The recent trend in movies is to CGI every frame till it looks subtlety fake. The success of films like Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter and the Matrix, have created a new mold in mediocrity, the unintentional side effect of these good films is to make everything else like them, because when you’re a studio trying to make money you’re going to want to make your films like the most successful films rather than turn out original material. The new mold is where trite storylines are overproduced to make bad writing seem good. This new emphasis on special effects is tantamount to putting glitter on a turd. It doesn’t make anything better, but because people are willing to pay to see glitter turds it guarantees that studios will keep making them. What makes these films even worse is how serious they take themselves. Any film takes a lot of work, but when you’re pretentious enough to think that your two hour remake of Godzilla is the next 2001, which the trailer implied with 2001’s own creepy music, you’ve missed the point of what a monster movie is all about. At first glance Mad Max seems like this kind of movie. It’s a big budget blockbuster film geared for a summer time audience, a remake of a classic film franchise. It does something though that these other films don’t. It doesn’t take itself seriously and somehow transcends the mold to become high art.
It’s important to note that I love the original mad max franchise. As a kid the film “The Road Warrior” was one of the first R rated films I’ve seen. It was the first post-apocalyptic film I have seen, when post-apocalyptic films were a rarity. To imagine a scenario where civilization collapses and people must survive a desert hell-scape with roaming gangs of cannibalistic, violent thugs riding makeshift motor cars was original and horrifying. So when I heard that they were remaking it, I sighed heavily. A beloved childhood memory going to be dashed on the rocks of disappointment. There have been very few modern day remakes that are memorable. So I tried not to get too excited or to expect much. Thankfully though the more I found out about the film, the more excited I got. I found out George Miller the original creator was involved, I got a little excited. I found Thomas Hardy was involved I got a little more excited. I saw the trailer, even though it had plenty of special effects it looked cool enough to keep my interest and made sense to what I know of the storyline. I waited months after it came out before I eventually saw it. During that time I heard what my friends, family and co-workers had to say about it. They all had a surprising positive consensus on the film.
Seeing the film exceeded my wildest expectations. The film is huge, monstrous, taking a step back still doesn’t put the film in perspective. Everything is unbelievable. To the opening scene where Mad Max is chased and captured and then chased again through a hollowed out mountain, where white powdered motorcycle mad men use him as a ‘blood bag’ to give them life. To the end scene where everything is exploding with Circus Du Soeil like choreography.
The acting is exceptional. Tom Hardy is amazing. The choice to have little dialogue and often mumble makes more sense to a character that is literally crazy and hallucinates seeing his dead son. I also liked that as a visual metaphor for how Max’s insanity guides him. Hugh Keays-Byrne is incredible as immortan joe. I love how his character is introduced fitted for glass armor and having a breathing apparatus placed on his face before giving a speech to those he rules over. These visuals Communicate the façade of his power that is as transparent as his armor, which tries to hide how vulnerable he actually is. The strongest performance though is by Charlize Theron. In short she’s just a badass. My favorite scene is in the canyon when she’s shooting people off of motorcycles while simultaneously driving a truck through a narrow valley. Her character is clearly awesome not because of a bunch of wordy dialogue. It’s because whenever they show her she’s shooting someone, she’s in a fight or outrunning a mob of monster trucks. Her performance will easily go down as one of the most badass females on the screen with the likes of Sigourney Weaver as Ripley in Aliens and Lena Headey as Sarah Connor in Terminator 2.
The question remains though how does this film separate itself from other big budget blockbusters and become high art? How does it make that turn? It does so by being what it is. It has no pretensions about itself. Rather than pulling a Tron 2 and trying be some sort of philosophical meditation on simulacrum, which Tron 2 does unsuccessfully to my everlasting boredom, it celebrates the kitsch-ness that it understands that it is in. It goes deliberately over the top and doesn’t apologize for it or try to make in plausible. I think that’s what made it so enjoyable for me. It situated itself within a universe hyperbolized to the point of comedic overstatement. I don’t need Neil De Grasse Tyson to explain to me how this world is not possible because that’s not the point. It is rather to be cartoonish and outlandish. We’re not going to just put a hundred drummers on top a giant truck but also huge amps with a blind guy playing an electric guitar that shoots fire. (When I saw this scene I laughed with glee) It’s clearly not taking itself seriously and thereby suffering under the weight of sentimental writing delivered with an overly emotional flair to make a conversation with a man and a man ape meaningful. Instead you’re focused on the action of a truck driven by Charlize Theron and Tom Hardy trying to outrun a gang of violent sociopaths. That’s all the drama that you need and you’re anxious all the while.
I haven’t had this kind of theatre experience in a long while. Where you walk out and are satisfied with what you’ve seen. I exited laughing, jumping up and down re-enacting my favorite scenes with my wife, her sister and her sister’s boyfriend. It was a complete cinematic experience. I recommend this film to anyone who’s been wanting to see a good movie for a long time.