Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

Mad Max: Fury Road

(Australia, USA, 2015)

Hmmm. Should I start off with the bad stuff, or the good stuff? Let’s get the bad stuff out of the way …

This is very bad “science” fiction, but I imagine we’re all pretty used to that these days, what with the semi-ridiculous Interstellar being promoted as “good” SF. I’m just going to tackle one of the impossibilities of this weird desert world. All that water. Why is it that water is so often the basis of really stupid SF? From the rather pathetic Ice Pirates (which, to be fair, was intended as a comedy) to more ambitious stuff like Alien Nation and the totally awful Signs (in both, water is deadly poison to aliens … who decide to invade this soggy planet anyway), there are so many SF films that are, so to speak, all wet. So right off the bat I wondered the same thing I wondered in the abysmally stupid Waterworld: that is, where does all that fucking water come from? The tribal leader, Immortan Joe, is able to pull a big lever and shower unlimited water down on the thirsty hordes beneath. But … he lives in a cave half-way up a mesa that’s not a lot bigger than Devil’s Tower. Where does the water come from?

(Lee says I didn’t hear someone say they were tapped into a giant aquifer. Maybe so, but putting the outlet on top of a mesa strikes me as foolish … and I don’t believe aquifers act that way.)

Enough of that. On the other hand, as anthropological fantasy, I’d have to say this is a good one. Joe has convinced his people that if they die in his service, they will instantly go to heaven, so his fighters eagerly throw themselves onto cars with more metal spikes than a porcupine. (Sort of like Muslims, right?) This is supposed to be post-apocalyptic, hence all the junk cars we recognize, like 1959 Cadillacs. Things have devolved enough that many of the people we see are hardly recognizable as human. Many African tribes went into battle to the pounding of war drums, Brits often began the fighting to the skirl of bagpipes, and General Custer liked to slaughter Indian women and children to the tune of “Garryowen” played by the regimental band. Here we have a monstrous truck with huge banks of speakers, a gibbering maniac standing in front playing an electric guitar that doubles as a flame-thrower, and half a dozen warriors on the back beating on big drums. It was spine-tingling, I’ll tell you.

George Miller, the director, has characterized the film as basically a western. I agree. It is also a chase movie. There are half a dozen (I lost count) sustained chases, with very little breathing room between. The plot is minimal: Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) has betrayed Joe by stealing his five favorite pregnant wives, intending to spirit them away to some green place. Max Rockatansky (Tom Hardy) helps her, after at first fighting her. Joe comes after them, and so do half a dozen other motorized gangs. That’s it. If you’re looking for deep character development or intricate plot, look elsewhere. I knew that going in.

So, there’s the bad, the iffy, and the disclaimer. Now on to the good, the ultra-bad, and the ugly. … actually, I’m just now realizing, this ultra-sweaty and ultra-gritty picture is a lot like those spaghetti westerns …

I had a hell of a good time. Pretty much the best time at an action movie since my all-time favorite, The Road Warrior. The production design is way beyond awesome. The costume design, and especially the vehicles, are things of wonder. They must have severely depleted the junkyards of South Africa to put these mutant terrorcycles together. (The action scenes were filmed in Namibia, one of the sandiest places on Earth.)

The 3D was terrific, never a danger I was going to get a headache. The SFX are glorious, too. They claim that 90% of the action was real stunts. I’m a little dubious, but who can tell anymore? The only way to know for sure is if a particular stunt could not have been survived by a human being. Part of it is choreographed like a Cirque du Soleil on wheels, with guys bobbing back and forth on long poles. (Some of the performers actually were from Cirque!) Charlize Theron has one arm off at the elbow, and it looks totally real, plus her prosthetic arm.

The acting? Well, what can you say? I wasn’t much impressed with Tom Hardy, who actually was helpless and in chains for a large part of the movie. But Charlize … she was actually the real kick-ass character here. In fact, none of the women spend a lot of time being helpless, even the Five Wives, who start off as slaves but actively help in the fights, even though hardly dressed for it.

To finish: I never really got the names of most of these grotesques, but they are of course listed at IMDb. Some of them are really neat, like The Humongous in The Road Warrior. A few: Toast the Knowing, Cheedo the Fragile, Rictus Erectus, Keeper of the Seeds, The People Eater, The Bullet Farmer, The Doof Warrior, Corpus Colossus. Sounds like a fun group, huh? But don’t invite them to your next party.