We are delighted to welcome Jon Wallace back to the Gollancz Blog. Jon Wallace joins us to discuss Mad Max: Fury Road. Warning, spoilers are ahead.
When my debut novel, Barricade, was published last year, a few people were kind enough to compare its exhaust-choked action with the ‘Mad Max’ films. Therefore this month, with the publication of book two in the trilogy, Steeple, the good people at Gollancz suggested I write something about Mad Max: Fury Road.
I thought it might be fun to compare it to one of the older films. I dismissed two right away: the original has its memorable parts: the horrific mowing down of Max’s wife and child on the road; Max’s revenge, leaving Johnny the Boy to saw off his foot or burn. But honestly it didn’t appeal. I did think hard about re-watching Beyond Thunderdome, as I remember it being panned and it would be nice to be surprised. That, and I always loved Dr Dealgood’s speech. In the event, I elected to watch Mad Max 2 (The Road Warrior) again, because of Bruce Spence’s turn as the Gyro Pilot, and the fact it has the best action.
There might be spoilers in the following: but come on, this is the Gollancz blog. You’ve seen them both already, right?
You’re not a coward.
Stupid, maybe, but not a coward.
Road Warrior is a much funnier film. It has several extended laughs – Max’s use of the Gyro pilot as a packhorse, the relayed conversation between Pappagallo and the mechanic – where Fury Road has none. (OK one: I did chuckle at Immortan Joe cursing: ‘mediocre!’) That doesn’t make Fury Road a worse film, only reflects the different ages to which they belong.
Mad Max 2 is punky like The Warriors, pagan like Conan, supercharged like Vanishing Point. It’s scorched, thirsty and bruised. Its lo-fi action is fuelled by great stunts – you really feel it when Max’s ’73 V8 Interceptor goes off the road. The rig chase is still, after all this time, a dizzying treat. Reviewers in the New York Times called the film ‘a sadomasochistic comic book come to life’ and that’s a good call – 2000AD’s ‘Cursed Earth Saga’ was published the year before Mad Max entered cinemas.
Fury Road is much more a product of the Marvel age, so takes itself pretty seriously. Still, it outclasses many such movies in an important respect: Furiosa has the superhero sense of mission – but does the right thing in infinitely more desperate circumstances than a cash-soaked Stark or a mooning Parker. That makes her easier to like. Fury Road also makes good use of CGI (the dust storm is beautifully done) without crushing the life out of that essential, grimy, high-octane Maxiness. It accomplishes all that and still finds time for other tricks – giving Max’s madness life, creating a more complex culture for its Cromo-Sapiens tribe, and even carrying a message.
Return my treasures to me!
Immortan Joe throws a brutal tantrum when his wives escape him, unable to bear the thought that his breeding machines might prefer life free of his puffy, troll-haired affections. It’s a sharp portrayal of the violent, twisted possessiveness that can infect male desire, and it’s hammered home pretty hard – but there isn’t time for it to turn into a seminar, there’s way too much action for that. It’s not perfectly judged – the wives are a bit of a traveling Vogue cover shoot – but the story isn’t about them, it’s about Furiosa.
She’s a nobler sort to Max: The Road Warrior has to be compelled to assist those in need. Furiosa compels herself. She’s no saint though, carrying as much guilty baggage as Max. Theron’s burning-eyed, screaming-fisted performance is a heck of a thing to watch. I think I might have cheered her a couple of times. (I wouldn’t normally do that, but I had the cinema to myself.)
I can’t say that either film is better than the other, but for me Fury Road wins, more for what it says about creativity than as a competing production. It gives me great hope that the old Renton maxim: ‘You get old and you can’t hack it anymore’ might not be true. Miller, after all, passed twenty years directing a handful of movies like Happy Feet and Babe: Pig in the City. Reviving his much loved cult classic was a big risk, and it’s astonishing he didn’t fuck it up. Instead, Fury Road feels fresh, startling and pleasingly different from all the glossy Marvel stuff clogging our screens.
Most of all, I praise Fury Road on very personal terms. Having been compared to Mad Max in the past I entered the cinema a little nervous, wary lest Miller swerve too close to my work, or even collide with it. I might have passed the time chewing my nails, obsessively seeking out similarities to Barricade.
Not a bit of it. I didn’t have a chance to worry, only buckle up, brace my feet to the dash, and let the trip explode.