Pop quiz, hotshot: which great science fantasy franchise is returning to the world in 2015 after many years of absence? Why, Mad Max, of course! George Miller’s post-apocalyptic series has returned to us, and it appears to be in better shape than ever. Critics and audiences appear to be in love with this movie, so it would seem like it’s time to take a good look at it. So get your driving wheel from the pile, spray your face so you can enter Valhalla, and come with us to see the lessons Star Wars could learn from Mad Max: Fury Road!
Stand by your franchise’s style
Desert wastelands. Ridiculous character names like Rictus Erectus or Toast the Knowing. Punk aesthetics and ridiculously souped-up vehicles. Extreme close ups before crashes. Low camera angles during chase scenes. These are the aesthetic choices Miller and Byron Kennedy applied to The Road Warrior back in 1981 and turned it into a global phenomenon. These are exactly the same choices Miller applied to Fury Road in 2015. And why wouldn’t he?
You don’t even need to see the main character driving his Pursuit Special to know you are watching a Mad Max movie: it’s obvious from the first minute that you are back to the universe you left thirty years before. The movie uses some CGI here and there, when practical effects just won’t do it, but it manages to feel as genuine and gritty as The Road Warrior felt. It goes without saying, but the same thinking could easily apply to Star Wars: there’s nothing wrong with Star Wars just as it is. We love the way it is, with its simple plotlines, its black and white characters, and its cheesy names. There’s no need to “bring Star Wars to the twenty-first century”. It’s still great! Don’t mess with it!
Women in action movies? Yes, please
So much ink -and pixels- have been spent talking about this movie’s apparent feminist outlook that we are not going to bother saying anything other than, if being happy that a successful movie is portraying its well-defined female characters with agency makes us radical feminists, hey, we’ll happily claim that label for ourselves. This movie features (co-stars, even) what’s probably the best female action hero since Ellen Ripley: Charlize Theron’s Imperator Furiosa, the movie’s surprise protagonist. Max is little more than a catalyst for the action to start, even more so than he was in The Road Warrior. He’s become like Conan, a force of nature, so far gone into madness that he’s finally become that “husk of a man” the adult Feral Kid said he had become back in The Road Warrior, so it’s just natural that the thrust of the story falls into a new character. George Miller admits that he had no big social agenda, that the reason he added a female co-protagonist was that making a movie that could easily be boiled down to “a male steals sex slaves from another male” was in his eyes just completely unacceptable, but to his credit we have to say that he went the whole mile, hiring advisors to make sure that he represented former sex slaves in a believable way. Star Wars should follow suit, and make sure that the female characters in the new trilogy are not walking wombs with no personality like Padmé Amidala, and that -please- they don’t end up dressed in gold bikinis as a gangster’s slave.
Continuity and exposition are overrated
If you had asked me just three years ago about a series with great continuity, I would have replied: “Mad Max”. Yes, I know Bruce Spence plays similar yet unrelated charac-ters in two of the movies, but in my eyes that’s just a casting choice. But let’s look at the facts: Max gets shot in the knee in Mad Max; in The Road Warrior he has a noticeable limp; and in Beyond Thunderdome his leg is still bandaged. And let’s go beyond minutiae: from movie to movie, society crumbles down and returns in a new and violent shape, and it does it in a believable way. But then here comes Fury Road, with Max driving a car that was destroyed two movies ago, having his baby son suddenly change into a six year old daughter, and the post-apocalyptic world that should be no more than twenty years old is suddenly old enough that Furiosa was already born to a post-apocalyptic society. Do you know anyone that cared? They didn’t, because the movie was so good that they didn’t need a consolation prize like anal continuity.
By the same token, the movie doesn’t feel the need to dump any cumbersome exposition on its audience. The specifics of the universe are shown, not told: we know of Max’s grief thanks to some vague visions that pull the plot forward, we learn of the warboys cult thanks to Nux’s actions, we learn about “the green place” thanks to Furiosa’s obsession with it. No need to have a character talking about midichlorians, no need to have Thor taking a bath in some Magical Pool. “Show, don’t tell”.
It’s a labor of love
George Miller loves his franchise. He’s taken thirty years to make the movie he wanted to make, and he’s waded through economic crisis and recastings. Many people around the world love that franchise, and you can be sure we see and appreciate the time and care poured into this movie. If there’s only one lesson Star Wars should learn from Fury Road, please make it this one: make sure you have a story to tell, and make sure you treat it carefully and give it the love it deserves.