Monday, 26 October 2015

Mad Max Fury Road: All Sound and Fury Signifying Nothing


I heard a lot of buzz about the new Mad Max film at FanExpo. A lot of fans were looking for Mad Max artwork and commissions, at least in my neck of the woods (ie. my Artist Alley isle). I heard that the critics gave it decent reviews, and that it had a strong female lead, unusual for a sci-fi action flick. So when I threw the disk in my Blue-Ray last night, I was excited. But despite some of the best CG car chase action you could ever imagine, and Charlize Theron looking decidedly one-armed and totally badass, the whole thing fell flat for me.


 By the end of the film, I was left wanting on many levels. There was simply no emotional hook for me with any of these characters, which ultimately made me not care what happened to them (a good thing I guess because !!!SPOILER ALERT!!! most of them died anyway in a variety of gruesome ways. Not Max though. He lived to grace another sequel.)

The movie should have been called "Furious Furiosa: Fury Road" because Charlize Theron was the only character I sort of cared about. And seriously, when your titular character ie. Max is a) not the protagonist and b) basically not even necessary to advance the plot -  you have a serious problem.

I do have to thank George Miller for giving me a text-book case of how not to engage your audience. I don't mean this in a rude way. I think he made a fantastic-looking movie. The action is superb and gripping because it's so over-the-top. But the movie illustrated to me (in a big light-bulb sort of moment) a number of things any storyteller should watch out for when trying to write a compelling story.


1)Don't confuse your audience over who the protagonist is. 

 

The movie is called Mad Max, so naturally I assumed he was the main character. He wasn't. He's more of an observer, swept up into situations he can't control, not moving the plot along at all. Furiosa, on the other hand, completely decided the story with her actions. She betrayed Immortan Joe and took his concubines, setting off the epic two-hour chase that ensues. If Max was the protagonist, it should have been him saving the concubines. And we should have seen his decision to save them on-screen.

2)An audience is engaged by a character's emotional evolution during the film.

 

The more extreme this change is, the better. A typical example is a slave (or loser, or idiot or whatever) overcoming an insurmountable conflict to become a hero or a king while simultaneously destroying a tyrant. This process of transformation is what drives the story.

Look at "The Godfather". Micheal (Al Pacino) begins the film on the sidelines, not in the 'family business', until he's forced to protect his family. He fights the other dons until it looks like he's beaten. Then in the final act he takes command of his father's business and orders the assassination of all his enemies. By the end, he's become the new don. For better or worse, his transformation engages us, and makes us root for him, even though he's a vicious murderer.

Max has zero emotional transformation, or at least it's so obscure as to be barely noticeable. His emotional transformation is equivalent to a nod and a grunt, epitomizing the male stoicism and one-dimensionality that is rampant in this film. Why he decides to help Furiosa, beyond simple survival, is a big question mark.


Furiosa is more interesting simply because she's shows signs of compassion, a positive emotion in a sea of sadistic brutality. The big problem is it's never clear why she decided to betray Immortan Joe and save the concubines in the first place, a detail the entire plot of the film rests upon. I guess it's obvious she felt sorry for the girls, or wanted to take revenge on the douche-bag Joe. But not showing this decision on-screen was a big mistake. Making the audience guess at a character's motivations is bad story-telling. Why did she want revenge? Because she was kidnapped as a child into Joe's army? Because Joe abused her? She was an "Imperator", or high-ranking officer. Wouldn't she have had a good life compared to the unwashed masses? Why betray Joe?

3)Don't setup something without some sort of payoff.

 

Throughout the film, Max has these visions of, uh, his family I guess? (could be characters from "Beyond Thunderdome" or something, but who they are is never explained). We're supposed to feel sorry for Max because he's haunted by the ghosts of people he couldn't save. Sadly, I felt nothing for Max because I didn't know who these characters were. His daughter? His niece? Who!? And by the end of the film, these visions proved pointless because they didn't compel Max to change. Like at all. The only thing they did was make him flinch enough to save himself from an arrow in the skull. Not a good payoff in my book.

Fury Road seems to have the structure of a good story: a lone hero is swept up into a conflict not his own, and through his acts of awesome bravery he takes down the tyrant king and saves the land. Sounds good on paper, but Fury Road missed a couple of key story-telling points that led to the plot ultimately falling flat.

So I take from "Mad Max: Fury Road" these lessons, and I hope to incorporate them into my own story-telling on "Heroes Rising". It certainly illustrated a couple of things in my own plot that needed attention, and I hope it makes my story that much stronger.

Stay tuned for more details on what's next for Heroes Rising!

G.S.










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