How Tomorrowland’s Bottom Line Informed My Viewing of Mad Max: Fury Road

The clue is in the posters: relentless pessimism, destruction and chaos, "the future belongs to the mad", vs a calm and tranquil landscape shot of a place that inspires hope.
The clue is in the posters: relentless pessimism, destruction and chaos (“the future belongs to the mad”), vs a calm and tranquil landscape shot of a place that inspires hope.

(SPOILER WARNING for both films within.)

There’s something I need to get off my chest: I didn’t really like Mad Max: Fury Road.

I mean, it’s not bad, it’s got things to say, and it’s got very interesting dystopian world-building and strong characters with a visible story arc, which is all I look for in a film. By all accounts I should have loved it: on paper it is perfect. Yet there is something about George Miller’s aesthetic that never sat right with me; I keep coming back to the entirely ridiculous notion of a flame-throwing guitar which everyone I know describes as ‘totally awesome’, but my mind just can’t grasp why they’d waste so much gasoline when they’re literally killing each other over the last remaining scraps of it.

Plus it just looks ridiculous.

I mean, come on!

So, you know, I liked its essence, but not its execution. I found the half-hour desert car-chase scenes exhausting (though I suppose that could have been the point), and I would have loved more info on this world – on why they spray-paint their mouths chrome, on how Immortan Jones built his cult empire on distorted Norse lore, on who killed the world, on how Furiosa managed to “do this many times” and not get demoted, or tortured, or killed – instead of yet another car-chase scene set to the tune of flame-throwing guitars and automatic machine guns firing in the dark.

Most people seem okay with the loud and violent aspect of this movie. It’s why they give it 10 stars and praise its coolness. It’s all about strapping Max to the front of a car and driving through the desert doing death-defying carflips. Because why the hell not seems to be the motto for a lot of it. I’m just not on board with that kind of thinking, because I like story elements serving a purpose other than just ‘looking cool’. Call me old-fashioned or boring, but that’s the truth of it.

I watched Mad Max after a long day at work, and I came out of it feeling so exhausted and annoyed that I couldn’t just go home and have that movie be the last thing I did for the day. So I bought another ticket and headed straight into the next film playing at the cinema: Disney’s newest theme ride franchise venture, Tomorrowland: A World Beyond.

Tomorrowland_(film)_05

This film is everything Mad Max isn’t: it’s got jetpacks, and space travel, and the Eiffel Tower is revealed to be an old school rocket built by Tesla himself. Admittedly it’s a bit of a silly thing, written for pre-teens who are likely to bug their parents into going on a Disneyland holiday so they can go on the Tomorrowland ride. The script has very obvious pacing issues, and takes absolute ages to get to the point of it all. However, it plays on a theme that is timeless and ageless, which makes the film worth watching: the idea of science as this pure and wonderful trove of potential to be explored under the light of children’s relentless optimism. Couple that with a bit of stylised 1960s-design nostalgia, George Clooney as a cynical recluse and Brit Robertson as The Unwitting Hero, and you’ve got a good couple of hours of wonder on your hands. Silly, but wonderful.

tomorrowland

I can’t help but return to the film’s bottom line, uttered in Hugh Laurie’s New Era Speech towards the end of the film: that as a culture we have come to crave and consume negative thinking, that we would choose chaos and destruction over the possibility of a better future – as evidenced by our obsession with post-apocalyptic narratives in our video games, movies, and books. After two and a half hours of relentless desert car chase scenes coated by absolute misery (and not much hope left at the end of it), those words hit me right in the chest. Yes, I thought, that’s exactly it.

We do obsess over negative narratives, and Mad Max: Fury Road is a perfect example of it: reams of people leaving the cinema in absolute ecstasy after watching non-stop high octane sequences of constant catastrophe, chaos, and indeed, “madness”. One of the poster taglines for this film is “The future belongs to the mad”.

Well, if that isn’t a bleak view of the world, I don’t know what is.

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