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Best of 2015 - "Mad Max: Fury Road"

I wasn't sure about Mad Max: Fury Road. Oh, yeah, sure, I knew it was going to be good. George Miller isn't in the business of making bad movies, the absolute worst being Happy Feet 2, which as far as I've heard wasn't actually that bad, just middling. And the trailers looked incredible. And everything Mad Max movie so far has been great (people can shut the fuck up about Beyond Thunderdome, thank you very much.)

Still. I wasn't sure, because resurrecting old franchises has become a favorite past time of Hollywood. Why make new things when you can drag out things from two decades ago and repackage them? That's what I was worried Fury Road would be more of. So imagine my surprise when a fourth entry in a series that made filmmakers get really lazy when it came to depicting the apocalypse was, in fact, the most original, transgressive, and brilliant movie of 2015. What a day it was.

What a lovely day.

At this point, every critic has bandied around Mad Max: Fury Road as the best movie of the year, the best of the decade so far, the best in categories that you probably haven't heard of. It's so prevalent that some radiantly intelligent, astute individuals in Facebook comment sections are saying that it's "not that good," that it's "overrated," that it should be called "Mad Furiosa" because there isn't enough Max, or, in extreme cases, that it's pushing some kind of feminist agenda.

Because, you know. That's the worst thing in the world, isn't it? Anyway.

Fact of the matter is, a lot of people are sick of Fury Road being showered with praise, thinking that it's undeserving of people saying so many nice things about it, are mad at people for enjoying something, and are generally all-around contrarian fucks

Forget those people, because Mad Max: Fury Road is, in fact, that good.

But why is it so good? What makes it so special? Well, for starters, unlike any other movie I saw this year, Fury Road felt like the fruit of several years' worth of labor. Mainly because it was, of course. Miller had ideas for this back in the 90's, then started pitching it as an anime in the late 2000's, then finally pitched it as a movie again and put it into production over the course of several years. It shows, too, because every aspect of it feels elaborately planned out and perfectly orchestrated. There is absolutely no narrative fat here, nothing that could be trimmed to make it a better movie. Every second that's on screen benefits the overall package. Outside of the black-and-white, dialogue-less version that exists, one gets the impression that they're watching exactly what was going on in George Miller's head.

And what a fucking joy it is to watch. The story has plenty of lore, but it's really all ancillary, because the meat of the narrative is easy enough to understand. Max is a wandering dude, Furiosa is a warlord trying to take sex slaves away from their captor, and they team up to help each other. That's about it. Oh, sure, there are heavier thematic elements at play. The caustic effects of a literal patriarchy. The Freudian concept of Eros versus Thanatos. The idea that women are more capable at beating men at their own game (war,) but are often too oppressed to demonstrate that. The politics of war, feminism as it pertains to overthrowing patriarchy, Kant's moral imperative... these are just a few of the philosophical elements at play in Fury Road.

Thing is? Just like my previous standard for the "best" action movie, Terminator 2: Judgment Day, all of the intellectual discourse at play here can be ignored, and viewers can just let themselves be sucked into a non-stop thrill ride that only lets up its euphoric rush when the credits start rolling. Mostly consisting of practical effects, every action sequence is an excuse to do dumb shit with cars and motorcycles, and it's quite beautiful. Motorcycles jumping over speeding cars while throwing bombs onto them. Pole-vaulting between trucks as people shoot at them. Cars with spikes on them driving into other cars that are chucking exploding spears at them. These are but three of the crazy, ridiculous, absurd things that happen in Fury Road, and yet, it never feels like some soulless, cynical, Michael Bay-esque carnival of idiocy. It's all super original and fun to watch, and delivered with some of the best cinematography I've seen in a movie to date.

And then, of course, there's Furiosa, a heroine who ranks among Sarah Connor and Ellen Ripley as a radiant example of empowered women in film. She's a character never othered by her gender, who is consistently displayed as being more capable and durable than Max in most situations. She basically drives the entire movie, and while in several instances you can see that her and Max need each other to complete their mission, it is still very much her film.

A character with such importance, who embodies the very idea of an unstoppable force of nature and drives the narrative forward, needs the perfect actor to bring them to life, however, and Charlize Theron gives the best performance of her career to do just that. This is a type of character we've never seen her play before; a stripped-down heroine who's unafraid to beat the living shit out of somebody despite having only one arm. There is nobody else who could have done this role justice, and personally, I think it would be a crime for her to not at least get an Oscar nomination for her turn as one of cinema's greatest badasses.

Honestly, though, I could spend all day talking about different things I loved about Mad Max: Fury Road. Furiosa, the brides, Knux, the philosophical overtones, the political satire, the social commentary, the Doof Warrior... there's a lot to love here. It's a fucking stellar film with an amazing cast, probably the best action sequences ever filmed, and a narrative that can be broken apart several different ways depending on your philosophical disposition.

Very rarely would I call a film perfect. Even many of my favorite films couldn't be classified as that. But, for my money, if such a thing as a perfect film existed, George Miller's return to cinematic glory would be it. Having seen it four times this year (three in theaters,) I keep finding new things to love about it, and writing this has motivated me to watch again before the end of 2015.

Mad Max: Fury Road, by my subjective standards, is a perfect film, the best movie I saw in 2015, and probably the best picture I've seen in the past decade. A modern classic, this is one that I'll be telling my kids about years from now.

Shiny and chrome indeed.


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