Mad Max: Fury Road- A Righteous Cause

I think that the appeal of this film and it’s unmitigated, relentless violence speaks to a larger and unrecognized need for the return of the auteur. I think that we’ve lost our way somewhat with regard to studio manufactured tentpole franchises with so much enthusiasm that a film like this is a complete anomaly. I think that this kind of film, as an art form, is waning, not dying or going extinct, but not in fashion. I think that, and I mean this with all the respect I can muster, if Roger Ebert had seen Mad Max: Fury Road on his death bed he would have rallied and lived on another half decade at least, surviving on its ferocity alone. I believe this, having read the man’s work for years, and I mean it when I say I had a moment while trying to come up with a way of writing a review. I thought of Ebert and what he might have said and I honestly rolled a tear when I realized, He would have LOVED this film. 

It’s not often that an auteur director returns to the franchise that made their name and when they do, it’s even more rare that they don’t ruin it entirely. Coppola had Godfather 3, Robert Rodriguez had his Once Upon a Time In For the Love of God How Did You Forget How to Edit a Film So That It Is Coherent. George Lucas has his prequels and he can keep them. Miller has influenced, well, nearly every action film you have seen in the last 30 years. Tarantino, Rodriguez, Bay, Lucas, Cameron, all the billions of dollars these cats have made all cut their teeth on this Australian auteur and his direction. And what’s more rare than that is that this humble and brilliant artist returned to his opus and showed these extraordinary action filmmakers what action filmmaking is. This is the master coming down from the mountain.

I hate that I have to address this whole Feminism versus Assholes debates. I say Assholes and not Mens Rights Activists because I’m not acknowledging them as a movement or validating them as activists. So these Assholes object to the strong female characterization, the equal treatment of the main characters pathos, and the fact that the Macguffin is a group of women that literally refuse to be objectified. Because the ladies are coming to take away the action movies and therefore all the masculinity. These action movies that are all still written primarily by men. Joss Whedon famously answered an interview question of, Why do you keep writing these strong female characters, with, “Because you keep asking me that question.”

It’s embarrassing because Joss said that about 10 years ago and it’s still a relevant response to a largely unchanged pop culture landscape. This is going off topic a little bit but I’ve read and heard via podcast that David E. Kelley, of Ally McBeal fame, attempted to write a Wonder Woman pilot that failed to be produced. The episode ended with Diana, warrior princess of the Amazon and the most famous female superhero in fiction, crying herself to sleep because the man she loved was engaged to another woman. Because that’s the only real motivation lady folk have in life. And don’t even get me started on Scandal. I developed some interest in this show for about 45 minutes. Olivia Pope, strong, self assured woman, political fixer and tough as nails business- Oh lawd, Mr. President! Kiss me where the cameras won’t catch us! 

*sigh*

There is just something too unsettling about a powerful woman whose weakness is not somehow a man. I am rambling, I know, but I’ll make my point thusly: I’m going to have my perspective on the subject of Feminism in film and an Asshole may disagree and have another but I believe we can at least agree that using the same predictable characters and cliches over and over again is just shitty storytelling. It’s boring and stupid and predictable. It’s unoriginal and it’s a waste of time. And then there’s Imperator Furiosa. This one armed, sharpshooting, liberator of the innocent and fully capable protagonist. This action hero. This completely original and instant cinematic legend. Who also happens to be a woman.

Mad Max: Fury Road is the reason why instant streaming and home theater will not kill the traditional cinematic experience. Ever. I don’t care how nice your setup is, there is nothing like falling in love and losing yourself to a fully realized film universe in public, where the lights come up, you exhale along with a few dozen strangers, and glance around with a dumb grin on your face as you realize you’re not alone with that joy. And that’s why we go to the movies, for the kind of escapism and thrill of discovery that Mad Max has erupting from every frame from the smallest details to the massive explosions and so that we can share that feeling with as many people as possible.

Obviously, I got into the politics of the film more than I would like but only after the fact. The truth is Mad Max engages the senses so effectively it’s hard to think about anything else while Max and Co. are careening around the Namibian desert. And contrary to a lot of tag lines, the film actually does slow down at one point and allow for a meditation on existence. Fight or flight. To be or not to be. If there is a wonderfully balletic quality to the action there is a simple but operatic quality to the story that touches on the ideas of hope and redemption in the implacable face of hopelessness and the unredeemable. It’s deceptively simple and exceedingly accessible, and in that way it feels timeless.

If there is any justice in the Universe or the beyond there is a theater wherever Ebert ended up. If it was Heaven, it’s an Alamo Draftouse. And if there is anyone I would want to grill on Day One in the afterlife (other than Bill Hicks) it would be at this very moment, Roger E. What did you see? How did it make you feel? What did you think? I think he would have been inspired and blown away. I think he would have found that awe you feel as a kid when you see the first movie that raises the hairs on the back of your neck refreshed in the way I did. And I think he would have appreciated and loved the dynamic between Max and Furiosa for what it really is: brilliant, authentic fun rather than a political cause. Even if it is, in its grounded disregard of gender tropes and absolute love of the medium, the right one.  

