I liked “Mad Max: Fury Road,” but I would not see it again. For one simple reason: All of the film’s positives — the nonstop action and stunning visuals especially — mean very little when you don’t care at all about the characters or what they’re going through.
That’s not to say director George Miller put no heart into his fourth “Mad Max” picture. Quite the contrary: The film is a visual treat. The setting of a scorched wasteland feels appropriately dire enough for all the characters to do extremely desperate things — escaping various things, in particular, seems to be a major theme here.
Most importantly, I can’t credit Miller enough for choosing practical special effects instead of CGI for all the major action scenes and moments — other directors need to take note here. The lack of CGI makes the action feel more visceral, and more believable. The cinematography is stellar.
And yet, all the great action means very little here because it’s difficult to actually care about the characters.
Like the other “Mad Max” films,” dialogue is extremely sparse in “Fury Road.” Understandably so, most characters are either running for their lives or trying to kill each other.
“But even though Miller sought to rely on characters’ nonverbals — knowing glances, long stares, and misty eyes aplenty — it doesn’t make up for the lack of character development. This works in other films (the first 10 minutes of Pixar’s “Up” is a great example), but it doesn’t work here.
These characters, despite having their own unique motivations (bad guys included), are difficult to connect with, and to understand. And with so little dialogue, the stakes don’t feel big enough to justify all the action going on.
For example, when the caravan of escapees finally learns that “The Green Place” they were searching for doesn’t exist anymore, we don’t feel the same hopelessness, the same loss, that Charlize Theron’s Furiosa feels for leading them all there.
And when the bad guy dies at the end of the movie, I didn’t feel any sense of relief or victory. It just felt like another plot point — another victim of “Fury Road.” And it’s too bad — all of these characters are extremely colourful, just not three-dimensional.
Granted, I didn’t see any of the original “Mad Max” movies with Mel Gibson. Most reviews say knowing these movies isn’t integral to this film’s plot, and I agree — even without the other films, I always understood what was going on in every scene.
But the film didn’t make me care enough about its characters, which to me, felt like a missed opportunity. This is an unfortunate omission, given all the important social commentary — touching on overdependence on oil and weapons, plus all feminist themes of sexual slavery and objectification.
“Mad Max: Fury Road” is not a bad movie. Action movie buffs will dig all the practical effects, there’s a ton of thematic elements going on, and visually it’s on par with “300”.
But for all that style, I wish there was a little more substance and character development. Hopefully Miller will provide some important context and backstory for Max and Furiosa assuming this film gets a sequel or two.
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