Mad Max: Fury Road
Just another apocalyptic action film?
Two weeks ago, an antifeminist blogger received way too much media attention when he suggested that men shouldn’t see Mad Max: Fury Road because it was feminist propaganda disguised as an action flick (even though he hadn’t actually watched the film). That non-story gained a lot of traction among media outlets, but it really just gave a lot of press to a site that should have just been left to wallow in its own hatred. The question remains, however: is Mad Max: Fury Road really a shift in action film philosophy regarding gender roles? Well, not quite.
The women are more compassionate than their male counterparts, and are more resourceful, but they still resign themselves to practicing violence as their only course of survival.
Admittedly, I never saw the original Mad Max trilogy three decades ago, so I went into the resurrected franchise with no opinions, no baggage, and no knowledge of the past. All I knew was that the reviews were overwhelming positive—astonishingly so—and that Mel Gibson didn’t return to play the title character. Instead, Tom Hardy plays Max, a loner traveling the desolate and scorched Earth in a post-apocalyptic age. He is haunted by visions of vulnerable people he wasn’t able to save in his past.
Barely a few minutes into the film, warriors from cult town the Citadel capture Max and immediately torture him as a prisoner. Overlord Immortan Joe is the cult leader of the Citadel, whose main draw is an abundance of water and vegetation. Joe shares very little of his riches with the town’s impoverished inhabitants, who believe that Joe will bring them eternal life. When Joe discovers that one of his warriors has left the compound and has steered off course, all of his henchmen head out on pursuit.
Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) plays the rogue warrior, who turns out to be transporting five of Joe’s young wives to a new life in the village where she grew up, referred to as the “Green Place.” When Joe learns of the plan, he, his warriors, and leaders from nearby factions all pursue Furiosa. Max is brought along on the chase in order to supply blood, if necessary, to a “war boy,” someone who will gladly die in battle for Joe in order to become immortal.
It should come as no surprise that Max eventually escapes and meets up with Furiosa and her travelers. Max is interested only in his own escape and cares little for anyone else’s cause. Soon enough, however, Max and Furiosa are on the same side, fighting for their own version of survival and justice.
Furiosa is undoubtedly a strong character. She is the brains—and for the most part the brawn—of the operation. She matches Max punch for punch, a reflection of her resolve from years of living in captivity. Plucked from her homeland as a child, she has suffered through Joe’s regime, but earned his respect to become a trusted warrior. She is the only one of the main characters that seems to care about anyone other than herself for most of the movie. In the end, she is more valuable to the mission than Max. They need each other, but this is more guy-aids-girl-in-her-mission than guy-saves-girl-in-distress.
Furiosa’s homeland is an endangered matriarchal society on the outskirts of the desolate desert, where female wisdom prevails. So, yes, there are some feminist ideals that are refreshing to see in an action film. The women, however, willingly play into a violent society of kill-or-be-killed. They’re more compassionate than their male counterparts, and are more resourceful, but they still resign themselves to practicing violence as their only course of survival.
Strong female characters aside, Mad Max has every imaginable action-movie staple: fiery explosions, souped-up vehicles that chase each other until one explodes, and an arsenal weaponry that eventually, you know, explodes. It is essentially a two-hour chase scene full of blood, gore, and, yes, more explosions. Joe’s wives all look like stereotypical supermodels, scantily clad in white outfits. Yes, this shows that Joe is an oppressive misogynist, but it also adds one more piece of evidence that, despite its strong female lead, this film is more stereotypical than it wants you to believe.
Mad Max is the type of movie that will pique people’s interest because it is getting rave reviews from reputable publications. But if you don’t like the action-film genre, then Mad Max isn’t suddenly going to make you a convert; it won’t convince Helen Mirren fans to leave the art house theater, go to the Cineplex, put on 3-D glasses, and watch things explode. Furiosa is a welcome character, and for that Mad Max: Fury Road stands out slightly in the genre. But otherwise it is just another apocalyptic action film.
2.5 stars out of 4. Rated R for intense action and violence. It’s not a good date movie.