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“Mad Max: Fury Road” has some of the best action sequences you’ll see this year, and they’re made all the more exciting by the fact that they are done, for the most part, with practical effects. However, that doesn’t make it a great movie. The dialogue is bad, the acting isn’t great, and it has been completely overhyped. This is an action movie, and it hits every note in that sense, because it’s on another planet as far as the ninety minute chase scene goes. Explosions, fast cars, death – that’s what this movie puts all its effort into. Still, the fact that it gets that one element right doesn’t make it a 10/10 film, because its flaws take away from the immersion that’s vital to make the audience care about the fate of the characters, and as a result the impact of the actions lessens significantly by the end.

The film is about two characters, Max (Tom Hardy) and Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron). At the start of the film Max is captured by a group of pale-faced wastelanders known as the War Boys. He’s taken to their home, Citadel, where we are first introduced to two of the key figures of this story, Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne) and Furiosa. From that point the film follows Furiosa as she attempts to free ‘the wives’, women that Joe has specially selected for breeding. This betrayal forces Joe to take action and attempt to stop Furiosa from escaping, which escalates into an all-out car chase across the wasteland.

The story is loose, predictable and dull, as we are supposed to empathise with these women that have been treated like ‘things’, but never really get the chance to connect with them. They want their freedom in a dark and ugly world, and because Furiosa is trying to give this to them we are supposed to like her (and also Max when he ends up helping them on their way), but we know so little about them that it really is hard to care.

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There’s nothing new or ground-breaking in this narrative, as the group speed across the empty desert landscape, with Joe fast on their tail, hoping to find solace in a place we all know will provide none. The story isn’t what you should come into this film hoping for, because it’s surface level and lacking any real substance, so if you haven’t seen the film yet but are planning to that’s something to be wary of.

The opening sequence in which Max was captured was awesome, and it set the tone for the chase that followed. Max was introduced swiftly, as George Miller wasted little time on character development, hoping that his audience would either have seen previous instalments or stick around for the action. Once Max was captured the pace was pulsating, as the camera jolted with Max’s movement, blurring the screen in a way that would mirror his vision as he shook his head from left to right. In all of ten minutes Max is taken, escapes, and is captured again; it’s a viciously delicious opening with wonderful sound, cinematography, and acting. Max’s fear and desperation is matched by the War Boys’ glee at the chase, and that theme is seen throughout the film, as the heroes want the chase to be over, but the villains revel in the hunt and delight at each grunt of their engines.

The performances were adequate, it’s not as if they were bad, but nobody had anything to do beyond the fight scenes, and at the end of the day it was the extras that were doing the more exciting stunts. The dialogue was awkward and sometimes embarrassingly weak, as the characters attempted to convey the feeling that nobody could possibly trust another human being in the wasteland, yet we all knew that in the end Max and Furiosa would unite for to save the wives.

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There’s been a lot of talk about Theron’s performance, with many stating that this is actually Furiosa’s film. I disagree because Theron does nothing special in this movie. She expresses the sadness and worry that she feels through her eyes, and she does so quite well, as they look piercingly out into the emptiness, their shine being accentuated by the black paint she sometimes has around them. Still, I was never really sold on her as an action hero – she was good as the protagonist in this film because she had a noble cause, so the audience could get behind her and will her on, but her performance lacked depth due to the fact that she did nothing to make me believe that Joe would trust her enough to make her his right hand (wo)man in the first place. She didn’t portray any real ferocity or ruthlessness, with her character sometimes seeming too sentimental for this brutal world, and I didn’t believe that she had had the past that the film hinted at (working for Joe).

The problem here is largely due to the fact that the script is just awful! It’s so weak and hollow, and it really does seem like all the effort has been put into choreographing these huge action sequences, with the story being forgotten and thrown in as an afterthought. It’s hard to do a good job as an actor when you don’t have any interesting lines, and you’re constantly being cut away from so that the camera can thrust the next explosion into the audience’s face. On top of that, some of the dialogue is completely inaudible, particularly at the beginning of the film, which renders the actor’s efforts pointless. Nicholas Hoult’s lines at the start of the movie could’ve been delivered brilliantly and I’d never have known, because I just couldn’t make them out over the sound of engines revving.

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The characters themselves weren’t that well developed, because we never had a full grasp of their pasts or their motivations. Was Furiosa that badly off before she tried to help the wives escape? It seemed like a lot of people respected her, and although Joe was cruel and unkind, it doesn’t seem as though anyone else in this universe is much different. Why was Nux (Nicholas Hoult) in need of a blood transfusion in the first place? Why did he think he’d go to Valhalla if he died for Joe? We never found out what was wrong with Nux to begin with, so the fact that he was ill at the start of the film was made to feel like a plot device to get Max on the road with the rest of the caravan, rather than something meaningful that the character was going through. This thought was only added to by the fact that he didn’t need blood again after crashing with Max – he survived for what seemed like days without any further blood transfusions and nothing was said!

A lack of development isn’t actually as much of an issue as far as Max is concerned, because I’m not sure if I needed to have seen the previous films in order to understand his character. I didn’t know who the girl plaguing his memories and dreams was, but I could assume that she was a character from an earlier film, or perhaps a placeholder for a character that Max might’ve bumped into along the way. However, the other characters in this film needed much more development to be truly compelling, because they’re the ones that we can believe are in actual danger, and we should become invested in them over the course of the movie so that the carefully crafted action sequences have their intended impact.

