In case you’ve been under a rock somewhere, Mad Max: Fury Road is the latest (as of 2015) installment in George Miller’s Mad Max series of films.
Yes, I know it’s another movie. Yes, I know it’s post-apocalyptic. Yes, I know it doesn’t fit into the “pulp mold”, whatever that might be.
Here’s why you want to watch it from a storytelling perspective.
The stakes are clear. If Max doesn’t escape Immortan Joe and his War Boys, he’s going to be bled dry as a source of clean blood. If Furiosa and Immortan’s brides don’t escape, Furiosa will be killed (most likely), and the brides will be subjected to sex slave status until Joe dispenses with them at which point the best they can probably hope for is being used as a milk source. If Immortan doesn’t recapture Furiosa and the brides, his power is diminished both in a material way (loss of the War Rig) as well as from a social standing (he looks weak for having one of his chief lieutenants defect, as well as losing the status symbols of having his “brides”). As a tyrannical despot, Immortan didn’t get to be in power, and keep that power, by being the type of guy to let things slide.
The story is action driven. From the first chase through the desert where Max is captured, through the citadel when he tries to escape, down to the extended chase through the wasteland, Fury Road is driven by action and with all of the characters taking deliberate actions to move the story along. It is one of those rare stories where the villain is being forced to react to the actions of the protagonists. The story wouldn’t happen if Furiosa hadn’t stolen the rig and tried to escape with the brides. Everything Immortan Joe and his forces do in the scope of the movie is in reaction to that theft.
The storytelling techniques used are also inspired. There are no long infodumps. Miller shows enough to establish setting and character with a few visuals and lets the viewer do the heavy lifting with the rest. There is no voice over describing War Boy culture, and it doesn’t detract from the film. We don’t get much of Furiosa’s backstory other than the sense she has done terrible things in Immortan Joe’s service and this act of rebellion might be her way of seeking a redemption of sorts.
One of the ways that it does fit the classic pulp structure is that there is a clear sense of good and evil. From the character designs down, there is a clear sense of the sides everyone is on. Even Max, who ostensibly starts off as neutral (all he wants is his car back and to be on his way) quickly realizes who he is better off with as he sides with Furiosa despite the odds stacked against her. The actions of Immortan Joe (along with the Bullet Farmer and People Eater), might seem over the top and evil, but they never spill over the edge into the realm of making it hard to suspend disbelief. It is the type of story that wouldn’t feel out of place in a sword-and-sorcery setting, or even a retro sci-fi piece with some minor adjustments.
So if you are looking for inspiration for your own pulp stories, you can do a lot worse than looking toward Fury Road for inspiration.