I recently watched Mad Max: Fury Road with Jessa. I hadn’t seen it, but it was finally out on DVD in the bargain bin, and all of my friends said it was great and that I should watch it. I liked the old Mad Max movies, especially for a peek at a post-apocalyptic Australia… …A land-locked desert, not so unlike where I grew up.
But, this blog entry isn’t really going to be about Mad Max: Fury Road, though I will use it to epitomize my point. After watching it, Jessa turned to me and asked, “So, what did you think?”.
“Eh, It was alright”, I replied.
Jessa quipped right back, “Another glowing recommendation.”
This is, as it happens, not an uncommon reaction for me to have toward a lot of movies that have come out recently. The main reason for this has been pacing. On the one hand, I like action movies – the escalation of the stakes, the danger, and subsequently the means needed to overcome it is a nice and satisfying arc. On the other hand, I haven’t felt like many modern action moves execute this arc well.
Taking Fury Road as an example, the antagonist posed the biggest threat at the beginning of the movie – he had the most men, the most supplies, and the protagonists were already besieged by another enemy. Conversely, in every later battle, the protagonists have more people helping them, are better equipped, and have a better plan, while the antagonist has fewer people (due to the fact that the protagonists keep killing them), less supplies (cars keep exploding), and worse strategies (“let’s drive back into this canyon that they ambushed us in the first time so that they can ambush us and trap us again!”) For me, an action movie lacking an escalating arc leaves me without the belief that these action sequences matter.
Another problem I have with modern action movies, even if they nail the escalating action, is that the action sequences are too long. I can easily recognize that I may be in the minority (or, even unique) in this aspect, but I prefer shorter, distinct action sequences. After a few minutes, my brain stops digesting the action as anything but violence – something I don’t really care for. In Fury Road, the action sequences were so long, and the motivation for the action was so thin, that, to me, most of the movie was meaningless to me.
Finally, in any movie, the setting needs to have a modicum of believability. I don’t need to know what they eat, but If you tell me that it’s a desert, and food, water, and gas are rare resources, you can’t also be so wasteful of your water as to throw it over a cliff at your people and expect them to catch it all. Nor can you have a vehicle in your fleet with a guy wielding a flame spouting guitar – it makes me not trust what you told me about the setting and pulls me out of the movie.
That’s why, overall, Mad Max: Fury Road got a “Eh, it’s alright” from me. It lost believability in the setting, its action sequences were too long to keep me engaged, and its plot arc wasn’t escalating anything to keep it interesting. That’s not to say it was a terrible movie – it was entertaining, and the “bard car” was fun to watch.