Why Mad Max: Fury Road Is An Important Movie
It's A Big-Budget, R-Rated Spectacle
Mad Max: Fury Road carries a price tag anywhere between $100 million and $200 million, which is massive. We simply do not see that type of thing anymore - summer blockbusters are expensive and PG-13 for the highest profit margin. An R-rated movie of this scale is not only rare, but unheard of. In the past, we have only gotten the R-rated Watchmen in 2009, Troy in 2004 (the most expensive R movie ever), and other assorted movies like the Matrix trilogy.
The fact that 2015 is bearing the release of Fury Road - an expensive, R-rated spectacle - is a HUGE deal. We have never seen anything like this before. Here's a movie which is allowed to be BIG, but at the same time doesn't pull any punches when it comes to violence. Its brutality is on the same level as its micro-budgeted predecessors. Although the point can be made that not all movies need to have a huge budget, especially since this is a low-budget series, Fury Road shows that a motion picture of this size and rating CAN be successful.
Fury Road is a genuine gift from the filmmaking Gods.
It's Not A Superhero Movie
The summer box office derby is mostly populated with superhero movies. At this point in 2015 we have already been given Avengers: Age of Ultron and we're in for Ant Man in a couple months. Over the next few years, we'll see more Marvel movies and DC productions, among other comic book adaptations like X-Men: Apocalypse and the next Wolverine. Superhero movies are the big Hollywood trend at the moment, but let's face it, it's starting to get old. Superhero fatigue is coming. I'm already over it. I'm over a completely digital play-land with a big budget and superheroes doing fantastical things. It's gotten old and there's no more novelty.
Mad Max: Fury Road is an old-school summer movie. Its big money shots come from insane car carnage and phenomenal stunts achieved by a bunch of total lunatics. It has people firing guns. It has people being brutal and doing gory things. There aren't any people flying around or using their powers - it has utter savages doing their best to survive and get their way. It's so incredibly refreshing that words fail me.
You can be a smartass and say that Fury Road is a sequel/reboot, but you'd be hard-pressed to find a sequel/reboot as utterly original as this.
It Shows That The Nolan Approach Has Passed Its Use-By Date
You know the patented Chris Nolan approach by now. Dour, serious blockbusters with people standing around saying serious dialogue in a serious tone. It's sucking a lot of the fun out of motion pictures, because filmmakers are too scared to craft a flat-out fun action movie in fear of being compared to Nolan. There are a few diamonds in the rough, to be sure, but for the most part, blockbusters have become boring, and you'll be hard-pressed to muster up much enthusiasm to watch many of them again.
But Fury Road? It's FUN. It's light on its feet, relying on astounding visual storytelling more than tonnes of verbose exposition and tedious chatter. It has gallows humour. It has amazing pacing. It's the perfect antithesis to the Nolan approach, and in fact makes those leaden blockbusters look worse than they probably are. Fury Road is spoiling us.
Practical Effects... Glorious Practical Effects
It's hard to be impressed in modern cinema these days. After Jurassic Park ushered in a new era of digital blockbusters, the format has been pushed to its boundaries. Now every blockbuster is shot on sound-stages with fuckloads of green screen and lots of CGI. It's just not impressive anymore, because no matter how good the digital effects are, you just know it's CGI, and that detracts a certain punch from the experience.
Fury Road announces that we do not NEED to live in an era governed by CGI excess. There is some CGI, yes, but it's mostly practical effects, with stunts performed by real stuntmen putting their lives on the line. Even the Fast & Furious series looks positively pathetic in comparison, especially with the most recent entry that was too digital. That series is sold on its car stuff, and yet Fury Road is superior, almost effortlessly.
Practical effects and stunts give us real, raw thrills, and that type of thing needs to come back. It's promising that the new Star Wars is going to employ models and sets for its spaceship stuff, rather than the outright CGI that George Lucas used for the prequels.
It also helps that Fury Road looks like, well, a FILM. Every blockbuster these days is colour-corrected to shit, and that once-innovative technique has been abused. You look back at the old celluloid era, and you see real colours and a warm colour scheme. Even though Fury Road was shot digitally, it looks like an old celluloid production, and that's another reason why it's so refreshing.
It's Smart But Unpretentious
A lot of people are getting up in arms about the fact that, God forbid, there are female characters in this movie, dismissing it as "feminist propaganda" as they reach at straws for a reason to dislike this action masterpiece.
