As an action movie connoisseur, I absolutely love Mad Max: Fury Road. Not only am I a sucker for apocalyptic movies, I love character-driven action films.
Imagine my surprise when I saw Fury Road was nominated for Best Picture of 2015 and named one of the top films of the year. Sure, action movies often get Oscar nods for special effects and editing, but it’s much rarer for one to get nominated for a big category like Best Picture and Best Director (George Miller).
This year, Mad Max: Fury Road received 10 Oscar nominations total, only second behind the recently released The Revenant (with 12 nominations).
So…how did a movie about a two-hour car chase through a post-apocalyptic wasteland get on the list of Best Picture nominees of 2015?
Fury Road continues the story of Max Rockatansky (played by Tom Hardy) in the post-apocalyptic world of Australia. Water is scarce, “guzzolene” (gasoline) is scarcer and every single day is a struggle to survive. When we meet Max, he’s a loner who is quickly captured by a group of religious warriors called the War Boys and brought to their lair so they can utilize Max’s universal blood type for their own purposes.
The water supply of the surrounding town is controlled by a sickly, bloodthirsty tyrant named Immortan Joe. After Immortan Joe tasks Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) with bringing back guzzolene from a nearby town, Furiosa goes rogue and smuggles Immortan Joe’s prize “breeders” out on Joe’s powerful war rig. Immortan Joe puts all of his War Boys on Furiosa’s trail to reclaim his stolen “property” and our two-hour car chase is underway!
Check out the trailer:
The Evolution of Mad Max
There’s a key difference between Fury Road and the older Mad Max movies. In the first Mad Max, the apocalypse was in its first stages and there was still some semblance of organized modern society (1979’s Max was a cop). There is no modern society in Fury Road and personhood is stripped away (a recurring theme with all our main characters). An individual’s only value is what they can give to other people, more specifically the person in power. Joe’s “wives” are merely vessels for his children, Max is a “bloodbag,” Nux is a disposable child soldier, Furiosa was taken from her family for the sole purpose of serving Immortan Joe – all of our heroes are branded like cattle to indicate their usefulness to Joe and his regime.
“What do I call you?” Furiosa asks Max near the beginning of their journey.
Whereas other apocalyptic movies are about acquiring “stuff,” Fury Road is about surviving and holding onto your personhood. Toward the end of the movie, our characters reclaim this part of themselves: when they give something to another person, it’s not because it’s being taken from them, but because they want to help someone they care about.
So Why the 10 Oscar Nominations?
It’s unusual for a straight-up action movie, especially one set in such a brutal and unforgiving world to get overt universal acclaim. Fury Road bucked the odds by pleasing both critics and mainstream fans.
There’s a couple reasons why it stands out:
The characters get their dues
A common theme in action movies is to forgo character development in lieu of action scenes. Fury Road doesn’t skimp out on our characters. There are stakes for each of our heroes and everyone has a distinct personality.
This year brought us some compelling females in action films: Rey in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Ilsa Faust in Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation, and the women of Fury Road. Furiosa and Max share the screen as leads, and the wives (who could have easily been throwaway characters) also get distinct personalities and subplots of their own. The best part: the movie doesn’t make a big deal out of the large role women play in Mad Max’s world. This is their apocalypse, too.
The movie looks gorgeous
The visual appeal in Fury Road is off the charts. In fact, most of Fury Road’s other Oscar nominations are for the visual effects, costumes, and overall appearance of the movie.
The cinematography showcases a desolate Australian landscape, and our action set-pieces harken back to pre-CGI days of yore. Because of Fury Road’s practical effects, everything in Mad Max’s world has a weight to it. One of my favorite creations are the “polecats,” who cannot be described, so here’s a photo of this insanity.
Show, don’t tell
The stellar world-building in Fury Road isn’t provided through spoken exposition. Our movie lets the audience piece together exactly what makes this wonderfully weird world tick, such as the War Boys’ fully-formed, car-based religion with distinct rituals and beliefs. Over-explaining the world of Fury Road would have easily bogged the entire movie down. It’s a rare thing (and a nice treat) to just experience a movie rather than have everything explained.
As much as I love it, I’m still a little surprised at the Best Picture nod for Fury Road. It’s brutal, strange, and not for the faint of heart. But because it’s so bizarre, it also takes a lot of risks. The action set-pieces are innovative and its themes are subtle and poignant. The stakes feel real and it’s hard not to get sucked into Fury Road’s world. I’m excited to see where the Mad Max series leads!