Guess what? Mad Max: Fury Road is an awesome movie. So awesome, in fact, that a bunch of us Kotaku staffers decided to get together and talk about why we loved it.
Yesterday, I got together with Patricia Hernandez, Evan Narcisse, and Chris Person to talk it all out. Our lightly-edited conversation follows. Spoilers ahoy!
Kirk Hamilton: After what feels like a month of watching the Internet lose its entire shit over Mad Max: Fury Road, it feels like it's finally our turn. We all saw it this past weekend. I think we all really liked it. (Right?) Patricia! Evan! Chris! Hell of a movie, right?
Evan Narcisse: It was amazing.
Chris Person: It made me angry about other movies not being as good.
Patricia Hernandez: I was surprised. Usually I feel like I can brush hype off, but this was a rare time when it felt like people really had a reason to just, lose it over this movie. I can't believe it was made at all!
Kirk: It does feel kind of surprising. So many things about it are unusual. The fact that George Miller could come back to Mad Max after so long away and make a movie that shits this hard on so many other action movies. The fact that it could be so explicitly, powerfully feminist and be so rad about it. The things they showed, the things they didn't show, the stunt work, the cars… basically, all of it feels a bit… unlikely? In this day and age, anyway. It's a special movie.
Evan: The sheer beauty of it all kept on stunning me. I knew to expect bright, super-saturated scenes throughout but they way that the lighting and cinematography kept things changing and moving was amazing.
And it feel like this truly wretched post-apocalypse reality, as opposed to so many others where they sprinkle in cool shit to give the illusion of progress/hope.
Kirk: Yeah, the movie certainly had some STUFF to say about hope, eh?
Chris: There was so much world building. You get the sense that they really put the time in to imagine the bones of this world and then very barely show it to you.
Kirk: The prop work in the movie was ridiculous. In the first like… fifteen minutes, I had more questions with weird half-answers than most movies generate in two hours. What the fuck was up with Immortan Joe's armour? Where do they get these war boys? How did they test Max's blood type? How did they build those lovely cars? And now I guess I "get" all of that stuff, and it was all so well-wrought and imaginative. It make the types of post-apocalypses we see in so many other movies and video games seem hilariously tame by comparison.
Evan: Yeah, the movie had such a great, weird balance between restraint and indulgence. Max himself hardly speaking contrasted with Guitar Guy constantly jamming out as they were hunting down the women. Nothing ever felt like too much or not enough.
Patricia: I like that it had the confidence to not just do this Big Exposition thing. You're left wondering what a lot of the stuff in the movie means, and how it got to that point. It also means that it leaves a lot of room for potential follow-ups (YES!)
Kirk: Yeah, the movie had so much confidence. That's a good way to put it: It was one of the most confident movies I've… ever seen? Confident in that way that really rip-roaring action movies can be, too. Everything had a purpose, it felt like. Both the things they showed and the things they consciously chose not to show.
Chris: It was also just so lean. No moment was wasted or bloated, everything paid off in the script. It knew what you were expecting and then did something different.
Evan: Yeah, Chris, especially with Nux, the War Boy who wound up falling into Furiosa's party. I totally was expecting him to suffer Comedic Henchman Death #49B, but he got a whole arc that surprised me (especially when he didn't betray them later!)
Kirk: I loved Nux! Did not see that coming. His ultra-cute scene with Capable was like, one of my favourite scenes in the movie.
Chris: Fun fact, Capable ended up marrying the Doof Warrior stunt man IRL.
Kirk: NO WAY
Chris: She's also Elvis' granddaughter.
Kirk: So we've got Lenny Kravitz' daughter and Elvis' granddaughter.
Evan: Fury Road reminded me of all those Heavy Metal magazines I read growing up. Some rad-arse cover heralding craziness that I had no clue about.
Patricia: So I haven't watched the previous Mad Max movies, and while Fury Road was a bit confusing at the start, I was pleasantly surprised at how quickly it became its own thing. Regardless, going in, I definitely wasn't expecting over an hours worth of car scene chases — and it's a damn accomplishment that they could pull that off without things ever getting boring. The movie is just constantly upping the ante, making more intense — and it starts out really fiercely to begin with!