Funnily enough, those idiots have completely missed the subtle, smart subtext of the movie. It has gravitas, and a political voice, but such things are not rammed home with tonnes of exposition or other bantering to spell everything out. There's a clever anti-corporate agenda that's subtly explored by Miller. Immortan Joe and his 'brothers' that run the other cities, all create need through the politics of scarcity- you create need, and it in turn creates power. Combine that with religion (here, a half remembered mutation of Viking paganism), and you assert dictatorship. The women in this film are not the only ones freed from bondage - Nux's journey from acolyte, to fallen believer, to active 'hero' comes when he literally breaks his chains of bondage to assist in the winching of the war machine. His help frees himself from ownership as he frees the truck from the sludge.
See? You can do this kind of stuff through subtle visual filmmaking. It doesn't need to be shoved in our face through pretentious filmmaking (looking at you, Chris Nolan).
It Doesn't Play By The Rules
Here's how summer blockbusters work these days: a handful of big stars are shoved into the mix even if they don't suit, the studio hires a cheap writer to make a movie the way they want it, any remotely big action scenes are pulled off with mountains of CGI with very little (if any) practical effects, and there's scarcely any personality or humanity to supplement the spectacle. Oh, and don't forget PG-13, cameramen who have an epileptic seizure every time an action scene breaks out, cheap humour, and perfunctory attempts at maturity
That's the formula which gave us Transformers 1-4, Battleship, The Avengers, The Amazing Spider-Man, Clash of the Titans, Wrath of the Titans, John Carter, all Fast & Furious movies, Jupiter Ascending, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, the new Star Trek movies, World War Z... I could go on?
George Miller, however, has given a raging middle finger to that formula. Fury Road does not play by the rules at all. The fact that it even got produced is a freaking miracle. You could make a case for Tom Hardy or Charlize Theron being big stars, but really, they haven't headlined anything of note. They were chosen because they suited their roles. Miller has been working on this thing for years, and it looks like he didn't have to sacrifice the production's integrity for funding. It's just a massive, gonzo movie in all the right ways, and it's going to make a killing when it comes to DVD & Blu-ray sales.
It Shows The Benefit Of Auteur Filmmaking
Thirty years on, it's hard to find anyone with a kind word to say about Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, which closed the Mel Gibson Mad Max trilogy with a whimper. It's heartbreaking to watch considering the project's limitless potential. One of the main issues is studio involvement - it had American financing, thus the studio demanded Tina Turner songs, Turner in a starring role, a PG-13 rating, an ensemble of kids, and so on. It's a studio effort all-round, neglecting the charms of the previous movies which were sold on badass ultra-violence and a gripping vision of the future.
Even despite Fury Road's staggering budget, the movie is all Miller. The shoot literally amounted to a bunch of people in the South African desert left alone to their own devices. Warner Bros reportedly had no involvement - they let Miller do his thing, and do it his way. And that's a BIG fucking deal for them to let a 70-year-old Aussie make such an astonishing R-rated movie. But it shows that the vision of an artist can result in something truly special, which is why this movie is the best film of the summer - and probably the best summer movie in a good ten years.
This is essentially an art movie, with the idea of a fast-paced action flick turned into a unique showcase of innovative screen artistry. In the hands of anyone else the film would feel generic, but Miller really dials it up to 11, and it's glorious. I mean, c'mon, fucking flamethrower guitar! And the success of Fury Road at the box office, and the strong word of mouth, means that people are responding to it. We need more movies like this!
It Shows That Reviving Old Franchises Can Be A Good Idea
Reviving old franchises has been a thing for a while now in Hollywood, with Rambo, Die Hard and Indiana Jones getting resurrected, among other things. But apart from the fourth Rambo adventure, none of the other long-awaited sequels have actually pleased audiences. In fact, every time another long-time sequel is announced, people just beg for it to be cancelled because of the bad taste left by similar endeavours.
But Fury Road is a different story. If this was purely a money-grab, it wouldn't have been rated R and it would've been a safe movie produced on a studio back-lot. George Miller shows that reviving an old franchise means you can also revive bygone aesthetics and styles. The movie earns how big it is, because it's the result of hard work, stuntmen and careful planning, not digital effects.
Hopefully this movie sends a message to Hollywood. After all, nobody really expected another Mad Max adventure to be this successful. Long-time fans are flocking to it due to nostalgia, and newcomers are coming to see it because it genuinely piqued their interest. It's a textbook example of making an old franchise cool again for a brand new audience. And it's the best example of doing it correctly.
Studios, take note of Fury Road. It's a genuine game-changer and you would be wise to capitalise on its success.