Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Mad Max

The delay on my thoughts on this piece of Oscar bait are not for the normal reasons; in this case, I've been genuinely disinterested in Mad Max, and the amount of fanboys about to wet themselves with excitement at the mention of it has only further confirmed my avoidance of it. Nothing in the promotions, Oscar nominations, Oscar wins, and squealing fanboys has remotely peaked my interest, and it seemed that I could never find out what the movie was actually about amidst all of this publicity. All I could glean from the promos is that the movie featured a lot of large vehicles (easily ignitable vehicles at that), in a desert, Charlize Theron, and a horde of mutants.

It turns out that this movie is about a lot of large easily ignitable vehicles in a desert, Charlize Theron, and a horde of mutants. Complex movie, this is most certainly not. It's not that it needed complexity, but even days after the initial viewing of this oddball piece, I still struggle to comprehend how anyone other than a Mountain Dew junkie thought this was Best Picture material. Admittedly, the technical categories for which this movie won several Oscars were genuinely well-executed, but under the explosive surface that would make Michael Bay weep with joy, is nothing but a mental drought. It's not about survival, social injustice, or the perils of the post-apocalyptic government in a world where life is cheap: it's a high-budget two-hour car chase that will forever rank among the finest indulgences of mindless sub-par entertainment ever to grace a Walmart $5 bin.

Mad Max: Fury Road is the kind of movie that should have Vin Diesel or Megan Fox in it, but instead, the producers use Oscar-nominated names to try to get viewers to take the movie seriously. And yet, the basic premise for Mad Max: Fury Road seemed to be initially written by a little boy with Matchbox cars, the story evolving slowly into a premise well-suited for a low-level video game:

Age 6: People in big trucks drive to a place far away in the desert. Vmmmmm....Then, they drive back! Vmmmmmm....

Age 12: Some of the people are gross monsters. Hwuaaaaaaaaaah!

Age 15: There are lots of explosions along the way

Age 21: Women. Women who are... sex slaves. One is like a Victoria Secret model. She's like the alpha sex slave. There's a bad guy called... Rictus Erectus. Yeah, sounds right.

Despite the slight implication for mild potential, if this movie was attempting some form of social commentary, it fails most miserably. "Women are not things" is a great mantra and all, but even that noble concept is lost in this explosive testosterone trip. While much of the violence is perpetrated against the women, and at times instigated by them, any semblance of plot tied up in their story is still just an irreverent footnote in the endless engine roars, explosions, and heavy metal music. Example, a pregnant woman is run over by a monster truck, and a few moments later as she lay dying in the back of a rumbling tank-truck, her dead unborn child is cut from her womb, carelessly handled by the grotesque mutants, and then both bodies are unceremoniously forgotten while the sordid mutants play with the child's umbilical cord. Then we go back to the high-octane road rage.

For a movie called Mad Max, a Max-centric story is strangely absent. His presence seems obligatory rather than useful, and he functions as something of a rogue tag-along rather than a main hero. His participation with Furiosa and the other women is almost accidental, and he has even less character development than his mutant captor-- a character who is almost interesting. Amidst all of the speed and hell-on-wheels, Max has less dialogue than the lead of your average kindergarten play, and delivers most of these lines with all the zeal of Keanu Reeves before his morning coffee. Furiosa is the real hero of the story, the true vigilante, and the one whose actions set up the story; it's Charlize Theron playing Charlize Theron. The characters are neither electrifying nor despicable, which leaves only typical, and they are.

Mad Max: Fury Road is a strange sort of movie that excels in certain elements of movie-making (cinematography, special effects, sound editing, even makeup), but fails to actually be a good movie. I keep describing this movie as a fiery and high-adrenaline trip, yet for all of the action sequences, the obscurity of the movie itself distracted from there being any real tension. At no point was I really on the edge of my seat or worried about anyone in the movie. The few moments that seemed designed to deliver some sort of emotional connection fell flat due to lack of character development. Mad Max: Fury Road is a visual orgy of excessive vehicular violence, reveling in its own smoke and fumes. It's the kind of movie that only makes sense when you don't want sense.

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