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The Road Warrior vs. Mad Max: Fury Road

by Jacob Sullivan
From the October 2015 IssueRoad Warrior2Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior (George Miller, 1981)
Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior offers exactly what should be expected from any entry in the Mad Max series. Hot off the success of the first film, Director George Miller ramps up the violence, mayhem, and speed to unprecedented levels. But while The Road Warrior is a film containing S&M barbarians, head explosions, and car crashes, the story never loses focus on Max and his journey.

The most memorable aspect of any Mad Max film is the action. On Max’s second outing, Miller sets the template that the following films in the series would have to follow. What makes the action in The Road Warrior so different from conventional action films is its chaotic approach to cause and effect. Instead of focusing on the immediate goals and consequences of each action, the film shows the audience the collateral damage. When Max shoots a man in the head, the car continues forward, flipping a dune buggy before getting hit by two speeding motorcyclists. All this isn’t necessary to the plot or to Max within the moment, but Miller shows it to increase the sense of disorder and inescapable violence (the nature of which is raw and mean-spirited, feeding into the film’s cynical view of humanity). There are sizable breaks from the action, but not from the violence, which even finds its way into the most comedic scenes in the film.

Through all this chaos, Mel Gibson cements himself as the definitive Max, expressing his character’s entire backstory with minimum dialogue. Max is a tragic figure and Miller and Gibson relay this tragedy visually, with symbolic shots and subtle body language. Gibson has the ability to say a great deal in just his facial expressions. There is a clear connection between Max in the first film and how he has since changed. The significant rests between action scenes play into this, allowing us to connect with Max in a far more personal manner.

Unfortunately, most things outside of Max fail to be as nuanced in their visual presentation. The opening voiceover/montage is a solid three minutes of exposition which hardly sets the violent, anarchic tone for the rest of the film. In addition, secondary characters are barely touched upon and are sadly reduced to mere meat bags in the action scenes.

Fury Road2Mad Max: Fury Road (George Miller, 2015)
Mad Max: Fury Road, the fourth film in the series, takes very bold chances for a movie with a $150 million budget. Within the 2-hour runtime, there is no exposition; no rests to explain everyone’s motives, backstory, or character. Instead, all this is told either visually or through its chaotic action. Miller establishes the social structure of The Citadel, the religion of the War Boys and each character’s motivation, traits, and personality with little to no dialogue. On top of this daring form of storytelling, Fury Road is astoundingly violent, outlandish, and weirdest of all, emotional.

Fury Road perfectly delivers on the action. Each set piece plays out on an operatically large scale, Miller using his techniques of cinematic chaos to full effect as he did with past films in the series. The expanded budget allows for the most ambitious entry in the Mad Max series yet, with as close to nonstop action as a film can get. The film’s violence is over the top, kinetic, and far from realistic, yet the emotions within the film are relatable and grounded.

Miller succeeds in keeping focus on the characters (the heart of the film) and gives each one time with the audience. Charlize Theron’s Furiosa takes center stage. Not only do her actions drive the plot, but her story is the most emotionally compelling. Every hero has a story and personality that gives the audience something to care about. Furiosa and Max are both looking for redemption while the sympathetic War Boy, Nux, is trying to find his place in this world. Ultimately each character wants to regain what the wasteland has taken: their humanity.

Punctuating almost every inch of the film is Junkie XL’s phenomenal score; a mix of heavy metal guitar, tribal drumming, and more traditionally orchestrated moments. It drives the action, at times giving it a ballet-like nature (with cars replacing the dancers), and when the film slows down (a rare event) the music switches to fit the scene perfectly.

Fury Road’s only mistake is that it forgets it is a Mad Max film. The character of Max is given little attention, and storylines from past films are barely touched upon. The film isn’t much of a continuation of Max’s story, instead focusing on the new characters.

Conclusion
While Fury Road borrows heavily from the techniques and story elements that made The Road Warrior such a great film, Fury Road improves upon its predecessor in almost every element. The characters are balanced better and the film plays out completely visually, with no exposition to pause the nonstop action. There may be no Fury Road without The Road Warrior, but Fury Road is just larger, crazier and more fun. Miller has created one of the best action series in film history, and while both of these entries are near-perfect, Miller has only gotten better with age. What a day! What a lovely day!

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