Kirk: I gotta say I love that kind of action movie, too. Where there's one concept that logically escalates over the course of the movie. I guess it's the Die Hard structure? Speed, Dredd, The Raid, etc.
I've been thinking a lot about Fury Road's design — like, if you drew this movie on a napkin at a bar, you'd basically draw a line going up, then turning left; pause for a moment at the end of the line and let some ink pool on the napkin, then re-trace the line back to where it started. It was a rubber-band of a movie; it stretched out, paused, then whipped back.
Chris: The Dredd comparison is a good one. Like, this is a day in the life and we don't really have to explain who Max is. No drawn-out origin story aside from a bit here and there sprinkled around and a bit in the beginning.
Kirk: Some of those flashbacks tripped me out. At the outset, I was worried about my choice to see the movie in 3D because those were distracting. In the end, though, it was pretty cool in 3D. Did you guys see it in 3D, or normal?
Evan: 3D for me, after hearing that it was Miller's preferred experience
Patricia: 3D, for sure. Felt like it made good use of it, too! Lots of action that came at the screen but didn't feel forced, like they had to fulfil some 3D quota.
Kirk: Agree, it made the stunts really pop. I do want to see it in normal-vision, partly just because I really want to go see it again regardless. They definitely kept the silly 3D junk to a minimum, at least once the intro was over. I never like it in 3D movies when they do "That 3D Thing," where the one thing flies out at you. Like, even in Fury Road, I thought the final explosion where the guitar sproiiings out of the screen was kinda dumb. But lots of the practical stuntwork looked awesome in 3D — it felt even more like watching real people doing that amazing shit.
Evan: Man, the stuntwork.
Patricia: The old ladies did their own stuntwork!
Kirk: I saw that!
Kirk: I feel like I keep seeing amazing facts and statistics about this movie. Like, oh yeah, 80% of the movie was practical stunts. And oh yeah, the old ladies did their own stuntwork and they were totally rad about it. Like, how much better can the narrative behind this movie get?
Chris: Like, that Guitar vehicle actually worked.
Kirk: God. I mean… when that fucking thing first turned up, and the dude blasted flames out of his guitar, the entire audience lost their minds. It was amazing.
Chris: Watching this movie in the theatre definitely important, just to occasionally glance at the rest of the audience.
Kirk: Lots of people in the Portland crowd I saw it with dressed up in Mad Max cosplay. It was great! I should have taken some pictures.
Evan: One of the things that struck me was how sincere the emotions in the movie felt. Like the big bruiser who was Immortan Joe's son, he was all "I had a brother!" That could've been totally cheeseball but it felt oddly poignant.
Kirk: Right — they didn't sell all of Immortan's dudes as shitty jerks; they were sad and ruined in their own way. See: The stuff with Nux, too.
Evan: And even the wife who wanted to go back, that was believable, too. Nux was terminally ill, correct?
Chris: He had the little tumours that had faces on them.
Kirk: I believe so; the tumours, and the blood transfusions.
Chris: His "half-life".
Patricia: Yeah what was that about? I understood that the people in this world are expected to live very short lives, which probably makes them very reckless...and then that got tied into their religion/outlook on life
Chris: I assume what makes the War Boys special in some way is that they're death-bound. That's why Immortan Joe is promising them Eternal Life.
Patricia: They believe in Valhalla of some sort and the main evil dude is tied into that, yeah. And they like to spraypaint their teeth, which admittedly does look cool, haha
Kirk: Yeah, they built a whole society around the idea of burning out and dying hard. Everyone there was dedicated to the idea of driving themselves as hard as possible and dying in flames and glory. Which of course was all a sham — Immortan Joe was also sitting on a harem of trapped women, a ton of water that he never let anyone have, and gardens and everything. He had the power to create life, but he embraced death because he wanted control.
Evan: We haven't talked about Furiosa yet. God, what a character.
