Stephen David Miller

Startup cofounder, AI researcher, podcaster, person, etc.

Review: Mad Max: Fury Road

Everything tastes better covered in bacon, but the “best” restaurants don’t serve it by the pound. Why? Read any celebrity chef’s tell-all and compare guilty pleasures: a bucket of fried chicken, a spoonful of Ben and Jerry’s, a crispy grilled cheese with way too much butter. They know you want it and they know how to make it, but their job isn’t to give you what you already know you want. Paula Deen and a thousand post-last-call burrito joints have that market cornered. The best meal of your life won’t satisfy a pre-existing craving; it will invent a new one to haunt you. And in a world where bacon satisfies pretty much everything, newness demands restraint.

But what if bacon had more to say? What if you could make bacon be so uniquely bacon that its own excess became art? That’s the question George Miller poses with Mad Max: Fury Road…er, you know, figuratively. With a script that consists entirely of crescendos and a character palette whose primary colors are “evil”, “badass”, and “fire”, it has precisely one objective and it aims to maximize it: adrenaline. No narrative frills, few humanizing character arcs, nothing toned-back or off-limits. Just two hours of raw, frenetic, gleefully unrestrained mayhem that’s so much much it feels fresh.

John Wick taunted my need for subtlety and Furious 7 got me too drunk to care, but Fury Road is the first film in recent memory to flat out rebut it. With a unique visual lexicon and exquisite choreography that feels less like battle than deranged ballet, it’s hardly a “guilty pleasure.” Proudly unsubtle and viscerally pleasing, yes, but too damn good to be guilty. Some of that goodness is thematic. By sporting strong female leads who espouse a weak-shall-inherit-the-earth populism, it manages to one-up the Other Miller’s graphic aesthetic while inverting his garbage worldview. Charlize Theron rules the film with her non-iron fist, and Hardy’s just along for the ride — this is no 300-esque flex-off. But the film is 1% message and 99% chaos, and that chaos is really why it works. To borrow Chris’ comparison on the podcast, it’s a haunting fever dream a la Cirque du Soleil. You’re not quite sold on the “who”’s and “why”’s, but art lies in the motion.

It’s not my favorite film of the year, but Mad Max: Fury Road easily lives up to the hype.

See my review on Letterboxd