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.