I walked out of Mad Max: Fury Road after barely an hour, which, judging by the uniformly-positive reaction everywhere to the film, puts me squarely in the role of Nancy Bellicec at the end of Body Snatchers. It’d be unfair to critique the film when I didn’t see all of it so I’m not going to, but I did think a lot about why I reacted so poorly towards it, when it’s objectively one of the best-realised films this year and a great example of its form.
This isn’t a question of film snobbery; I didn’t walk out because it wasn’t a black and white French-language film shot in a 4:3 aspect ratio 1. Much as I like a bit of haughty arthouse, I’m equally a fan of colourful dumb action flicks like Speed Racer, Pacific Rim and any number of grimy Ozploitation films including, like any right-thinking person, two-thirds of the original Mad Max trilogy.
What broke Fury Road for me was overexposure. Overexposure doesn’t necessarily ruin a film for me, but treating Fury Road in the same way as I might treat a typical Marvel film — as something to be eagerly picked over and torn apart as if it’s not so much a film as it is a hot rotisserie chicken — in this case left me with nothing. The problem is, nothing wears my enthusiasm down more than other people’s enthusiasm for the same thing.
Between the moment the film was released to the time I watched it — a space of maybe three weeks — there’d been a steady flow of Fury Road hype and noise. Take the flame-throwing guitarist: I hadn’t just seen him five or six times already in trailers but I’d seen a dozen people tweeting about him and retweeting other random people they could find praising him, I’d seen articles about how they pulled off the flame-throwing stunt for real, I’d seen the ‘parody’ Twitter account, the dedicated Tumblr, the fake Amazon customer reviews. I say ‘seen’ — I wasn’t actively seeking any of this out. I just became aware of it, through some sort of online osmosis. By the time I got to see him on an actual cinema screen, while people around me gasped in delight, I felt nothing but overfamiliarity.
This was true of the entire film. Before I’d even picked a day to watch it, I was aware of a Mens Rights Activist backlash because of the film’s purported Feminist agenda, I’d heard about the planned sequel and its title, I’d seen fan art and cosplay of Charlize Theron’s character. I’d seen the “Feminist Mad Max” Tumblr, joylessly regurgitating the jokes from the “Feminist Ryan Gosling” Tumblr. Even those who changed their Twitter handles to include the word “Imperator” were adding to the Fury Road noise, reminding me of the film even when they weren’t discussing it. This bombardment (and the boringly-predictable nature of so much of it) meant that I went in and wasn’t surprised or entertained by anything; instead it felt as if I’d already seen the film. While people near me were making vague noises of shock and wonderment, I was checking my watch.
I can’t blame anybody but myself. I’ve opted in to all of this, by choosing which websites to subscribe to, which people to follow on Twitter. It’s unfortunate that the all-or-nothing model of subscribing to a feed or following a person means I have to choose between accepting the occasional hysterical fangasm, or avoiding them entirely, good and bad. Until the technology exists to let me virtually shush someone I’ll have to just winnow my feeds a bit more ruthlessly.
Could I have appreciated Fury Road to the same extent as so many others? Probably not. Being the bitter, jaded husk of a man that I am, a film that’s so heavily weighted towards spectacle at the expense of character will struggle to engage me; I might appreciate the real-life stunts on a technical level but they’re not going to get my heart racing if I don’t know or care about the people involved in them. This isn’t a fault with the film. I don’t think it’s a fault with me. I mean, there’s only so many things I can enjoy.
But could I have appreciated Fury Road at all? Probably. Maybe not at the cinema, distracted and annoyed by the guy behind me mansplaining things to his date, and the guy in front of me who kept stretching his arm over the seat next to him and looking askance, but maybe at home, with headphones, pizza, a beer and a powerful need to drown out the world with exploding cars. With that in mind, I may revisit Fury Road in the future with better-managed expectations, but only after the rest of the internet has calmed down about it.
1. If you do like the idea of a grainy French film noir Mad Max, check out Luc Besson’s first film, The Last Battle ←