Thursday, 24 September 2015

Why Mad Max: Fury Road is Still the Best Film of 2015 So Far


Normally I save the whole Best Films of the Year thing for the end of the year. After all, it seems silly to declare a film the greatest of its season immediately after its release when so many other potential suitors are lining up, waiting to potentially claim the throne for themselves. But, back in May, a film came along that soared straight to the top of my rankings (and featured on many others' lists), and it still sits there firmly this very second, not showing any signs of dropping down a peg. That film is Mad Max: Fury Road, my review of which can be found here. Some facts for you now: Fury Road is the fourth installment in the Mad Max franchise, but the first three films aren't needed to understand this one; the film finished to gross over $374million worldwide, the best of the series; it was released to universal critical acclaim, with many praising the directing, acting, writing, soundtrack, thematic content, action sequences and visual effects; it has been labelled by audiences and many critics as one of the greatest action films ever made. Here is a step by step guide of why I not only agree, but feel confident in saying it will still be the best film of 2015 by the time the clock strikes midnight at the end of December.

World Building

Following on from three prior films, the latest of which released in 1985, Fury Road had to find ways of appealing to general audiences who hadn't seen the original trilogy, whilst also expanding and building on the world its predecessors developed. And it does it sublimely. Fury Road doesn't take the time to sit you down and tell you how the world became what it was in this film, rather it chucks you in at the deep end and lets you figure it out for yourself. The world is expanded through brief cutaways, through small pieces of dialogue, through its characters. When looking at the world of Fury Road, it's clear that it has been in this post-apocalyptic state for a long time now, for so long perhaps that even the characters of this film have no real knowledge of how the world descended into what it is. If the characters of the film don't know how this happened, why should we? The audience is placed in the same situation as Max and Furiosa and Nux; we don't get given a backstory, rather subtle hints as to how society has decayed over this period. Human beings are used as blood banks, obese women harvested for breast milk, water is considered a luxury that the civilians are warned not to become addicted to. This is a dark, cold world that feels real and considered from the offset, any more exposition would let it go stale.


Character

Some viewers dismissed Fury Road as severely lacking in narrative and emotional weight, but I do not believe this to be the case. Fury Road offers three extremely rich central characters, each of which develops consistently across the film. None of the leads are the same person they were when the film began, and this process is performed so subtly yet so effectively. Max himself, for example, begins the film stating in his own narration that his conscience knows just one instinct: survival. After the death of his family, he knows nothing but isolation and self survival. Yet as Fury Road develops, he begins to rediscover his sense of humanity. In the film's middle act, he refuses to tell Furiosa his name. After all, why should he? He doesn't consider himself a human, humanity is nonexistent to him, why should he have a name? By the time the film concludes, he adapts his well tested sense of survival to save Furiosa's life, telling her his name in the process. He has regained his sense of humanity through trusting other people for the first time since the death of his family. That sounds like character development to me.

Nux, similarly, develops through the theme of humanity, although rather than regain it, he learns it for the first time. Nux is a War Boy, appropriately named because he knows nothing but war, he believes he must die in battle in front of his leader so he can have a shot at redemption in Valhalla. Of course, it's all nonsense, but Nux doesn't know this. After failing his leader, he flees to Max's side and slowly discovers aspects of life he has never known before; love, respect, humanity. He accepts that his life and beliefs are a falsity developed solely to improve his skills as a War Boy, and he ultimately dies in front of his leader; but against him, rather than for him. Furiosa is clearly a respected member of the abolished society at the film's opening, War Boys look up to her as she leads them to collect oil, and it's hard to believe she wasn't aided medically in attaching her metallic fake arm. Yet she abandons her safe and secure place in this society to save the the lives of King Immortan Joe's wives; she risks everything so that these five woman don't suffer a fate that we understand she has suffered herself. Furiosa would have worked hard for the position she has at the beginning of the film, but she leaves all of that behind in hopes of finding solace and a home for herself and Joe's wives. Not many films these days, let alone action movies, offer characters as rich and compelling as this.


