countless other articles sprinkled across the web, and by more authoritative and informed writers. However, there were other elements in the film that I enjoyed just as much.
And fair warning, possible SPOILERS ahead.
Fresh Air for Box Office Fatigue
There are whispers you can hear around the web and pop culture that are slowly getting louder: people are starting to get tired of action films. Especially superhero movies (sorry, not sorry Marvel) and mindless mano a mano, gun fight, you-killed-my-wife/daughter/dog dramas. There’s a YouTuber named Chris Stuckmann who did a few videos questioning what has happened to action movies and why moviegoers are feeling so stuck with their choice of action flicks nowadays, and I think he sums it up fantastically. You can watch his videos HERE and HERE.
One of Chris Stuckmann’s main issues is the actual filming of action scenes. Too often now the view on screen is muddled by too much “noise”: too much to look at, too much to follow, too much to process, too close to the camera. “Mad Max: Fury Road” does the opposite, while still giving you something interesting to look at. Let’s take a closer look at why and how.
I’m in love with stories that drop you into the action immediately. There’s little to no backstory, you’re already in the passenger seat and going for the ride before you can even find the seatbelt. When the film opens, Imperator Furiosa is on the move with the War Boys, and little did the audience know that she had packed the five wives in the back already. I loved this: we didn’t have to slog through Mad Max’s torture, we didn’t have to watch Furiosa get the girls, pack them in the truck, and then wait for the ceremony. We were in the car with her right away and took off.
I have a lot of respect for writers and directors who take risks like this. The easy route would be to explain everything, much like a monologuing super-villain. But George Miller knew that the audience isn’t stupid, and that little clues would be enough to get us going. He knew what we came to see, and he delivered on it right away with the action and setting. No waiting in line required. Many thriller and mystery novels do this too, and is a style that I subscribe too.
I did have one issue with the film, and that was all of Mad Max’s flashbacks. I understand why they were there, but I haven’t seen Mad Max films before in their entirety, so I had no idea who the creepy little girl or other people he was seeing were (are they characters from past films? Family?). I assumed they were people he had lost and felt guilty about, that much was clear. What I didn’t understand was why they kept showing up. It seemed so unnecessary, and I actually tried to imagine the film without these constant flashes, and I realized it didn’t make a difference. If Miller had just left it with those flashbacks in the first two minutes of the movie, it would’ve been great. That alone would’ve explained Max’s motivations, and then again it was also Furiosa’s persuasion-in-the-moment that he joined their band. But beating us over the head with these annoying flashes to some creepy girl was so unnecessary, especially when our focus should’ve been on the female characters in question.
This almost goes without saying, but the action in this movie was beautiful. It wasn’t just heart-racing, gritty, or fast, but it was beautiful. It was clear that everything was filmed with a loving hand, like how “Pacific Rim” was a love letter to the audience and science fiction. Why is that?
So many action directors rely on shaky cam, which does little to hide how bad some scenes are. It’s almost as though the shaky cam is covering up their poor stunt work. The most successful action films are when action sequences are filmed with clarity. This means NO SHAKY CAM, wide takes, clear paths of motion, clear movement and reaction, and amazing practical stunt work. Yes, the entire film takes place inside cars and following cars in motion, but they were shot in a way that you weren’t confused. The pace was fast, but the camera work wasn’t, because Miller wanted you to understand who was attacking who. There were rarely close-ups, mostly on driver’s faces, and car-to-car interactions were done in wide shots that made the whole sequence seem so much bigger.
I loved how these scenes were contrasted with huge overhead shots, watching the small armies face off from a bird’s eye view. You would realize that their fighting seems so meaningless in this huge landscape, but when you get back down into that passenger seat it’s suddenly the entire world at the steering wheel.
Did I mention the lack of CGI? From what I understand from interviews and some articles, there was an amazing lack of CGI. Stuntmen and real, functioning cars were flipping around and exploding on camera. My first question after the film was, how did no one die during production? But again this can be connected to the way each scene was filmed. Every stuntman/actor’s path of motion was clear, and it felt more real that way. Plus, they also knew what they were doing, and Miller clearly trusted in their abilities.
So, Where Can I Find Better Action Films?
If you’re starving for a good action film that is beautifully shot, engrossing, and does bring up important social issues (without hitting you over the head with them), look no further than “Mad Max: Fury Road.”
For you film connoisseurs, also look across the oceans for better taste in action films. Take a look at some of Jackie Chan and Jet Li’s old work, or the latest thrillers from Asia (especially Korean and Japanese films). My personal favorites are “The Raid”, “The Man from Nowhere”, and any Akira Kurosawa-directed films.
Another great YouTube channel to subscribe to is Every Frame a Painting, and Tony (the narrator) did an excellent video on why Jackie Chan’s fight scenes were so effective and memorable; you can watch it HERE.