Mad Max: Fury Road

madmaxfuryroadI didn’t like Mad Max: Fury Road. There, I said it.

Lots of people did like it. Lots of people love it. And they’ll tell you how great it is. I’m fine with that, whereas if that happened with some other movies (e.g. Star Trek, Star Trek Into Darkness, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Man of Steel) I might try to convince people otherwise. But, as far as Fury Road goes, I can see why people enjoy it.

I didn’t hate it, like those other movies I’ve named. I just didn’t connect to it in any meaningful way as a Mad Max movie. If it was a Furiosa movie, I wouldn’t have a problem with it. It’s a great action movie. But it’s not. It is a Mad Max movie, and that’s the standard by which I measure it.

What Works
Charlize Theron is magnificent as Furiosa, and Furiosa is the only truly fully-rounded character in the story. The supporting characters are good. Visually, Fury Road is spectacular, bordering on awe-inspiring. You can sit there and lose yourself in the visuals.

What Doesn’t Work
My biggest query is that Max is a guest star in his own movie. People will suggest this parallels Mad Max 2 – Max is just a loner getting caught in other people’s problems. But Mad Max 2 is about redemption. Max doesn’t care anymore. He forsakes a man who begs for his help until the man promises gasoline, he forsakes Pappagallo’s plea for help, and it’s not until the end – after he’s truly lost everything – that he decides to throw his lot in for a greater good, only to be duped. The story follows him at all times. The plight of the refinery is an aside to his journey.

Fury Road is strictly about Furiosa’s plight. Max is captured at the beginning, then used in a way where he has no control over his own fate. When he finally frees himself and decides to help, it’s not for any spiritual or emotional growth of his own (although some might say he’s motivated by flashbacks of whatever horror befell his family). He is an aside to Furiosa’s journey. Furiosa is the one driving the story. This is her story. And that’s great for Furiosa. But this is meant to be Max’s story, hence the title, Mad Max. (The same problem undermined Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome.)

Another query is the lack of the mystique around the character. In MM2, we have a brilliant scene where Max is cuffed by the people of the refinery, and he casually picks the locks, frees himself, listens to them rant, and then tells them if they want to get out of there, they talk to him. This is on top of outwitting his pursuers at the beginning and capturing the snake guarding the gyro. In Fury Road, our introduction to Max is him eating a two-headed lizard, his car getting trashed, and him being used as a ‘blood bag’. The one time there’s a chance for some mystique-building – Max dropping back to intercept their pursuers – it happens off-screen.

The world is gorgeous but feels absolute, like it’s always been. The gangs are so entrenched and idiosyncratic, that you’d imagine that they’ve been like this for decades, whereas in both Mad Max II and Beyond Thunderdome there’s clear references to the world before, so you actually understand how horrible yet necessary a transformation these people have undergone to survive. That’s confronting. And cool.

In Fury Road, the Vuvalini – the old women Furiosa brings Max to – talk distantly about the ‘Green Place’. Given the age of the Vuvalini and the vagueness of their memories, the Green Place must’ve existed (at the very least) decades ago. Max would’ve been a child before the world turned to shit. It’s hard to believe he could share the same Max backstory (although there’s no reason he has to) as the original – his leathers and Interceptor might have nothing to do with previously being a cop. However, ironically, I thought the Mel Gibson Max would’ve fit much better into this story, and given the world and its problems context.

Tom Hardy – usually a great actor – also seems to struggle with the lack of dialogue, much of his emoting overdone and better-suited to a silent picture. When he does speak, he manages some bizarre accent that sounds like a mongrelized South African. The Australian accent is one of the hardest to pull off. Actors who can’t, should just leave it alone.

How I Would’ve Done It
Firstly, I’d still use Mel Gibson as Max. I understand Mel Gibson’s somewhat on the outer, and that Hollywood loves their reboots, but the original Max is an interesting character, and still has a story to share. It would’ve been interesting to revisit an older Max.

I would’ve opened with a V8 Interceptor – identical to Max’s in Mad Max 2 – pursuing a gang car. The gang car leads the Interceptor into an ambush. One gang car is destroyed. The Interceptor is run off the road. The door opens. A booted foot plants itself on the road. Somebody emerges in the police leathers. But it’s not Max but somebody about eighteen (who I’ll name Kid). The gang cars pull up. There’s a shoot out. Kid is overwhelmed. Then Max does arrive, emerging from behind a dune. The gang members are petrified. Max kills several of them. Other gang members flee. Max talks to Kid, and in him sees the son he would’ve lost. Kid is in awe of Max – Max has literally become a legend over the years. Nobody truly believes he exists (and the implication is he’s done other things to help people out since Mad Max 3: Beyond Thunderdome). Max is more fascinated by the Interceptor and wants to know where Kid got it.

Kid offers to show Max and drives him out into the desert and explains that he wants to bring law back to the wasteland. Max finds the suggestion fanciful, but Kid brings him to a secret underground bunker filled with weaponry, cars, and other supplies. Kid explains his dad was in the army, and when things started to go bad, they took refuge in this bunker with other families, whilst resources were commandeered and militarized. But over the years, the others have died, leaving Kid alone. Recently, though, he’s heard a voice from the radio, which he shows to Max. The voice is from some faraway government installation, which has begun to airdrop supplies to remote regions, as they’re trying to restore civilization. But out here, the leader of the gangs, known as the Grand Abbott, is stealing the supplies. Kid wants to help, but it’s a question of getting Max involved. Max has stayed away from people and civilization for decades, but now must help to rediscover his own humanity.


gothamPrequels – they’ve become the rage. And we have Smallville to thank for this.

