In the desolate wasteland that is summer blockbusters, only the strongest survive; two challengers have risen to the top Avengers 2 and Mad Max: Fury Road. For our entertainment, they’ll battle against each other to see who is stronger.
I like both films, though was skeptical at first thanks to the huge amount of hype each generated. Though neither film really deeply questions the human experience in quiet-drama fashion, there’s a lot to be gained and analyzed in both. So, let’s compare these two explosive films using themes they both present.
In the Avengers 2, movie goers see a lot of the fun team play that was featured in the first film. And then some more. The action is so highly choreographed that it becomes sterilized at times. This dance-like battle does not evoke any strong emotion in audiences, and the knowledge that most of the super heroes would be fine doesn’t add any drama. Viewers are not driven to fear for the safety of these heroes. However, this comes with the comic book genre, one assumes that the heroes win and save the world at the end; we still go see them anyway. I cannot blame a film for being true to its form. The problem with the Avengers 2 is that the fights are fun, but only fun.
Meanwhile, Mad Max is frenetic. These scenes are obviously highly choreographed as well due to the amount of movement shown in each shot, but the grittiness and rampant death makes these scenes emotionally charged. No one character seems safe, as we see many die, most without ceremony. According to IMDB, over 80% of the effects in this film are real, meaning that they were achieved with stunt people, makeup, and actual explosions, which simply made it look better. The fight scenes are brutal and kinetic, which gives this film more tension.
Ahh, Black Widow. Many are upset by her back story, claiming that it undermines her “bad-ass” persona, but I would have to disagree. I cannot see her regret for not being able to be a mother as antithetical to her strong persona. A woman does not need to act like a man in order to be a strong character, and I was compelled by her back story. By the end of Avengers 2, I felt like I was closer to Black Widow as a character and liked to see her humanized. Without this bit of information about her past she would seem not to be a female character, but a action-robot with no regrets or motivation.
Meanwhile, Max doesn’t have a fully realized purpose and isn’t fit to be a protagonist, in the beginning of this film, which makes the character of Imperator Furiosa necessary. While Max is caught in a malaise, content to simply survive on lizards, Furiosa has a purpose. Max ends up helping her by happenstance, and her drive for redemption resonates with the titular character. By the end, we see Max as more than a mere dessert hobo but as a potential hero. Furiosa is a woman driven by her desire to go home to her clan of Amazonian warriors in a fertile land and to save those who she is able to rescue. She dedicates herself to the cause and risks her life to seek redemption for the backwards society she is party to. Not only is she a truly adapt warrior, but she also has moments of regret, loss, and vulnerability, making her a fully realized character.
I’m glad to see that the movie avoids making her relationship with Max a romantic one. Neither character seems to have time or desire for romance, and that makes sense. It is an irradiated desert wasteland, after all.
The Best part of the Avengers 2 is Ultron’s character. Voiced by a well-cast James Spader, this robot is terrifying because of his strength, intelligence, and childlike reactions. His all-or-nothing approach to the world’s problems is akin to that of an arrogant college sophomore, “The world is fucked, and there’s no way to save it.” He has moments of rational thinking bookended with moments of childlike rage and misunderstanding. His dialogue was by far the most compelling. Because he decides that saving the world is tantamount to destroying it, he achieves a level of ambiguity that makes him fun to watch.
The side plots add depth to the characters who may otherwise run the risk of being cartoons. I was both annoyed and excited to see the set-up begin for Avengers 3: Civil War. The hot Avenger-on-Avenger disagreements are neither surprising nor distracting, but perhaps too obvious. Meanwhile, Scarlet Witch and Quick Silver accrued the audience’s empathy quickly, and their eventual inclusion in the super team is natural. Meanwhile, the old Avengers are given cute quips to throw at each other in true Whedon style, and their relationships are fleshed out. Black Widow’s involvement with the Hulk seems appropriate, and I support the couple. Hawkeye gives some of the best lines and reveals that he has a personality, despite his status as the least favorite avenger.
Overall, the Ultron problem was a compelling one, and this proved to be a great example of a well-written super hero movie.
Mad Max has a very simple plot. Simple is not to me mistaken for bad, because with the gorgeous visuals and fast paced action scenes, there isn’t much room left for one. Imagine trying to remember names of places and characters like on Game of Thrones, but wedged in-between car chases and loud music. It just wouldn’t work. Furiosa wants to save the Warlord’s “breeders” from a terrible life and to go home. The sanctum is run by a madman who holds all of the resources in order to control the masses. This effectively set the tone as a classic battle between good and evil.
In Avengers 2, Ultron wants to save the world by destroying humanity. This isn’t a new plot, but is worth re-telling because it makes the audience address their own hand in the woes of the world. Violence and environmental destruction are by no means deescalating, so Ultron’s dilemma comes at a good time.
Mad Max also re-hashes old themes, namely that dictatorial governments are bad. There’s more nuance than that, Max and Furiosa fight for hope and the lives of those less powerful than them. This also make references environmental concerns, as the women ask “who killed the world?” implying that this post-apocalyptic landscape was caused by human hands.
Avengers really has to take a back seat to Mad Max in this department. Avengers looks acceptable and has some interesting shots, but Max is a work of art. It has a cohesive, precisely detailed aesthetic that runs throughout every aspect of the film. There doesn’t seem to be a single Hollywood production company involved, so that may be why. The singular vision of writer/director George Miller shines through and it is visual candy from beginning to end. One doesn’t often think of action flicks and art as being synonymous, and this might be one of the greatest accomplishments of this film.
Though Avengers 2 is fun, Mad Max is my favored of the two. The stylistic, raucous, intense film makes Avengers look like a Disney movie in comparison. What did you think? Let me know in the comments, below!
PS: I have a theory that Max is not just psychologically haunted by the death of his family, but he is actually ghost-ly haunted. I believe this because he is saved from taking an arrow to the brain by the young girl bopping him on the head, making him shield his face. If she is an actual ghost, meddling in his affairs, this makes perfect sense.