• Joseph Kolb

Jesus, Take the Wheel: Mad Max

Like everyone else, in 2015, I went crazy over Mad Max: Fury Road. The franchise was one of those unturned cultural stones that lay in that mostly untouched path in the backyard of my mind, although I had seen some pretty compelling clips of Tina Turner once or twice. Yes, going into the 1979 namesake, I had accepted that by watching this I would be trading four beautiful, badass women for, well, Mel Gibson. But it would be worth it, right, for that delicious apocalyptic-Burning-Man-drag-race vibe. Right? The first few sequences made me believe we may be led in that direction: the almost epileptic editing combined with wild zooms and extreme close-ups matched and heightened the energy of accompanying car chases. Unfortunately, the proceeding narrative fails magnificently in keeping pace.

Mad Max is more of a prolonged prologue. At times, the 92 minutes drag on like a parachute. Much of this can be chalked up to the meager budget and constraining – in moments, illegal – conditions the crew was working under. As much as I admire the dedication (IMDB tells me that George Miller worked as an ER doctor to raise money for his love-child), because of this, many questions arise regarding the world Max and his new family live in. Their world seems to be on the precipice of something capital-B Bad, showing us some sort of not-quite-dystopia. Bike gangs are obviously ruling the roads, the police vehicles have a modish flair to them, and there’s a few lines peppered throughout suggesting a major lack of fuel. Still: why are the Halls of Justice in ruins while the nurses wear crisp white linens and the baby gets to smear ice cream all over his face?

Mostly, I think we’re not supposed to look too closely. The film tries to make up for this confusion by sticking a needle right into the flesh of the thing, injecting Mad Max with the fervor and sex meant to drive the thing home. Semi-vigilante leather-clad patrolmen rile each other up while Toecutter and company howl and shriek while May wields her shotgun. The sheer energy on screen! Phew! I’m sweating. But like a junky in withdrawal, Max’s familial life brings the film’s highs to a screeching halt. Ultimately it’s this aspect of Mad Max which is most significant to its title, which provides us our “Ohhh..!” moment in the film’s final scenes, and allows us to move on to the next one. Still. Next time, leave the kid at home so we can shift it into high gear.

©2020 by Joseph R. Kolb