Smallville (2001) told the story of a young Clark Kent as he developed his powers and learned about his heritage and his role on Earth – the foundation of why he’d one day become Superman.

For the most part, Smallville works. Casting is great, with Tom Welling (Clark Kent) and Michael Rosenbaum (Lex Luthor) brilliant in their roles. The writers also recognized the spirit of the Superman character, instead of making him the gloomy, mopey, emo Superman who appears in Zack Snyder’s two interpretations (Man of Steel and Batman vs Superman). Where the show can struggle is it can be formulaic (a freak of week Clark has to tackle – although this isn’t surprising with twenty-plus episodes per season), and in the continuity the canon has to recognize once the characters move to Metropolis. But otherwise, it’s definitely worth watching.

Then Christopher Nolan gave us Batman Begins (2005), which looks at how Bruce Wayne became Batman – beyond the murder of his parents which fuels him, but also looking at his physical and psychological training. Nolan also grounds the character so that everything we see could just about be possible in our world.

Gotham (2014) tells the story of the younger Bruce Wayne, picking up the story shortly after Thomas and Martha Wayne are killed, and follows Detective James Gordon (Ben McKenzie) tackling police corruption and a city run by the underworld, as well as the emergence of villains from the Batman mythology. Effectively, everybody gets a prequel story, which sounds great in theory.


What Works
Um, nothing?

That’s harsh.

The casting is generally good. Robin Lord Taylor is exceptional as Oswald Cobblepot, the man who’ll one day become the Penguin. McKenzie is solid as Gordon, as is Donal Louge as his questionable partner, Harvey Bullock. The show looks great, too.

But that’s about it.

What Doesn’t Work
Gotham is already overrun with crime and the police department is corrupt. How much worse can it get?

Young Bruce Wayne (David Mazouz) spends a lot of his time in his study, whining. Even if you knew nothing about the Batman mythology, you would’ve thought that after his parents were killed, he’d throw himself into becoming stronger so the same fate never befalls him, e.g. getting self-defense lessons, learning karate, lifting a weight or two, and so on. We’re talking about a kid who’s meant to be so messed up that he eventually becomes Batman. Wayne in Gotham is a whiny brat. I can only foresee that this Bruce Wayne will become Bratman.

Lots of the crimes that do happen are offbeat (for the want of a better word) – a precursor, no doubt, to what Gotham will one day become, although (as a friend put it) it feels more like it’s a precursor to the Adam West Batman (1966) series. For example, in an early episode, a murderer kills their victims by strapping a weather balloon to their wrists so they float up into the sky. The detective work behind investigating these crimes is banal.

Most of the villains from Batman’s rogues’ gallery are loitering around in one form or another. Bratty Wayne even hangs around with a young Selina Kyle (Camren Bicondova), who’ll become Catwoman. And all these characters revolve around Gordon. You wonder why these relationships don’t come into play when Gordon is promoted to Commissioner. It seems he knows everybody. He has a perverse friendship with Cobbeplot.

That’s not to say you can’t make these relationships work. Smallville did it, with Clark becoming friends with Lex Luthor (before he became evil), and falling in love with Lois Lane (Erica Durance). But in Gotham the use of these characters feels more like a menagerie of name-dropping.

How I Would’ve Done It
Because it’s a television series, I’m not going to look at a specific story, but setting up the world to sustain a season’s worth of stories.

Foremost, the city of Gotham needs a revamp. It needs to be beautiful, with low crime rates. It should be the city where everybody wants to live. The police department is beyond reproach. The Mayor – backed by Thomas and Martha Wayne – has a zero tolerance for crime. This set-up works better because we can see the city decline. We can see the underworld start to run the city. We can see the police department grow corrupt. This also gives impetus as to why Bruce Wayne becomes Batman – he’s trying to return the city to what it was and, by an extension of that, undo the murder of his parents. We have an arc then: what the city was, and what it becomes. We also have motivation.

Following Thomas and Martha Wayne’s deaths, Wayne Enterprise founders as there’s spills on the board with various directors trying to take control – some trying to uphold the Waynes’ benevolent programs, while others are more interested in profit. This affects the city and the incumbent Mayor.

Fast-forward a couple of years. One of my issues in the existing Gotham is Bruce just seems too young to have any direct influence on the story. Push him up to fourteen or fifteen and he can start to fraternize with adults without being considered just a brat. He has trained obsessively, running through disciplines (e.g. karate, kung fu, etc.), retaining the best instructors from around the world. At night, he goes out and hangs around with the wrong crowds, trying to understand what makes these people tick. The murder of his parents haunts him. His daredevil behavior desensitizes him to fear.

A detective is reassigned to the Gotham Police Department, and finds not that they’re corrupt, but complacent. They’ve had it good too long. This is a worry because there’s scuttlebutt of a new crime boss who’s organizing the underworld and extending their influence. As the story goes on, the detective learns about other detectives who begin to accept bribes. The crime boss’s influence grows pervasive. He gets behind a political candidate to oppose the Mayor, who’s begun struggling without the backing of the Waynes. The boss tries to eliminate his rivals. This begins a gang war – the first time Gotham has experienced such bloodshed.

So far, I haven’t used any names from the Batman canon, outside of Bruce Wayne. These would all be new characters. The established characters regiment the universe, where – at this point – the universe should be nebulous. This gives greater license to maneuver. Then those existing characters can gradually be seeded in as Gotham continues to devolve, with a view that the universe grows more colourful and idiosyncratic as it goes on.