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Daredevil: Hero is a Not a Noun, It’s a Verb

Everyone needs to move on from this ‘binge-watching’ trend. The word “binge” is by definition unhealthy, it literally means ‘excessive and uncontrolled indulgence’ and it’s being misused in popular culture and advertising. I’ll admit this is a classic example of the pot calling the kettle black but let me clarify. Binge-watching, or as we used to call it marathon watching or some variation is primarily for TV shows with multiple seasons or a lighter format. You marathon Friends, or Scrubs, or Battlestar Galactica if you’re masochistic. What you don’t “binge” watch is a complex serial drama or a miniseries. Or anything with only one season. Especially not something like Daredevil or the first couple seasons of House of Cards or Bloodline if anyone would actually watch that. This is like going to an expensive restaurant, ordering a challenging, carefully prepared dish and wolfing it down like a drunk devouring an A1 Thick ‘n Hearty from Whataburger at three in the morning to my great shame. Their great shame, I mean. A hypothetical person. I don’t want to tell anyone how to live their lives but there is just something depressing about how quickly we consume media lately, I’ll include videogames in this cranky old man rant. Things that take years to produce and hundreds of people’s efforts are consumed like buttery nipple shots at bachelorette party. It’s a little depressing because those shots are gross and also there should be some time spent savoring good storytelling, character development, set design, cinematography, choreography, direction, etc. Not always, but sometimes. Which brings me to Daredevil

I’ve always been a die-hard Spider-Man fan. Well, ever since I was about 8 years old and the man who would become my stepfather made a sort of peace offering in the form of my very first comic book, The Amazing Spider-Man. I knew nothing about the comics and he picked me up a couple of issues, handed them over with a kind of knowing nod, and said, essentially, ‘Check this out’. And I was in. Peter Parker was my homie from that point on and I never looked back. I read and reread those books until they dissolved in my hands. I watched the films as an adult with a subdued optimism but the joy I’d found on the page was never really there and I’ve cooled on the Wallcrawler these recent years. 

Imagine my surprise to find Web Head usurped by Drew Goddard’s Daredevil. This is a big deal to a geek, it’s like changing political parties or coming out of the closet. Okay, maybe not that big of a deal. But it’s not easy to do and you tend to feel like you’re betraying your personal hero, albeit a fictitious one, and maybe the newest incarnation will win me back but until then, Matt Murdoch, blind attorney at law, takes top honors. 

What’s first so affecting about this show is how occupied the portrayal of Hell’s Kitchen feels. It’s dirty and rundown, barely held together and dark. There are no holographic computers or sexy cars. No space age weapons or fancy uniforms. Murdoch exists in the Marvel Universe but while the others are fighting aliens and billionaires or insurgent spy networks, The Man in the Mask is deep in the trenches. His hands are dirty, he’s at the ragged edge of civilized society defending poor old ladies and, forgive the language, beating the shit out of the real monsters. The kidnappers. The corrupt. The predators. All on their own turf. This is what made this show so thrilling to me, I kept wondering how Murdoch would fare against Captain America and the rest. He’s not super strong or invulnerable. He fights with his hands and a couple of sticks and when he takes a beating he takes a beating. You feel it. You see it the next day. Then I realized I wouldn’t care if he could run with The Avengers or not, he’s a bigger bad ass than all of them. Maybe he’s not saving the planet but he is, suited up in the red or as a lawyer, fighting to ensure the planet they’re struggling for is worth saving.   

Vincent D’onofrio as Kingpin is almost so well interpreted I have nothing to really add. It’s a clever approach to try and humanize the character and add depth to what would otherwise be a bland Big Bad. The flashback to his youth was particularly heartbreaking if a little truncated but it was effective in making me think, ah maybe he’s not such a bad guy. And then he was again but awarded an air of tragedy. 

The real fault with Daredevil is in the supporting characters, with the exception of Vondie Curtis-Hall, who wears more maturity and angst than the rest of the cast combined. He simply occupies the role with so much heartache I kept wanting the rest of the cast to just leave the guy alone. Other than that, Foggy and Karen were about as interesting as two supporting characters named Foggy and Karen.  

Matt Murdoch visits and takes counsel from a priest several times over the course of the story, he identifies as Catholic. There are conversations about self sacrifice and guilt, and whether or not murder is justified or if violence is an acceptable response to violence and it’s potential effect on a person’s soul, however archaic the idea seems in modern, atheistic-trending times. But, to me, there is something undeniably refreshing about that archaic sentiment, inasmuch as the term ‘archaic’ seems to hold negative connotation. Old fashioned is not always bad fashion. The word ‘guilt’ is not an epithet.  And doubt is not a bad thing when it comes to conviction or faith; it’s intrinsic. Without it you have fanaticism. Zealotry. The kind of thing that straps bombs to people’s chests. If that’s a little too heavy of a sentiment for a think piece on a comic book character, well, that’s what you get for binge-watching. But if you watch Daredevil and pace yourself you might have time to consider that even superheroes doubt themselves, possibly as often as the rest of us. That’s an important thing to remember and ask in the day to day, particularly in our recent, troubling times, Is this worth fighting for? And the great thing about superheroes, as we imagine them and how they inspire us, is how they answer: Yes. Suit up.