When I walked out of Mad Max: Fury Road last Thursday night, I had a lot of thoughts, but chief among was a refrain I’ve seen in the comments sections on several Mad Max reviews, and repeated over and over on Twitter: Fury Road completely blew away Avengers: Age of Ultron.
But it’s not just that Fury Road was a better movie. It’s what it represented. Yes, it was a very expensive movie with two very big stars in Tom Hardy and Charlize Theron. But for all the world-building; all the intense, non-stop action; and all the visceral violence, Fury Road felt minimalist in comparison to the franchise films we’ve with which we’ve become accustomed. There weren’t 12 superheroes battling it out for screentime, setting up future installments, and selling toys. Fury Road didn’t feel like a commercial for merchandise. It didn’t feel like part of a machine. It wasn’t about anticipating the next thing; it was about appreciating what’s in front of you without concerns for future installments, without concern for which character will be in the next film, and without concern for deciphering what Joss Whedon was trying to say underneath the layers of set pieces and exposition for future movies.
It feels ridiculous to say this about a $150 million summer blockbuster — and a sequel, no less — but Fury Road felt pure. I didn’t just like it more than Avengers: Age of Ultron — which I liked very much at the time — it made Age of Ultron feel irrelevant. It evaporated my interest in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It felt like “Smells Like Teen Spirit” in the wake of a decade of glam metal. It was transformative. I don’t want to hear another Bon Jovi power ballad! I want to hear raw, loud, messy noise, and I want to experience fear and exhilaration, and not just feel manipulated by the same three chords rearranged in a different order.
Maybe that feeling won’t last. It probably won’t last, because the Marvel and the Star Wars and the Jurassic World hype machines will eventually wipe away the gains of Mad Max. By summer’s end, it may all become a distant memory, and the great — but not historical — $44 million opening will become a footnote, and studios will continue to say, “Oh, sure! George Miller eventually doubled the budget, but Marvel movies quadruple the budget!”
But I really and truly hope that’s not the case. I hope that it’s a turning point. There is obviously still a place for Marvel movies, and I certainly look forward to taking my son to see them. But that’s what they feel like to me me now: Kid’s movies. I’ll watch them, and I will probably even enjoy them, but they won’t feel as rich and as meaningful as a two-hour road trip movie across the desert with 20 lines of dialogue.