The relationships between the characters were intended to make the audience feel invested, but they didn’t earn their place; none of the characters were all that nice to one another, and although they went through a lot together they were still more interested in their own survival than anything else. It seemed to me like this was the kind of craziness they went through every day anyway in this post-apocalyptic future, so their feelings for one another felt contrived and worthless (particularly the relationship between Nux and Capable (Riley Keough)).

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I didn’t even end up hating Joe as much as I thought I would, because he was never really explained. I didn’t know why he was so bothered about his wives, I just knew he was a sadistic and freakish man with bad intentions – but so were 99% of the people in this movie! Couldn’t he have just gotten himself a new set of wives? Why did these ones matter so much? Why did it matter to him if he had children? Yes he was oppressive, and visually he was scary, but who cares? I didn’t care about the wives any more than I cared about him, they could’ve all died and it would’ve had no impact on me whatsoever, as long as Max lived and the cars kept rolling on.

I’ve criticised this film a lot so far (and I think fairly) but it does do a lot of things right as well. What makes this movie what it is, and saves it from mediocrity, is the action. “Fury Road” is one long chase scene which oozes testosterone and has you wanting to put your foot down on the way home; it’s fast-paced, powerful, creative, and visceral, and each fight scene is fantastically and meticulously choreographed. Nobody could come out of this film and say that they weren’t impressed, because every action scene is on another level to anything you’ll have seen before.

People love “The Fast and the Furious” as a franchise because it has ridiculous stunts and flashy cars, but this movie makes that film look like a cheap Hot Wheels knock-off wrapped in newspaper on Christmas day. In those films they do some crazy things, like driving a supercar through a skyscraper, and yes that’s a fun idea, but it isn’t real. You do that in the real world and you plummet to the earth and become encapsulated in a fiery ball of death, end of story.

“Fury Road” goes above and beyond to create realism in its action sequences by using practical effects and having the actors actually play the role of their characters – you can’t help but notice the difference as the backgrounds don’t look computer generated, and the cars look like they are genuinely kicking up dust, whilst a pale-faced killer rides on the hood. Everything is so much more impressive because of the lengths that George Miller has gone to in order to make this film seem as real as it possibly can.

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It’s incredibly daring to make a film like this today, because fans could easily become tired of the chase if each sequence wasn’t larger and louder than the last. You wonder how the film could possibly top itself in terms of action after Max leaps from one car to the next, guitar screeching from a vehicle to his left, and explosion after explosion complementing each chord, but it manages to do that scene by scene. The chase is a strange but wonderful concoction of every little fantasy going on inside George Miller’s mind, crafted into a cohesive film that constantly gets bigger and better, even if it does lack substance.

The brilliant choreography and cinematography of the action scenes is only added to by the ear-popping sound of wheels slamming against sand and bullets escaping their chambers. It’s a joy to behold, and I’m glad I went to see the film, because George Miller has pushed the boundaries of filmmaking with these scenes. Action is at the forefront, it’s the focus of this film, and it shows.

However, the action is substantially less impressive when the story doesn’t hit on every level, and I think that’s why I’m coming down so hard on this film. Most people will see this movie and leave the cinema awestruck, because there are moments within it that are genuinely amazing, and I have no problem with that; if you can ignore the flaws of something because of the positives that isn’t a bad thing, as long as you recognise that you’re doing so. Nevertheless, what I see is a film that could’ve been something absolutely incredible, but fell short on a number of levels because its script wasn’t as carefully woven together as its action sequences.

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via youtube.com

In contrast to the meticulously thought out organised chaos that took place as the characters were on the road, the dialogue and the story felt as though they’d been lazily put together by someone more interested in the spectacle than the overall narrative. This really annoys me because it’s the story that makes the spectacle worthwhile! The novelty of the car chase loses its appeal by the end, because you aren’t worried about Furiosa or Max due to the potential for a sequel, so to keep the audience invested and make the film truly memorable what was needed was something more substantial in the form of character development and narrative than what we got. I came out of this film feeling indifferent because of the story, which is a crime given how great it was for long periods of time.

Back when action movies were at their peak, in terms of popularity, it was okay to have a chiselled man beating up a stereotypical villain – it didn’t matter if the dialogue was cheesy or silly because that was the nature of the beast. Filmmaking has changed since then; it costs a lot more to go to the cinema now so expectations are much higher. I don’t believe for a second that this film is intended to be cheesy, so the fact that it has what I take to be B-movie-like moments has to be seen as a problem. We want substance in our action movies today – filmmaking is an art which requires perfection in a number of areas to be truly great, so having fantastic set pieces isn’t enough. Tom Hardy isn’t Arnold Schwarzenegger; he’s a great actor capable of captivating an audience, so it’s ridiculous that he’s given so little to do here.

After watching “Mad Max: Fury Road” I was conflicted; I genuinely can’t decide how good I think this movie is. It’s an action movie, and its action is as amazing as you’re ever likely to see, but does that make it great? I’m honestly not sure. For me, it’s a film that succeeds where it wants to but not where it needs to. Immersion is lost when the characters are delivering clichéd lines, and things don’t feel consistent when characters act in strange ways that conflict how they were set up earlier in the movie. The writing left a hell of a lot to be desired, and as a result a lot of the more sentimental dialogue felt forced and artificial. It’s an ambitious, well-directed, and well-shot film, but it isn’t the whole package and it has been completely overrated since release in my opinion.

7.5/10

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