By: Alex Russo.

We tend to shy away from list-based articles here at Nerdy, Inc., but after seeing Mad Max: Fury Road this weekend, we felt that this was a better way to discuss the film (in lieu of one of our typical reviews). As the title would imply, the film exceeded many of the expectations we had going in. This wasn’t your typical “yeah, that was pretty cool” film. Despite being the fourth installment in a franchise that hasn’t seen life in thirty years, this film feels fresh and inspired. Here’s why:

#1) The Special Effects Just Plain Worked

Modern day filmmakers are faced with a dilemma. CGI has become so affordable and so easy to use, that, from a production standpoint, it makes quite a bit of sense to rely on it. Fast edits can make mistakes disappear with a few quick mouse clicks, and low costs keep the studio heads from breathing down the neck of the director. It should be the superior method, but computers still can’t trick our eyes.

Every logical part of our brain can decipher, frame-by-frame, the roaring dinosaur or crashing building, but when strung together, the scenes still don’t fool us. CGI can’t quite crack the code in our brain, which results in us feeling, for example, relaxed when we should be unnerved. After all, when was the last time you genuinely felt a character was in danger?

I know the last time I had that feeling. It was during Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Indiana is hanging off the barrel of a tank’s turret by the strap of his bag, and the driver is slowly grinding him against the canyon wall. No matter how many times I watch that scene, I still think he is going to be crushed…I’m still fooled into thinking Indiana is in real danger. Why?

Because a dude actually was on a tank, rubbing against a canyon wall as dirt fell into his face. It really happened; there were no computers tricking me. Real dirt, real guy, real tank…admittedly the Nazis may not have been authentic, but there were enough elements captured on film to indicate that there must have been real danger. That was the last time I felt the gravity of the situation in an action movie.

IndianaOnATank

Nothing a little Grail water can’t fix.

That is, until this past weekend. Despite having access to all the CGI money can buy, director George Miller relied on practical effects for an astounding 90% of the film. And because of that, this film had me more invested in the action than any film from the past ten years. Hardy, Theron, and Hoult did not exist…it was Max, Furiosa, and Nux. They were really fighting; you cannot convince my brain otherwise. I was gripping the sides of my seat and leaning forward with every jump, punch, and kick. And that’s rare, because at the end of the day, most movies can’t convince me that what I’m seeing is real.

Which is sad, really. With all the money being poured into blockbusters and the advancements made in technology, filmmakers still can’t hack into our brains and drag us into their world. That’s why Fury Road deserves the praise. Miller’s dedication to bringing his vision to life and his commitment to pulling you into the desert is so strong, that he chooses to take the path less traveled. For a film that spent over a decade in development hell, Miller’s insistence that the production be done right is a testament to the final product’s integrity.

#2) There are Legitimate Issues Being Discussed

Controversy for the sake of controversy is stupid. When a filmmaker asks himself “How much blood can I splatter on the walls” or “How much nudity can I squeeze between said blood-soaked walls and still avoid an NC-17 rating,” you don’t really need to wonder why the filmmaker is doing what he’s doing. Controversy moves tickets.

But when you have activist groups calling for boycotts because it threatens the status quo…that’s when things get interesting. Before its release, the film was being decried by MRAs (Men’s Rights Activists) across the country. They claimed that the film threatened masculinity, attempted to upset gender relations, called for a female usurpation of control, and probably a fourth thing that I could list if I could wrap my head around what the hell they’re talking about.

The film, for the uninitiated, centers on the rescue and escape of five slaves who are held for breeding. Immortan Joe has his pick of “wives” that can produce his heirs, but Furiosa and, eventually, Max aid in their attempted escape. The controversy here, of course, is the rebellion of women towards men.

RealNiceGuy

He’s a real nice guy, besides the whole slave-owning thing.

“But wait,” you may say to yourself. “I’m pretty sure that women aren’t property.” You would be correct in that conclusion! And you’d think it would be common sense…but that notion is so controversial that it incited calls for boycotts. The idea that a woman, or group of women, would want to declare themselves independent from men is so threatening that a faction of real-life human beings called the film “feminist propaganda.”

