I was never a big fan of Mad Max franchise. First in series from 1979 looks like a B production and I honestly don’t understand how it won all these awards (although I can understand that for twenty years the film had the highest profit-to-cost ratio of any motion picture). Other movies from the same year are for example Apocalypse Now and Alien – just to give a reference point. It would be a joke to put them in the same league technically, set aside storyline or acting skills. 1981 and 1985 installments followed – improvement in terms of budget (with significant impact on special effects and overall cinematography) but not much regarding a plot. To be fair – I didn’t even know there were 3 movies done my Miller already and I couldn’t remember any of them – my memory was hopelessly meandering between Waterworld and Star Wars desert shots.
I didn’t have much fate in a newest sequel either but surprise can struck one like a lightning in a bright day. This was unexpected like a “Yes” vote in Greece. I don’t know what happened to Miller in the last 20 years but Max Mad Fury Road is visually stunning, refreshing and it sets a new level of dynamics in the cinema in my opinion. Of course – don’t expect riveting story. It’s basic (with a twist): they escape looking for a “Green place”, half way they realize it may be too far or already gone so… they go back. Wow. Mircea Eliade with his mythological idea of Eternal Return would be probably impressed but if there is any mythology there it’s based on grease, engine worshiping and references to some ridiculous, industrial pseudo-religion for desert Vikings with radiation sickness (Vonnegut’s bokononism seems like a child’s play here). Post-apocalyptic world is even more disturbing, degenerated and brutal than before. It has no logic and philosophy so don’t look for one. This movie is an entertainment but set in scenography that I find particularly inspiring for sci-fi genre (just like Pandorum which is similar in many aspects and biases my perception because it combines two aspects I find very interesting: evolution and space exploration). Desert, solitude, dehumanization – isn’t it a obvious metaphor of our modern culture?
There is something compelling in idea of technology without civilization and evolution without progress. Like in Lord of Flies – what would happen to ethical and moral beings if all the social frames disappeared? What would happen to us as a specie if natural resources that we mindlessly exploit ran out? We’re far from Krypton – being able to harvest planet’s cores or Civilization type I – capable of creating its own resources in a sustainable environment accordingly to Kardashev scale. We would rather turn into post-nuclear chaos like in Mad Max or atavistic creatures like in Pandorum (and Time Machine). Miller clearly doesn’t have too much fate in humankind but he definitely believes in our survival skills.
Visuals are stunning. Miller’s imagination in terms of design, fashion and character is endless and sincerely mad. Citadel looks like a neanderthal cave hiding sick bio-lab straight from Huxley’s nightmares where army of mutated slaves turn huge turbines and sprockets for the glory of deformed half-god and doctor Frankenstein in one: Immortan Joe. “Chrome spray” War Boys paint their teeth with before making heroic/desperate acts is apparently a drug called Night Fum – getting high makes the way to Valhalla smoother. Vehicles look amazing – what else would you expect from a road story (or desert epopee)? Strange, fast motion movements (like camera man was messing with frame rates) link it to Pandorum again and make atmosphere even more creepy and fake. It may not be a revolution like “Seven” or “Matrix” but it definitely sets a new pace in the cinema. Visual expectations have been lifted again.