George Miller’s Mad Max: Fury Road is such an unpleasant movie. The story, the characters, the sets, the stunts, the costumes, the makeup, the special effects, the sound – they all seem to be noxious on principle, as if the intention was to punish audiences for having the gall to actually buy a ticket. Whether it’s a sequel to Miller’s original three Mad Max movies or a remake of the first is something I neither know nor care about. All I do know and care about is that it was an unendurable experience for me, a film that made me want to curl into the fetal position, rock myself gently back and forth, and pray for it all to be over with. I suspect many audiences will have the same reaction. Sane audiences, at any rate.
Taking the reins from Mel Gibson as the title character is Tom Hardy. Rather than directed to be an actual character and written to have any real plot significance, he’s instead made to be a surprisingly passive supporting player with occasional PTSD visions of past events we’re never made privy to. If you’re going to name your film after his character, shouldn’t he at the very least be the main character? He delivers every one of his precious few lines in monotone growls that, as was the case with Gibson in the original film, were obviously the result of post production dubbing. I’m well aware that actors dub their lines in movies all the time. But the filmmakers typically take steps to make sure the audience doesn’t notice it.
This is one of the ugliest films I’ve seen in quite some time. The sets – and more importantly, the cars – are steampunk designs run amok. Everything is a monstrosity made of rusted metal and dingy chrome, and they look like they’re held together by spit. Considering the film takes place in a post apocalyptic world that apparently consists of nothing but barren deserts, one has to wonder where the characters managed to salvage these parts in the first place. Or, for that matter, where they salvaged the gas and oil needed to make the cars and big rigs run. My God, the cars and big rigs; they’re so overly adorned with all manner of spikes, spears, chains, skulls, and oversized tired, they look like they were taken from some hellish monster truck arena.
A significant portion of the characters, both main and secondary, are either grotesquely deformed, fitted with hideous bionic prosthetics, dressed in gaudy scavenger costumes, or some combination of all of the above. You’d swear they were transplanted from a Rob Zombie movie. The main villain has a Darth Vader-esque breathing mask that looks like it came from Venom of “Batman” fame, and his torso is wrapped up in a hard plastic shell. We see actors with missing limbs, obese women fitted with breast pumps, and muscle men who are branded, scarred, or smeared with dirt. This isn’t a cast. This is a carnival sideshow.
The plot: Max, who for the first half hour or so is fitted with a metal muzzle and is hooked via chains and a blood-transfusion IV to a perpetually shirtless bald man with white skin (Nicholas Hoult), becomes embroiled in a mission to help group of pregnant women escape from the sanctuary of a brutal dictator (Hugh Keays-Byrne). Leading the effort is the one-armed Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron); she hopes to bring the women to lands she grew up in, what’s repeatedly referred to as “the green place.” Why Max has involved himself is anyone’s guess. He makes it clear that he’s operating only on his need to survive, and we often see him desperately pointing a gun at someone.
I won’t say that the film is inundated with action sequences. The ones it does have, however, are so aggressive and gratuitously violent that they would be enough for ten movies, if not more. A series of car chases, they’re nothing but a litany of car flips and explosions and aerial maneuvers, just about all of which involve people shooting at each other or throwing each other out of fast-moving vehicles and getting run over. I suppose the film’s 3D presentation is suppose to “enhance” this, even though it only gave me a blinding headache. The same must apply to the sound levels, because God knows when you hear gunshots and revving engines on the soundtrack, you want your ears to bleed.
The used the words “plot” and “story” earlier, but what I should have said is that the film has a sequence of events and goes from beginning to middle to end. When it comes to what the film is actually about or what point it’s trying to make, I couldn’t even begin to tell you. Is this what audiences want? Action with no context? Ugly people doing ugly things? Why? Have they deluded themselves into believing such things are entertaining? Movies like Mad Max: Fury Road are a mystery to me. They reflect badly on the people who make them, and even worse on the people that actually like and create a demand for them.