Action

Despite this effective world building and impressive character work, Fury Road is, after all, an action movie. And it never forgets this. The film is essentially a two hour action sequence, which is what makes it even more impressive that the world building and character development is so seamless throughout. Simply put, it's fucking awesome. But, in more detail, it is entirely unique. This is aided by the film's visual design, which we'll come to later, but Fury Road also benefits from some stunning cinematography. The action sequences are framed exquisitely, in a world where action is predominantly shot with such a shaky effect it's impossible to follow, director George Miller here allows us to know everything that is happening at every moment, and this just makes the film both more intense and more exciting. There is always a hell of a lot going on, but it never comes close to being incomprensible. The action sequences are also intricately placed across the film, they're all breathtakingly fast paced, but increase in scale and intensity as the film proceeds. This might sound like a given, but many action films lately fail to pace themselves correctly. Age of Ultron, for example, has its best sequence at the end of the first act, whilst Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation never outperformed its underwater sequence in the middle of the film. Fury Road is paced exceptionally well, and never stops out-thrilling itself.

Visual Design and Soundtrack

Fury Road, as just mentioned, is visually spectacular. As well as being a feast for the mind, it's quite a sight to behold from the offset. The film frequently plays with colour, scenes range from predominantly brown and orange (rust, the decaying of the society) to night sequences shown entirely with a dark blue tinge. The one sequence in which the film stops moving becomes dark blue, a colour commonly associated with stability. Not only do sudden changes like this stop the visual appeal becoming stale, but they further add to our impression of this world. The night sequences paint an entirely different picture of this post-apocalyptic landscape; we, like them, view it differently at night.


The vehicles in the film are also exquisitely designed, and do a perfect job of reflecting the characters who control them. While the initial sighting of the Rig may make it seem daunting and villainous, one cut to Nux's small car and it seems like a safe haven in comparison. The visual design for the War Boys is also smart in finding the perfect balance between frightening and sympathetic. Nux changes from being an antagonist to a protagonist at the end of the film's first act, and his make up and costume supports this. If he were too frightening, he wouldn't work as protagonist. Fury Road's soundtrack is also wonderful, an array of crashing drums and loud blaring electrics guitar soar you through this film, simultaneously acting as support for the carnage and mayhem both on screen during the film and off-screen before the film begins. Again, it all adds to how real and fleshed out this world feels. 

Story

Story may seem like a strange place to finish, but I believe Fury Road is a film that is more about story than anything else. I'll get this out of the way first; yes, this film does not have the most complex plot in the world. In fact yes, it's actually rather a simple story. But it tells this story effortlessly well. Whilst the lackluster Everest also told a simple story, it did this badly and in a way that worsened the film. Fury Road uses its simplistic story to its advantage, it allows room for the characters to breathe and the themes to flourish and the action sequences to soar. One gets the impression that this film's story begins long before the first shot, and this is pieced together across the film, acting as further development for the characters. Fury Road takes on themes such as survival, humanity, redemption, home and solace, and it does all of them justice by binding them to its characters and lacing them within its simple plot. Fury Road may be light on story, but the film's narrative is heavy with the weight of its characters and their themes, and it turns a simple premise into both a beautiful and horrifying exploration of what that world is like to live in.

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Mad Max: Fury Road is a wonderful achievement for today's cinema. The term "blockbuster", which originated with highly positive and exciting connotations, has now become a word that people sigh at. Blockbusters are perceived now as brainless, unoriginal films with little more to offer to the film industry than a wealthy sum of money at the box office. Fury Road takes the current definition of blockbuster and returns it to its roots; this film is fresh, it is exciting, it is big, it is bold and it is brilliant. Admittedly, it isn't for everyone. The aim of this post is not to sway the minds of the film's naysayers, but rather to express what I find so captivating about it and highlight why I feel this way. I don't see Fury Road as "just another action flick". Transformers, yes. Mad Max, no. This is a film rooted in ideas and thematic concepts, strengthened by its compelling characters and bound to an action based storyline. It demolishes the boundaries of what can be achieved in a modern action film, and it makes any other recent example feel tame, both in regards to the action and, essentially, everything else. Even with the likes of Crimson Peak, Star Wars, Macbeth, Spectre and many more still to come before this year closes, I'd put good money on Mad Max: Fury Road staying right at the top of my rankings. 

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