One of the critical darlings of the year in the SciFi world has been MAD MAX: FURY ROAD. Certainly in the Other Worlds Austin camp, it’s had very vocal support, both at our meetings and in our blog. Well, I’m going to set the record straight. This is not a good movie. It’s not even a passable movie. In comparison to the summer’s biggest hit, JURASSIC WORLD, a film that most people on our team dismissed before they even saw it, George Miller’s ROAD WARRIOR update fails head to head in every single instance. Let me break it down for you, because I am SO TIRED of all the undeserved praise Fury road is getting. Needless to say, many spoilers follow.
CHARACTER: The primary failing of Fury Road is that there are no characters in it. A character has to be a well-rounded personality who experiences a change over the course of a film because of the events of the film. Mad Max isn’t even the central figure in his own story. He does not change from the start of the film to the end (before you tell me how that’s how it always is go back and watch the first two Mad Max films – you are wrong). The events of the film might as well not even be happening for all the effect they have on Mad. He’s not ‘mad’ at all, he is in fact barely present. The other ‘characters’ in Fury Road are just as one-dimensional. The baddie is just bad because he can be, our coven of women are just pretty faces with nothing to distinguish them and the only thing that makes Charlize Theron stand out from mindless horde of evil mob is that she is on the other side. We are told she’s the best captain, but she doesn’t demonstrate any particular skill in the movie more than anyone else, and reveals absolutely nothing about her inner soul such that the audience knows her. Critics rushed to pour praise on her bold feminist portrayal but as far as I can see, her gender is the only thing that makes her different from any one-dimensional and uninteresting Jean Claude Van Damme or Steven Seagal character, and that’s nothing to be impressed by.
In comparison, every character of note in Jurassic World comes into the film with an issue they are trying to solve (whether it’s an upcoming divorce, an inability to break away from work, or disvaluing the importance of family) and they all arrive somewhere completely different by the end. The bad guy has a very specific plan for why he is doing what he is doing (Vincent D’Onofrio) and even the bad dinosaur has a pretty detailed backstory, both nature and nurture that places them in context. And they both learn and change methods throughout the film (in Fury Road they just chase… and chase and chase…). Jurassic World has a love story, and family story, and even a coworker story. These are not the deepest characters, but they all have emotions and personalities and character turns and surprises.
PLOT: This is the easiest one to talk about, because Fury Road has NO PLOT. It’s just one extended chase scene. One way, then back. You would think that as they cross over ground they had already covered, there would be some sense of learning from where they have already been, but this opportunity is squandered as they just drive over the places they’ve already been with little regard to issues 40 minutes earlier. And this whole time they are racing over the desert, there are no particular guideposts along the way to overcome, its just goes on and on.
By contrast, Jurassic World features a very well-executed three act plot structure where all the players are set up in Act One, as well as the inciting incident – the ‘escape’ of the new dinosaur. Act two puts all these pieces into play in various stages of peril, coming together slowly to an inevitable plan in Act Three, where they attempt to defeat the evil. This doesn’t go as they hoped but they still in the end overcome it. Classic structure, executed with precision. Every detail and character choice that is set up in act one, is paid off in act three (In Fury Road, there is nothing to pay off because there is nothing set up).
LOGIC: Fury Road doesn’t make a lick of sense. In this post-apocalyptic world where diesel and chrome are king, why waste gallon after gallon of precious fuel to take 300 cars and trucks in pursuit of the stolen women. And if even so, WHY GOD WHY would you waste the extra energy (and gas) to lug a forty foot amp with an electric guitarist chained to it across the desert. And why do these other cities come to the aid of the main baddie? What’s in it for them? And if you want to introduce them, why have them add basically nothing to the plot except be more cars chasing (sorry, that’s a plot and character complaint as well). For the heroes, how are these old women living out in the desert, presumably for years, with no water. They say they can’t go south, because who knows if there are resources there, but there are no resources here, so why stay? What are they waiting for? How are the people in the cities living with basically no water? What purpose does keeping them alive even serve our main baddy?
In Jurassic World, one could argue against the logic of making a new dinosaur, but that’s what the film is about, the central conflict. Everything else that happens in the film makes complete sense, right down to how the park would handle a catastrophe like this, character choices, and payoff of which dinosaurs eat which other dinosaurs. In fact, my favorite moment of the whole film is the relationship between Chris Pratt and his trained dinosaurs which is has more dynamism than any human relationship in Fury Road. In the end, when the trained dinosaur choses to protect Pratt as a friend and leader, I almost cried. It was a completely believable moment in an unbelievable world, and that is what is at the center of Logic. Jurassic World invents a place with its own set of rules. It doesn’t look like our world at all, but everything that happens there, happens for a reason and fits in. Fury Road doesn’t even follow its own faulty premise.
