World War II is still one of the most iconic eras in history in which to set films, even though the market is saturated with a wide range of fantastic movies looking at the different elements of the conflict. There is something about the drama and the importance of the time, the real evil of the Nazis and the human emotion of war that really lends itself to compelling films.
One of my favourites is Saving Private Ryan, one of Spielberg’s finest flicks, which follows the story of a squad of soldiers from the D-Day landings to a small village in France in their quest to find a young Private Ryan and send him home from the war. It manages to combine some stunning action sequences, interesting and believable characters and genuine emotion into a stylish and of-the-time movie.
Fury tries to do much of the same in every sense, but doesn’t quite pull it off as eloquently.
In Fury, the story follows the action of the crew members of the titular tank. Leader Don “Wardaddy” Collier (Brad Pitt) has seen his men through thick and thin from conflict in North Africa, France and Belgium and the group are now part of the final push on Berlin in April 1945. It’s a story that anyone familiar with the ins-and-outs of World War II will be able to relate to very quickly and isn’t a particularly involved plot by any means.
The style of the film was relatively faithful to the time, and it did make the war seem every bit as shocking as it was. Fury features many gory scenes of devastation, with masses of dead soldiers and visceral gun fights that really emphasise how terrible the situation was for those involved. It also includes some interesting historical throwbacks in the film, including the first actual German Tiger tank to be used in a feature since the 50s.
Being an action film as well, the film did have some very good set pieces. Fury gets involved in taking key German towns as well as fighting other tanks and taking on regiments of German soldiers. These set pieces were done well, with plenty of tension that showed the vulnerability of these people despite being behind tonnes of sheet metal.
It’s a shame that the best scene in the film is out of place. Around a third of the way through, the squad successfully reclaim a town from Nazis and celebrate their success. Don and Norman visit a German mother and daughter and take advantage of their hospitality, with Norman having a more intimate rendezvous with the daughter. The rest of the crew come in and harangue the Germans and Norman for entertainment, and seem to show a sense of antagonism towards Norman for not having fought with them at key battles in the past. This scene is only really interesting study of the characters as soldiers beside the typical fighting scenario, but it is even more conspicuous as a long scene in a film that doesn’t typically hang around. Its quality is overshadowed by the feeling that it was there to provide some sort of emotional context that wouldn’t have existed for the characters, specifically Norman, otherwise.
The fact that the film shares so many tropes with Spielberg’s classic was also a little disjointing. The squads in both films were almost identical; with the charismatic commander, Bible-toting gunman and nervous new soldier. It may be that these identikit characters appeal to audiences, and they certainly were good in Fury, but as I was watching I couldn’t help but shake the feeling that I’d seen it all before.
Even the ending shared similarities with Saving Private Ryan, with the group tasked with defending a crossroads against an eventual barrage of SS soldiers. It was a fitting end to the film, although compared to SPR it didn’t feel as though it was nearly as long a journey to that point to give as much a sense of drama.
For me Fury was a distinctly average film. Everything about it on the whole was generally good, and I enjoyed watching it enough, but nothing about it stood out as extraordinary or even decidedly memorable.
The best World War II films will stand the test of time and will forever show the dramatic side of the world’s most horrific conflict to new generations. Fury will not be one of them.