That’s what makes its inclusion in the film so important. The fact that there were people who were genuinely horrified by the ideas raised by the film means that the ideas needed to be raised by the film. Apparently, it’s not common knowledge that women have thoughts, rights, or feelings. Apparently, there were people who were not aware that women do not exist to produce offspring that are wholly owned heirs to the males who were involved in .0001% of the baby-making process (and 0% of the unpleasant part of the process). Apparently, people didn’t know that if a woman talks to a man for the equivalent of 2 screen-time hours, she does not owe him, really, anything. These are things that, apparently, needed to be said.

A nice, non-controversial story would be about how great breathing is. Air, am I right? Love it! But what would that accomplish? Aside from being, probably, the most boring movie to hit theaters, it would also start a sum total of zero conversations. Everyone would pat themselves on the back, agree about how they like not suffocating, and move on to the next thing. Realistically, what would be the point?

When movies take a stand, they risk alienating a portion of the audience. They risk losing ticket sales. They risk getting a few bad reviews. But when people leave the theater, they’ll be talking about something. Even if everyone doesn’t agree at the end, at least topics are being discussed. That’s why we need films like Fury Road. We need to be reminded of the problems without being lectured. We need to be have these threads weaved into our films. We need to start a conversation in situations where people would least expect to be engaged, because that’s where the real dialogue begins.

For every article (like this) that broadcasts its idea in its headline, readers are primed before they begin reading (assuming they even click the link). But when these themes manifest themselves as undertones in a greater narrative, our brains are more far more receptive to taking in these themes, whether we know it or not. That’s why this film is important. It turns out that…

#3) We Don’t Even Notice All of the Above

I saw the movie. I walked out of the movie. I threw out the remnants of my pretzel bites and cheese. I got halfway to my car before I started gushing to my girlfriend about how amazing I found the film. It wasn’t until we had been talking for nearly five minutes when I realized: “Oh hey, those effects were really good. And it didn’t fall into many of the common sexist tropes…how about that!”

Between the adrenaline-fueled car chases, the sprawling desert landscapes, and the stylized army of War Boys marching towards Valhalla, we don’t even notice everything that went into making the film. I was so engrossed in the action that I never stopped to realize “Oh wow, I’m really into this action scene. More than usual, it turns out.”

Nor did I really stop to think about the social implications of the film. When films attempt to deliver us morals, it’s pretty common for us to think “Oh, they are saying that because of this thing that just happened in the news.” It’s not wrong for a director to take his/her cues from the real world, but it disconnects us from the film. We are reminded that we are watching a movie.

Fury Road, however, subverts this. Its social undertones are just that…undertones. They serve the narrative without calling attention to themselves. The film draws us in to the story, and the morals slowly sink in without us noticing. It’s like Inception, except in a desert and with way more explosions.

StillTomHardy

But still with Tom Hardy.

Having a film NOT beat us over the head with endless CGI and the same overused tropes is so rare that we can’t even contextualize what it must be like to have that breath of fresh air. The typical trends are so essential to every blockbuster Hollywood puts out that we don’t even realize how much we want something new. We can’t produce a desire to see “X” because the idea of “X” is a genuinely foreign concept.

Think of this way: before you saw Toy Story, how hungry were people for a computer animated cartoon? Before Star Wars, how hungry were people for a grandiose space opera? Heck, before that one movie about a train pulling into a station, how hungry were people for movies in general? Audiences are accustomed to getting fresh paint jobs on old cars, so to speak. Our idea of what a film is ultimately stems from a very mechanized process that has been repeating what works over and over again.

That’s why Mad Max: Fury Road is more than meets the eye. It’s not just a summer popcorn flick. It’s not just guns and cars and rocks and people eating lizards. It’s smart. It’s nuanced. It’s bold.

And it’s inspired.


Alex Russo likes to talk about movies. You can read more of his insane ramblings on Twitter.

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