Maybe I just don't get it.
Maybe it's not part of my movie-going aesthetic. Or I'm the wrong gender for such things.
Or maybe it's because I never saw the original Mad Max movies. (You know...the ones that came out 30 years ago.)
But despite its 98% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, I hated the movie Mad Max: Fury Road. (Fair warning: there are spoilers ahead. Actually, I'm assuming you've seen the movie while I write this.)
First off, there isn't any back story. You're just plopped right down in a desert, with some hairy guy in an old car, eating a two-headed lizard and then getting back in his car to flee across the desert from a bunch of other guys in old cars, all of them steam-punk, hot, grungy, and apparently indestructible. (The vehicles, not the men.)
As I watched the chase I thought, hmmmmmmm. Why did he stop to pause and peruse the surrounding desert in the middle of a car chase? Was it the lizard? Thus setting the tone for my entire viewing experience, which was mostly questioning what was going on.
Anyway, he crashes the car. Undaunted by flipping 87 times in a car that can't have airbags, let alone a seat belt, he crawls out and then gets caught and hauled into some sort of underground cavern. He gets a tattoo and tries to escape from a bunch of scarred albinos. Then he gets caught again.
I don't know. Maybe I didn't pay close enough attention to the opening monologue (it sounds like it was voiced by Judi Dench), but I just didn't get enough context to understand the world. Why were they chasing the hairy guy? Who is bad and who is good?
Once he's in the Citadel, who are all of those albinos? Who are the creepy children with big eyes? Why does the warlord, Immortan Jo, wear his creepy mask? (And, what's that? What did he say about half the time he was talking?)
I just kept having a bunch of unanswered questions as the film progressed. How did the desert urchins manage to save any of that splashing water? How do they all stay alive if the water is entirely controlled by the Citadel? Where does the gas come from to run all of their war machines? (Of course, we can presume it comes from “Gas Town,” which is mentioned but never seen, and OK, but where does Gas Town get gas in a world that’s run out of gas?) Why are all of those women locked up like cows—why have a human milk factory in a desert?
(No really...is there a reason they want to only drink breast milk? There CAN be a reason. Their wacked-out bodies can't process anything else? It is a sign of the luxury of the wealthy? It makes excellent cheese? Is there an economy built on breast milk? I can totally buy it—if it serves a purpose instead of just being a random detail.)
That is, in fact, one of the biggest problems I had with this movie (aside from its frenetic pace and absurd CGI). I'm all for making inferences, but come on. Some story needs to be made from all of the details, and yeah, I can make my own story and the dude sitting next to me who kept rubbing his date's shoulders can have make his own story, but that isn't really the point of going to a movie, is it?
Why does Imperator Furiosa have black stains on her forehead? What is wrong with Nux—why does he need to be hooked up to his human blood bank, Max? WHY DOESN'T MAX EVER RUN OUT OF BLOOD? Why do the War Boys keep talking about dying and then living again—are they zombies? What is with the silver paint?
Judi Dench told us at the beginning that the world was ruined because we ran out of fossil fuels. How, then, can a society with a scarcity of gas traipse for days across the desert in innumerable gas hogs? Without ever filling up? The vehicle that was created just to drive around speakers and drummers and the guitarist hanging on the front (his instrument is apparently a fossil-fuel guitar that spews fire when he's really rocking out) was the thing that made me give up entirely on finding any pleasure at all in this stupid movie. I mean…I understand. Armies have always had drums. But that vehicle is hardly fuel-efficient. A fossil-fuel depleted society that runs on "guzzoline" doesn't make any logical sense. I gave up on logic entirely at that point.
By the time the movie was finished, I still had questions. Where did Max come from before the start of the story? How did the War Boys find him and start to chase him? How did Furiousa's tribe, the Vulvani, survive in the desert after The Green Place was ruined? Who are those ghost-memories that Max keeps seeing? Why does Furiousa want redemption? What happened to her in the time between when she was kidnapped and when she linked up with Max? How did she get powerful enough to be assigned to drive the War Rig? What happened to her hand? What happened at the Citadel to connect her with the breeders? (How do they survive the entire experience without losing their babies or at least finding some damn clothes? How did they keep their white shifts/togas/expertly-crafted-from-gauze underthings white? Where did they come from anyway?) Why are all of the other warlords and soldiers men—how did Furiousa ever gain any trust or power in that community when there is not, literally, one other woman with power?
Really, it's a shame this movie has such thin storytelling, because it's a good premise. An action movie with a woman's story as the major plot line? Tell me more! (It really shouldn't be named after Max, who to me was sort of superfluous. Just there for more blood.) That she is trying to save other women from slavery and rape is even more compelling. That is a story I should have loved, and honestly it is the only reason I didn't just take a nap. But the story itself felt like a veneer. An excuse to make all of those CGI battle scenes. Sure—Fury Road attempts to create a female superhero savior-of-the-world. It passes the Bechdel Test with flying colors. But it doesn't do a whole lot to further progress women in movies because it still only offers up a frail story for our fearless heroine to bring to life.
I'll go along with you into almost any post-apocalyptic (no matter what the critics tell you, this is not a dystopia) landscape you can invent, but only if you make the world believable. The interminable vehicular desert battles took up time that could've been spent giving depth to the story and making the setting feel real. One reviewer said that men might be "duped by explosions, fire tornadoes and desert raiders into seeing what is guaranteed to be nothing more than feminist propaganda, while at the same time being insulted AND tricked into viewing a piece of American culture ruined and rewritten right in front of their very eyes.”(I refuse to link to the review, which I'm only using to make my point, because the writer seems to be a sexist dirtbag. But you could google it if you want.)
I think it's the other way around: by developing a quasi-feminist story line, the writers duped us into watching a movie that really is just an excuse to create explosions, fire tornadoes, and desert raiders. It pretends to be a movie that tells a story about survival, but really it's just a ridiculous excuse to mod cars and blow stuff up.