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Jun 1, 2015 — Corey Wagner
This isn’t supposed to work for several reasons. Very few people would consider George Miller a young man at this point in his life (he was in his last 60s during the filming of the movie). The last three movies he directed were Babe: Pig in the City, Happy Feet, and Happy Feet Two. Regardless of your opinion of those films, George Miller hadn’t directed an action movie in 30 years (Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome –1985). The movie had been in “development hell” for over a decade, and on at least one occasion production was cancelled. Nearly a year after principal photography ended, reshoots were scheduled. I know reshoots aren’t necessarily a kiss of death, but they often have negative connotations attached to them.
None of that even touches on the fact that this is the 4th film in a franchise and the first new movie in said franchise in 30 years. Again, I think that would be considered less than reassuring to many. Not to mention, this movie is now in the 2015 realm of action movies/franchises. This means that the movie needs to be made for a mass audience (make it PG-13). Relatively few children will see an R-rated movie, so it’s best to play it safe and make everything PG-13 to maximize potential audience and profits.
While I don’t completely believe that George Lucas destroyed popular filmmaking (like some people) I do think there have been some unsettling trends in big-budget popcorn fare since The Phantom Menace. To summarize my original slightly off-topic rant: battle scenes don’t have very much gravitas when the heroes can eliminate the bad guys by the dozen(s) and not even break a sweat. Too many modern movies, especially when given big budgets, can not only become bloated by a director reveling in excessive CGI use, but they can often feel very lazy at the same time. Peter Jackson’s Hobbit trilogy is a great example of this post-Phantom Menace excess.
This is all my really long-winded way of saying that George Miller has made a modern big-budget action movie that follows pretty much none of the rules. First off, the movie is rated R. Yes, a $150 million R-rated entry in to a franchise. The movie is crazy and over the top and gleefully basks in it. George Miller, who hasn’t directed an action movie in my lifetime and who just turned 70 a couple of months ago, has made one of the best action movies in the last 10+ years. This is a movie where the action scenes actually progress both plot and characters. Every victory feels earned. No battle droids being cut down like butter here.
While the movie does use plenty of CGI, there are plenty of practical effects and stuntmen at work in the final product. The CGI enhances the movie; the CGI doesn’t become the movie. Practical effects and CGI are mostly blended seamlessly. Things were blown up! Real vehicles were wrecked! It may not seem like much, but when the action doesn’t look like a cartoon it really helps you to FEEL the destruction.
Another aspect worth mentioning is that the movie just LOOKS beautiful. The original Mad Max films are well-regarded but I don’t think any of them look quite as stunning as Fury Road. Cinematographer John Seale came out of retirement to film Fury Road and the movie is all the better for it.
While there may not be a ton of explanation or backstory, the universe of the movie feels very real. I can completely get behind this. Too often movies feel the need to over-explain things, so we are stuck with a character in a movie being “introduced” to a world as other characters spout expository dialog to the uninitiated, when they are really just explaining things to the audience. While some good movies are guilty of this, I always feel that showing is much better than telling when it comes to movies.
I try to keep my expectations in check prior to seeing a movie. Forget that here. Believe the hype. Mad Max: Fury Road totally deserves the 98 it has on Rotten Tomatoes and the 89 it has on Metacritic. Star Wars didn’t destroy the modern blockbuster, lazy and indifferent filmmakers attempted to.
I wish I could say I was hopeful that Mad Max: Fury Road will lead to better things in the future, but too often in the past the wrong lessons have been taken from works of greatness. One reason for optimism: George Miller does want to make (at least) 2 more Mad Max films. If all goes as planned, we will have those to look forward to.