At least once a summer, a movie comes out that should’ve been the movie of the summer. It’s got action, A-List talent, compelling dialogue and an even better plot, it’s everything we want blockbuster films to be, and no one gives a fuck. Remember Dredd? It had a “Make a sequel” campaign that lasted for about a year and a half, that was until the studio said it would definitely never happen. Last year’s was “Edge of Tomorrow”, the Emily Blunt and Tom Cruise time travel vs. aliens film that was the first time Tom Cruise has been a joy to watch in a long time, and Emily Blunt should have her own movie kicking ass. It was marketed so poorly and landed with a thud in the box office. (Related: Tom Cruise makes a lot of these type of movies now) Every time this happens, we gnash our teeth like something is being taking away from us, being taken away from culture. But i’d argue that this is precisely how good movies become considered great. Mad Max – Fury Road is a sequel that comes a full thirty years after its most recent sequel, and it’s better for it.
You are probably unfamiliar with Mad Max as a character and series, but the entire post-apocalyptic film genre owes a debt to it, specifically the first sequel, Mad Max – The Road Warrior. It is as game changing for future visions of our world as Blade Runner, but whereas Blade Runner has mainstream acceptance, the Road Warrior despite critical acclaim upon its release, is a cult classic. This might be a good time to define a cult classic, and its importance to story telling. Cult Classics are films, books, etc, that have found a small but extremely dedicated fan following. These fans will always sing the praises of a movie, try to get as many people to watch it, and not understand when others ‘don’t get it’. These films are important, because the same type of person that becomes super passionate about loving some strange obscure work, are often the exact same type of person who is inspired to make their own work. Almost all creators will have some strange obsession with a piece of art that might be just a cult classic just to them. A fanbase of one. What this means is that the cult classics of yesterday, end up defining the mainstream of tomorrow.
Star Wars is probably the largest blockbuster franchise in history. It won’t ever be toppled. It can probably be argued that it created the blockbuster. But without George Lucas’ obsession with dime-novels and pulp fiction, combined with japanese samurai films and war movies, it wouldn’t exist. Separately, these were all niche interests, but combined they became game-changing. George Lucas was the ultimate nerd and made a movie that he wanted to see, and single handedly changed the landscape of pop-culture. That is the power of fandom, of creating cult classics. But Star Wars also illustrates their life cycle perfectly. Eventually the elements of cult classics become so dispersed throughout culture that their impact can no longer be felt. Star Wars chugs along on one of the largest nostalgia machines, still able to sweep up new fans with its momentum, but there hasn’t been any truly compelling Star Wars media since the third sequel was released in the eighties. Given enough time, the popularity of any cult classic kills it. It just becomes like any other movie. It becomes another franchise. It becomes forgettable.
That is why Mad Max – Fury Road must not get another sequel, it is why its a good thing if Mad Max – Fury Road does poorly at the box office. Its competition at the box office in the action genre are Avengers 2 – Age of Ultron and Furious 7 – both are mega franchises that have passed over a billion dollars each. Fury Road most likely won’t pass one billion dollars, but if it does, prepare for future nerd disappointment. Furious 7 is a successful franchise that reinvented itself to grow and continue, but now is at the end of its road. Its very likely Fast & Furious 8 will be the film that i will absolutely pan. The formula can only so far, but because of film economics, any successful franchise must be continued until it bombs. Consider the Marvel franchise, where its latest installment could finally clearly show that we aren’t watching movies anymore, we are supporting a kickstarter-type economic system to make more superhero movies. You aren’t paying to see Age of Ultron, you are paying to see Infinity Wars in 2019. It is a unique approach for the blockbuster in the 21st century, based on creating a cult like following in mainstream culture. Every blockbuster is now being modeled after the Marvel formula, and it is making us gluttons of empty calories. The artistry is gone, the actors going through the motions, swallowing up the time and energies of everyone involved. The machine is being reengineered to only make these kind of movies, those smaller films or bigger films that flop but deserved better are the sacrifices at the altar of FRANCHISE FILM.
If Fury Road passed a billion dollars, a sequel would be fast tracked and then a 2 part epic would be announced. Possibly an Imperator Furiosa sidequel. Then ten years after that, a tv series. A reboot somewhere in there if the sequel flops. Every thing you hate about Hollywood, everything you complain about, that is the price of success. We often say that box-office doesn’t matter, that the value of a film is determined on its own merits. But nerd-culture, which is now mainstream culture, can not abide by a low box-office. We demand MORE, always MORE! Then we hate the drug dealer for selling it to us. There is no reason why the Hobbit was 4 movies, except the consumer consumed them. There is no reason why Age of Ultron should exist, when its so clearly a filler episode of a very slowly produced television show, it is more appropiately titled “Avengers – Weekend with Ultrons”. I do not want another Fast & Furious sequel, i want the franchise to be over, especially after the death of Paul Walker. We live in a world where Simpsons is still on television, but no one knows anyone who’s watching. We are some kafka-esque fans. We want experiences to never end but we wish they only existed in memory.
Let Fury Road go, it is a beautiful film, it’ll get even better with time on its own. Probably impressive alone in how a plot is crafted around an almost non-stop car chase. The fim is virtuosic, every element is in perfect balance. The FX are in-camera, and not a cartoon of green screen garbage filling up every inch of visual real estate. Of the three action movies out this summer so far: Fury Road, Furious 7, Avengers: Age of Ultron, its the film where characters are punching at robots that aren’t there that fell the most flat. Movie-goers are getting bored by the over-reliance on computer generated effects. Real stunts, real machines and real explosions still get the biggest pop with the crowds. This is a film that proves that dramatic acting is not the only ‘good’ acting. These actors use their presence to tell the story, as there’s probably less than 20 minutes of on-screen dialogue. Charlize Theron plays the true hero of the film, Tom Hardy playing more of a supporting character as the title character, but it doesn’t even matter. Its what the movie needed to do, so it did it. Screw your expectations. Any expectations you had won’t even measure up. This movie could only exist on its own.
As a sequel, it delivers. But it’s not so much a sequel as just FURY ROAD. You need no knowledge of where it came from, you don’t need to know that all those desert-punk Burning Man cosplayers have been ripping off the genre these movies started in 1981. Whereas Furious 8 takes beautiful cars and watches them dance, Fury Road takes those cars, makes them fuck, irradiates them, smashes them into fire-breathing, spiked monsters and makes them fight. But there’s its distance from its ancestry, its isolation within the current action movie genre is why it stands out even more. This movie will inspire some kid to make movies, this movie will give someone ideas. Franchises make us turn our brains off, and open our wallets. Movies like Dredd, Edge of Tomorrow, Fury Road exist not to make copies of themselves, but to make better movies eventually. They leave behind a better legacy.
Think about how you felt when you watched Jurassic Park as a kid, now realize that no one anywhere will be inspired by Jurassic World, is that what you want from Fury Road?