Note: This piece and others like it are brought to you thanks in large part to The MovieBob Patreon.
The reviews are starting to hit for MAD MAX: FURY ROAD (I’m seeing it myself later today) and they’re pretty-much over the moon among the big online-presence critics: Faraci likes it, Tapley like it, the links to Drew McWeeny’s piece keep coming back broken but he’s apparently onboard, McCarthy likes it, Kohn likes it, Duralde is into it and Chang digs it. But much of the ecstasy comes (at least on social media) tempered by a certain amount of bittnerness: Film Twitter has been convinced that this is The New Hotness all year, and now it’s convinced that the film is going to “underperform” – in as much as action films generally need to open in first place now to be considered a “hit” by entertainment reporters, and FURY ROAD is tracking to open behind PITCH PERFECT 2 and maybe also (depending on who you ask) AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON in its third week.
The prospect of this makes me want to quit The Internet, my chosen vocation and the planet Earth for a month. Not because I’m going to be super-bummed about the film’s success – my “investment” in MAD MAX is that I want George Miller to keep getting big director gigs and it’s got cars and explosions, so it’s going to tear shit up at the China/Pan-Asia boxoffice regardless what it does here – but I’m already pre-tired of hearing about what the “failure” (cultural, not necessarily financial) “means.” An actioner equally beloved by “I remember REAL movies!” againg-boomer critics and Gen-X film-geek tastemakers eating it against a Girl Movie (“Eeeeeeew!”) about pop-music (“EEEEEEEWWWW!!!!!”) and the most-recent superhero entry? Welcome to Thinkpiece Hell. Yeech!
I almost want to play “movie journalism predictability bingo” with the results. Who’s going to be first out of the gate with “REAL MEN are OVER at the boxoffice!”? How soon do we get the counter-clickbait “Real Men are OVER at the boxoffice – good riddance!”? Who’ll be the champ of sniffing about arbitrary action-genre “cred” (“Pffff! Maybe they should’ve called it MARVEL’S Mad Max, eh?”)? Screw Bingo, maybe it’s time to invent Movie Critic Clue – I’ll take Jeff Wells in The Starbucks with “Hispanic party-elephants.”
Here’s what I’d like to know: If and when FURY ROAD “fails” to leap whatever stupidly high bar has been set for an R-rated reboot of a franchise that sputtered out back in ’85 and largely vanished under a sea of inferior knock-offs and endless present-era homages like DOOMSDAY (meanwhile, KINGSMEN, another “disappointment” has spun it’s modest-but-steady boxoffice placing into becoming one of the year’s biggest hits with a sequel on the way) and we’re all looking for someone to blame, is anyone going to point the finger at the guy who’s probably more responsible for this franchise not maintaining its once-thought garaunteed cultural capital…
Let’s not mince words: FURY ROAD’s “glorious” marketing campaign isn’t selling this movie to anyone who hasn’t been onboard since the pitch. It has TRON LEGACY’s trailers – zero plot (until Trailer #3), tons of mood and visuals, all hinged on “That you loved? It’s back!!!!” Fine, fair enough, it IS a nostalgia-reboot property, after all, and that’s big business right now. Want a likely big return? Sell Generation X it’s pre-High School viewing years back to it – and invite everyone younger who’s had to grow up with Gen-X tastemakers beating it into their skulls that This Stuff was The Best Stuff.
Except unlike STAR WARS, GHOSTBUSTERS, INDIANA JONES, ROCKY, RAMBO, STAR TREK, the Marvel canon, perennial “Give us a sequel!!!!” mainstays like GOONIES, MONSTER SQUAD, ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK, etc even BATMAN and SUPERMAN to a certain extent… the MAD MAX movies have not spent the last decade being re-enshrined, revisited and kept vital in the pop-consciousness. The dubious identifiers of what has and hasn’t “lasted” (in no particular order: routines by pop-reference comedians, FAMILY GUY cutaway parodies, YouTube/meme fixations, Lego revivals) have largely ignored it. Right now, Mad Max as a franchise/character probably has less nostalgia/recieved-nostalgia cache going for it than EVIL DEAD/ARMY OF DARKNESS, which doesn’t feel… right, if you remember how large it used to loom – and I sincerely think it’s all-but entirely due to the fact that the character/franchise is inextricably tied to Mel Gibson – an actor who has effectively poisoned everything associated with him to a genuinely stunning degree.
Ever since Gibson effectively came out as “mean-spirited, self-torturing, kinda-sad crazy” instead of “fun crazy” as was his earlier reputation during the making and release of PASSION OF THE CHRIST, he’s been on a cultural downward spiral that took most of his clout with it. PASSION’s percieved (by many, including me) eye-popping anti-semitism made him an industry pariah, which in turn meant he had no “cover” when a whole mess of other scary/unpleasant stuff hit the headlines about him between ’04 and recently. He’s basically been a joke that quickly became to depressing to keep telling for a solid decade; and I doubt it’s a coincidence that while damn near every other fragment of 80s pop-ephemera has gotten a reboot, a revival or at least endless positive reappraisal (do I need to remind you that Howard the Duck now counts as an applause-drawing cameo?) both MAD MAX and LETHAL WEAPON have been allowed to lie fallow?
Again, let’s talk turkey: ROCKY and RAMBO both got to come back (Rocky is even coming back again for the new spin-off, CREED) not necessarily because they or their respective subgenres were particularly relevant at the time, but because the names Rocky Balboa and John J. Rambo had been burned into the pop-consciousness even of people who never saw the originals as Important Institutions in the intervening years. “Mad” Max Rockatansky hasn’t had that luxury, his lot in the same amount of time has been: “Yeah, those were awesome. Too bad about Mel, huh?”
I hope the movie is good. It looks good. Hell, I’m cutting this a bit short so I can get on the train to go watch it. But if the now-expected “underperformance” (which really won’t be, since it’s rated R in May and this is 2015) happens, I wonder who else will look past slinging mud at PITCH PERFECT (“Fuckin’ feminized American Idol-watching Tumblrina millennial brats!!!!”) and/or geek-bloggers “in the tank” for the Marvel Machine (“Haw haw! Yeah, maybe we should tell the Nerd Herd there was a stinger about Max having the next one of those stupid rocks!”) to ask if Mad Mel should take the lion’s share of the lashings for kneecapping this franchise before it even ever got up to walk?
Like this piece? Want to read more like it? Please consider supporting The MovieBob Patreon.