Kirk: Hahaha I'd been assuming we'd get there.
Evan: What I loved about her character was the implicit beat that she had to be party to some fucked-up shit to be in Immortan Joe's inner circle. Especially as one of the few (only?) women.
Kirk: Right, with all her talk of needing redemption. And she kinda had to have done some shitty things — Joe clearly thought she was pretty cool, at the start. It's never a good thing when that dude thinks you're cool.
Chris: She was clearly spending all the capital of a lifetime of murder and torture just to save these women.
Kirk: I really liked the part where her second in command kept asking her what she was doing. "Why did we turn left?" "It's cool bro just go with it."
Evan: And all of that makes it even more heartbreaking when her personal paradise is shown to have withered.
Kirk: Charlize Theron did so much with so few lines… obviously, the part where she screams into the desert is one of those immediately iconic scenes, but her reunion with The Valkyrie and the rest of The Vuvalini kinda rocked me. That one-handed power-hug said so much!
Patricia: I think my favourite scene was the sniper rifle one though. Everyone cheered in the theatre when that happened, at least where I watched it, haha. It was a very metaphorical moment that wasn't afraid to say, yeah, Furiosa can be just as cool if not cooler than Max - and that feels rare in a movie! You don't outshine the protagonist.
Kirk: Yeah, that scene summed up so much of the movie. It said a lot about Max, too: All he cares about is surviving. If someone else is a better shot than him, and he can help her help them survive by serving as a rifle-stand, he doesn't give a single shit.
Chris: Also, he had two shots and he fucked it up. He knew the odds were better if they worked together.
Evan: She was totally smarter and more capable than him. That shit with the sequence for the War Rig? Hilarious.
Evan: There better be some Furiosa DLC for the game...
Kirk: I appreciated that Fury Road's feminism was so front-and-center. You didn't have to "read" this movie as feminist; it was right there, in your face, full-on from start to finish. It was there in what the film showed, and what it didn't.
A few crucial things the movie didn't show: Max's big solo hero moment, when he went and took down The Bullet Farmer; that happened off-camera. We never saw any of what the brides had to live through at the Citadel; it was all implied. We didn't really have to watch The Splendid Angharad die, and during that horrifying emergency C-section, the camera focused only on the crazed faces of the men around her. We didn't even really see her baby. It was an awful scene, but also a weirdly compassionate one? So all that ties in with how great a job Miller did at picking and choosing what to focus on, when, and for how long.
Chris: Also, the central question of the movie (which is always asked by a woman) is "who killed the world?"
Kirk: Which: The answer seems pretty clear. Unchecked CO2 emissions!! (Also, men.)
Evan: The whole time I was watching, I couldn't believe I was seeing something so beautifully shot.
Kirk: Yeah, it hit me right around when they blew into that ridiculous sand storm. Unbelievable stuff.
Chris: Even when they do use CGI, they use it so tastefully.
Kirk: So while I sense that we could go on sort of randomly yelling about all the things we liked about this movie, we should probably wind this sucker down. Any more thoughts about Fury Road?
Evan: One of the things I liked about Charlie Jane's iO9 review was how she talked about the use of space and letting things breathe. If in-development movies want to ape any part of Fury Road's formula, please let it be that.
Kirk: Yeah, that really was impressive — the way Miller was constantly establishing the spatial constraints of the given scene, which helped keep things grounded. So many action movie directors (and video game designers!) could learn from his example.
Patricia: My final thought is that if you like Fallout or any post-apocalyptic games (Wasteland), you should definitely see Fury Road. It will hit all the right notes, and then some (which makes sense, considering the franchise was a big inspiration on games like Fallout to begin with!)
Chris: I want to see how this movie infects the rest of Hollywood. I want everyone to go in with a pen and paper and just tear apart what worked and what didn't and actually learn a thing or two.
Kirk: Here's hoping, anyway. I'd love to see more movies that are even half as good. I'll let Max himself take us home, since he's already done a pretty good job of summing up how we all feel about this movie: