Mad Max Fury Road: How to reintroduce a character

I’m heading to the flicks once more for another helping of Fury Road, and after posting my last blog about this film on Reddit I got to thinking about what the movie is; not the individual elements, but rather why did Miller make Fury Road the way he did.

Max has been absent from the screen for about 30 years, as Thunderdome released in 1985. Nowadays, most movies have a full on reboot for features that aren’t any older than 10 (Case in point: Fantastic 4). In a reboot you can redo the character’s story and whatever, but you lose out on the layers that the character could have collected over time. By keeping the character and making them older you get an entirely different person for the audience to experience and this makes the story infinitely more interesting than seeing Max nab his first bad guy with brilliant CG effects, again.

In some ways, Fury Road is a reboot without losing it’s soul.

This world isn’t the exact same mad world that was in the first three films. This is a place with history, an economy, and a mythology which wasn’t really established as well in the first three versions. Max has clearly been absent from it for as long as have we, and thus we all learn the same information at the same time. We are in as much of the dark as he is at the beginning of the film.

So, we have this character and his world, but he isn’t the same guy from the first three films. But, he is.

Besides the physical markings the knee brace, the jacket, the boots- Max states information that only he would know at the beginning of the film. The missing element to the current Max is hope. Hope is a recurring theme in the movie and Max even states, again, that it is a dangerous thing. Why is it dangerous? Because Max has had hope and has had it taken away. I’m not talking about his wife and kid, though that started it, but when he helped the group out in The Road Warrior (TRW) and then the kids at the end of Thunderdome, he regained more hope.

What if Max gained enough hope to settle down again? To try once more? I ask this because in the film we get flashbacks of a daughter character and some other tribal people, and clearly some of it is Max’s guilt and some of them are a spirit quest deal. While his first family had a son, who’s to say that he didn’t try to start again, only to have it go to shit once more? (Losing hope once again and driving him completely mad.) The one critique I’ve heard of Tom Hardy’s Max is that he isn’t roguish enough; but a proper rogue character has to have something to fight for before they reach their full rogueishness.

The world Max lives in is fire and blood and that is where we come in and meet the current Max. He is more animal than man, he is without conscience, and he is at his most pragmatic. He is about the immediate future rather than the long play. He is reactionary rather than calculating; I mean, in TRW he waits for his chance to get in and make a deal for gas, and same in Thunderdome. This Max is broken, alone, and bonkers.

How do we have the audience relate to that in a standard action movie length of 120 mins? You could show this information in some canned, terrible info dump of character exposition where we don’t care about how he lost his family (as that card has been overplayed to death and we just want to get to the action) or you go primal and more visceral. Miller upholds my golden rule, and that is: Don’t treat the audience or reader like they’re stupid. Using the imagery we get the emotions Miller wants us to have and we move on. To go back to the original question at the beginning of this paragraph, you give them a character that they can understand: Furiosa.

Furiosa is your typical action hero. She has a mission, a drive, and a moral code in her that is strong and leads the audience through the adventure. We’ve seen this character many times before, but only a few times with a woman at the helm. She says she is seeking redemption, but you cannot have redemption without the hope that you can fix what you have broken. All action heroes have hope in them; it’s what keeps them going to find the next job, to shove off into danger, because there is the hope that everything will be alright. Furiosa is the channel in which the audience can gain an understanding of the world and the film. She is the center of the film and because of her strong character she even helps Max find the humanity he has lost.

When they first meet Max is literally an grunting animal. Demanding things, taking what he wants, and generally not giving a shit about anyone else but himself; like a wild animal. By the end of the film, he has the tiny flame of hope inside of himself once again, so much so that when he sees that Furiosa is starting to come around again in the truck he has a bit more levity in his voice and finally says his name. Max can live again because Furiosa reminded him of who he is by being the person he once was and he literally saves her life in return.

This is why I say that Max is the focus of the film and Furiosa is the center. Furiosa is the hero of the film but we learn who Max is through this adventure and see what he is capable of doing. This is why Miller constructed the film the way he did, because we aren’t just shown who Max is, we experience who he is through the choices he makes, through the things he says, and through the people who are around him. Max is surrounded by people who have hope and when they lose it, he rekindles it. When things get dark, he shines, and we wouldn’t have gotten that through some BS talking head scene in the first fifteen minutes. By trekking through this story with him, we get to know this character on a deeper level.

And that is how you reintroduce a character.

P.S. Pardon the lack of humor in this post, but I needed to theory craft a bit, also craft in general and now I want Kraft Mac n Cheese.

Fire, gears, and weird: Mad Max Fury Road

This is a post about the insanity that is Mad Max: Fury Road, if you haven’t seen this film yet, stop now and go and see it because like a hard boiled egg left in an unplugged fridge for two weeks, this post will have spoilers in it.

I have loved Mad Max since I was 13 and Fury Road did not disappoint. It’s the first film in a long time to make my head explode in the most pleasant of ways, which has made me return to the movie theater twice now, with a third waiting in the wings. This film, like its action, has a lot going on and is the most subtle film you will see this year.

Yes, a movie with spikey hot rods and metal shredding freaks is subtle.

Its storytelling is so focused that a lot can be missed as this world blurs past the audience in a fireball of themes and ideas. This moving metal album cover has a lot going on under the hood.

Visual storytelling

There is very little dialogue in the movie. I wouldn’t say it approaches Once Upon A Time In The West  level of silence, but it is on par with that film. We see character development that is shown and not told.

Look at the beginning of the film, with Max and his V8 Interceptor standing alone against the wilderness. Max is more animal than man here because of the fact that he has had to become an animal in order to survive; as per his intro, survival is the only thing left in him. Fast forward to the end of the film, where he disappears into the masses of people and into the society he left behind. Through his journey we see him become more and more human. As he gets his stuff back, his boots, jacket, and gear, he becomes more of a man. His increasing interaction with women also helps to civilize him and make him into a functional person once again.

Then you have Furiosa (As a friend of mine said is the best female action hero since Ripley, I wholeheartedly agree), when we meet her it’s a close up of her Immortan Joe brand on the back of her neck and we pull back to see her getting into the war rig. She seems cool but tense at the same time. The reason why is because this is probably her last time attempt to escape the Citadel and if it fails she will die. She is a woman who knows exactly what she is doing and knows she cannot let her guard down. The only time we ever really she her guard down is when she meets The Vulvani tribe of Many Mothers and at the end of the film.

The actors are showing the character development rather than letting the editing show it. There isn’t a specific moment in which they become better people or suddenly appear in a Deus Ex Machina sort of way. They carry the film and drive it forward, rather than just being carted along by the plot.

It’s about people

This film has people in it, and I don’t mean that people can be seen in it, but rather it has people in it that care about one another. Obviously if you’re on the opposite side of the gun, the care is quite small, but within the individual groups from Immortan Joe’s Warboys to The Vulvani, they truly care about one another. It’s a connection that is strong and serves a purpose in the film as the Warboys bow and salute one another and The Many Mothers respectfully remember those who have gone in their hearts.

These tribes of people become family to one another and it is through this connection that they are able to live.

At one point the group talks about satellites and how TV shows were everywhere. It’s something that is almost unimaginable to the younger group as that kind of connectivity seems almost god-like.

Max begins to earn his humanity once more by being around these women who care for one another. He sees a piece of himself in Furiosa and begins to regain his humanity through her while she has him to assist in her plans to return home and save the wives from their life of slavery. Max at the beginning of the film is more animal than man and when he finally says his name, he almost doesn’t believe it himself because it probably has been a long time since even he uttered it out loud.

How freaking weird it is

There is nothing in this film that is normal or even remotely close to normal, I mean it had a breast milk farm, and I loved it for that reason. For the last ten years a lot of sci-fi films have tried to go weird, but wind up being the goth kid version of Star Wars. In fact, many modern sci-fi films have been heralded as the new Star Wars or something to that effect and because of that marketing tilt, and probably the pressure of the film’s producers, they usually do feel like a watered down SW.

This film isn’t trying to mimic another film or even be “the new XYZ” it really is unique. If you look at the designs of the film, from the cars to the other tribes to the gear that the characters in the film use, it is analog. Nothing in this film is slick, all of it is boxy, rough, and tangible.

This film is a 1980’s film and 80’s sci-fi or fantasy films were all freaking strange. I mean look at what came out of the 80’s:

  •     Krull
  •     The Dark Crystal
  •     Legend
  •     The Masters of the Universe
  •     Highlander
  •     The Last Starfighter
  •     Explorers
  •     Mad Max

All of these films have bizarre designs and even stranger story lines, but they were each different in their own way and did something. Most modern sci-fi is very similar, in both design and story, and follows a rigid structure we have seen hundreds of times. The closest films to Fury Road, in my mind, are The Road Warrior and Stagecoach.

I really do hope we see more bizarre stuff in the theaters, because that’s what’s really going to get me in there every weekend.

May you be shiny and chrome!