LEGACY: I will admit, I was extremely excited about a new Mad Max film, and somewhat bummed that there would be a new ‘Max’ but of course, Mel Gibson is a racist jerk, so there’s that. That being said, there is literally nothing in this film that resembles the tone, character or world of the first two films, which if you may remember, were set only a few years after the apocalypse hits. And they are in Australia. I could never tell where Fury Road is supposed to be set, but it doesn’t seem to have any connection with a real world. Its as if the team had only watched the (arguably) awful Beyond Thunderdome. Of course you know that’s not true, because it’s the same guy. But that’s what makes it so disappointing. A lot of focus has been made of how much of the film is practical effects and not CGI – great, but if all of that work does nothing to forward the story who cares. The original films were basically souped up cars in the desert, and moody characters with something to prove or a reason to get even. This movie has nothing to share with the original but its title.
In contrast, Jurassic World is all about legacy, from the chills I got down my spine when the original theme played mournfully on the piano in the trailer to the extended sequence in the film where the stumble upon the ‘set’ from the original movie. Such a payoff! The film is also about the park being concerned with its own legacy, competing with itself, trying to raise the bar, while still putting all the early unpleasantness (and PR nightmares) behind them. The central theme of man not tampering with nature is the same as in the first movie, just explored under different (and more extreme) circumstances. The tone and audience for this film just seems like this generation’s equivalent of the audience for the original film. Fury Road really ends up feeling like a poorly executed over-blown Hollywood version of the original film, losing much of the charm of why those movies worked (just as was said of Thunderdome)
FEMINISM: Much of the praise given Fury Road focuses on what has been called overt feminism in the narrative. Some of this has come from crazy right wingers complaining about it but those people are crazy so let’s ignore them and just look at the film and judge it by what it is actually trying to do. There are three sets of female characters in the film, the stolen brides, the desert women, and Charlize Theron. The stolen brides are about the least feministic execution of character possible. In the city they are prized merely for their beauty and sex appeal. Once stolen, they are still treated as sex objects. None of them are trusted as fighters or given guns, and when they adopt a baddie to their team, he very quickly falls into a romantic relationship with one of them… because that’s all they seem to be entrusted by the screenwriter to do. None of them grow or learn, and as a pack of scared screaming women, they are indistinguishable. If it wasn’t for their hair color, there would be nothing to differentiate them from each other. Not very feminist. The women in the desert are sort on their last legs of life, with no direction, as if to say, women will wander in a desert without a man to guide them. They are very ready to follow Max’s lead as soon as he shows up. And again, they are defined by group characteristics with very little to distinguish them from each other (oh one of them likes plants, how progressive is that? Why not one of them likes to eat snakes live, or can throw a knife a 100 feet on perfect target).
Finally, Charlize. Charlize gets praise because she is treated in the film like a man. She is a bad ass, good with a gun and a knife and driving a big rig. But she is also completely stripped of her femininity. She takes no sexual interest in Max or any other male character and they basically make her look manish, as if to say a woman cannot be both feminine and an ass-kicker. Anyone ever seen Alien? The Terminator? Fifth Element? Even the original Star Wars films give us in Carrie Fisher’s Princess Leia a woman who is gorgeous and shoot a gun. Firefly/Serenity did it quite well. Battlestar Galactica. In fact, check out this list on AfterEllen about kick ass female scifi heroines (http://www.afterellen.com/general-news/107375-the-top-40-kick-ass-female-sci-fi-characters). Why is making Charlize Theron more of a man than a woman a victory for feminism? To me, it’s actually MORE OFFENSIVE. And if you apply the Bechdel Test to Fury Road, I think it fails just as bad as say American Pie might. It has more than two women, but they have names like Capable and Toast, names that could be interchangeable amongst the group. Sure they talk to each other, but it is always about a man, because they barely talk at all and when they do it’s about who is chasing them, or Max. They are barley talked to by Charlize, who basically keeps them in the dark about her plans the whole time. I don’t know, I guess it passes, but not by much.
Jurassic World? I mean, its no trailblazer but Bryce Dallas Howard plays a very powerful business woman, a bit on the uptight side, who finds love and machine gun by the end of the film. She is just as important in defeating the renegade dinosaurs and saving the children and park guests as Chris Pratt, and along the way has several conversations with female employees about work and her sister about her own work choices. I’d say its just a normal well-written strong female character, no need to heap praise on it, but actually a better example of rising above a male-dominated world while still be allowed to be a woman than anything in Fury Road.
So there, 2000 words on how overrated Fury Road is and how underrated Jurassic World is in comparison. You may not agree with me, but then you would be wrong.