Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)
Mad Max: Fury Road, directed by George Miller, has been hailed as some sort of Halley’s Comet of Hollywood filmmaking. Early reviews have waxed poetic about its action filmmaking chops, its scene-by-scene inventiveness and its supposed verbal terseness and have somewhat misguidedly fetishized its use of real stunts in place of CGI – something that flummoxes me given how much of CGI is, in fact, utilized in the film. Though I found its limited inventiveness adolescent, its dialogue superfluous and banal and its direction exhausting, with its corny, rapid zooms, split second edits, its pointless disruption of spatial integrity, the eye-sore inducing orange-teal colour scheme and the lack of emotional weight that marks the best of action cinema (there is a reason why the chariot race in Ben Hur works), I did not find myself provoked enough to write a putdown of the film. Action films, after all, have the capacity to accommodate and neutralize a wide range of shrill notes and who’s to argue that critics shouldn’t derive aesthetic pleasure out of this sub-Boetticher material. However, recent think pieces have started exalting its writing, especially the film’s politics, which is what has finally pushed me to type this note out. Let’s see what Fury Road is about. The film is set in a post-apocalyptic wasteland, where a tyrannical patriarch, Immortan Joe, controls the city’s water supply and raises men to become war machines and women to become baby-dispensers. Joe and his boys regularly go to war with neighbouring districts for oil; they gather oil so that they can ride out to war. It makes no sense and may be that’s the point. One day, Furiosa (Charlize Theron), the only woman in Joe’s army, renegades and drives away with a massive rig containing not just oil, but also Joe’s five wives whose reproductive rights he has colonized with medieval chastity belts. In the women’s ride to neverland, they are joined by nomad Max (Tom Hardy), who is undergoing a crisis of masculinity after having failed to save his family from destruction, and Nux (Nicholas Hoult), who has liberated himself from Joe’s paternal authority. Together, they bring down Joe’s reign and establish a more just society under Furiosa. I suppose the film thinks this is all intelligent and subversive. We are expected to buy into the film’s declarative “This is America today” posturing. Like all mainstream moviemaking, Fury Road has the privilege of attracting academic and critical interest with a half-committed ideology while hiding behind an excuse of simple entertainment when examined deeper. (It celebrates the same automobile fetish it seeks to criticize.) Miller and co-writers mount on screen the most basic feminist meta-narrative, without any sort of personal inflection or rough edges. (There is, as addition, awfully problematic bits like a conspicuously scarved woman and those deluded war boys dreaming of a better hereafter and yelling “witness me” while leaping to death.) The resulting work has the subtlety of a jackhammer and pays lip service to a set of stillborn theoretical ideas that place nothing at stake. At its worst, it panders to a set of politico-cultural beliefs in a way that is not different from the market segmentation of studio machinery. This is the mainstream counterpart to Michael Haneke’s “I’ve got it all figured out” brand of smug filmmaking. It’s allegorical cinema for those who hate allegorical cinema.