‘Mad Max: Fury Road’: Feminist manifesto, or equal opportunity good time?

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George Miller amuses me. The man who brought us three ’80s post-apocalyptic films centering around the police-officer-turned-road-warrior Max Rockatansky (a man beaten down by life since the loss of his wife and child due to a rogue motorcycle gang!) has, in recent years, made children’s classics such as Babe and Happy Feet. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed these films (I watched Babe over a dozen times in middle school, not knowing then that the man who created a talking pig also created one of the greatest action heroes in film history). Clearly, George Miller is a man of many talents, but his greatest career achievement was creating Max, originally played by pre-Lethal Weapon Mel Gibson and now brilliantly portrayed by Tom Hardy in Max’s latest adventure, Mad Max: Fury Road.

From the opening scene, in which Max recalls a nuclear and gas war-filled past as he gazes into a dry, desolate landscape before being swooped up by a pack of pale, hairless heathens known as “War Boys,” Fury Road takes you on a rollercoaster that is so spectacularly and awesomely face melting that you’ll immediately want to pay another ticket price just to relive it again. The cinematography is beautiful–what a joy to look at!–and the action is beyond any featured in a summer blockbuster normally pumped out this time of the year. It’s just a bonkers extravaganza that lives up to something George Miller said in an interview: “When I was a kid, I used to love that feeling of walking out of the cinema and feeling like it being on a ride, that you want to go back on the ride.”

The plot is simple. Max is taken hostage by the War Boys, who are under the control of the relentless war lord Immortan Joe, who oversees the only real civilization for miles, the Citadel, with his complete control over water (funny story: Immortan Joe is played by Hugh Keays-Byrne, who coincidentally portrayed the murderous motorcycle gang leader in the original Mad Max). With his white mane and engine-esque face mask, Joe’s quite terrifying.

While Max is being used as a “blood bag” to strengthen Nicholas Hoult’s War Boy, Nux, Imperator Furiousa (Charlize Theron), a greased up, bald badass with a mechanical arm, prepares to lead a convoy to retrieve gas from a nearby town in a souped-up war rig. Once away from the Citadel, however, Furiousa changes course and Immortan Joe’s minions soon discover she has taken Joe’s five wives, who no longer wish to serve only as his breeders to create future warlords, with her.

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Now the insane chase is on, and when Max gets free and cautiously teams up with Furiousa in order to survive, it only gets crazier. Fury Road is non-stop action for the most part, and it has everything one could want in an action movie and a road movie combined. There’s a giant sandstorm with fire and lightning spewing from the skies, spiked vehicles and tires, and epic hand-to-hand combat sequences between not only Max and the War Boys, but Max and Furiousa as well, with chains and sand flying everywhere. There’s also a vehicle comprised only of rock instruments, drummers, and a blind fanatical man playing an electric guitar that spews fire from its tip.

George Miller doesn’t waste too much time with BS, a.k.a. trying to explain things that aren’t necessary. Some of the weirdest details of the movie are completely left open to interpretation, including Joe and the War Boys spray-painting teeth silver, random people dressed as giant birds on stilts walking through a blue wasteland, and the guy playing the fire-breathing guitar. He doesn’t take his audience for fools, and I appreciate that. I don’t need a five-minute sequence telling me why these people do the things they do. This is a post apocalyptic desert hell and they just want to survive. Showing is way more effective than telling.

I’ve read some claims that Fury Road is hollow, that some may not care about the characters or their plight. I didn’t find that to be the case. Max doesn’t speak a lot, but when he does, it is enough to get the point across. He is a hardened man, but there are scenes where you see the facade melt long enough to witness the man he once was, like a particular scene where Max tells Furiousa his name. The body language in the film is, for me at least, more than enough to make you feel empathy for everyone involved.

I’ve also read that this is a feminist film, because the female strength is so prominent. Furiousa is definitely one of the greatest female action heroes to come along in years, so much so you can count her in with Sarah Connor in Terminator and Ellen Ripley in Alien. We’ve had plenty of female action heroes in the past, but this one seems prevalent because Furiousa lives in a world dominated by men to the point where most women are kept as sex slaves. And yet, I do not feel as if George Miller set out to make a statement on feminism. I don’t believe it was something he originally had in his agenda. He set out to make a badass film no matter what, and he succeeded.
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In fact, there were times I wanted to know more about Furiousa, as she only mentions that she was taken from her family at a young age. I wanted to know how and why she lost her arm and came to use to mechanical one, and how she worked her way up to the only female in a leader position. But seeing as this film is doing so well at the box office, maybe my questions will be resolved in future installments?

Many have argued that this is Furiousa’s film, that her character is more prominent and her statement more important. However, I feel as if Max and Furiousa’s agendas are the same: surviving, no matter what the cost. This film is equal in every sense of the word, in that the females and the males never one up each other in any scene. There is a gang of women that Furiousa grew up with that help her and Max take over the Citadel, and, yes, some of them die in addition to the men, but that is the nature of the world. Especially in a post-apocalyptic landscape. Some of the wives of Immortan Joe are weak, and some of them are strong, but this is natural too. No matter the gender, we all have our differences, whether in terms of strength of body or strength of will.

Fury Road is one hell of a thrill ride, one for the ages in fact. This is a movie that will chew you up and spit you back out. I don’t think it needs to be looked into that much, reported on, or overanalyzed. I just think if you are a fan of any great action film, this one will take it to the next level and give you all that you’ve been waiting for. In fact, I haven’t been this satisfied with an action movie in years, to the point where I can’t even name a film off the top of my head that made me feel this way. I usually only get this much of an adrenaline rush while watching ’80s action flicks.

I honestly feel like George Miller is stuck in the ’80s. The editing, the cuts, are all reminiscent of an era long lost in film history. This movie blew my mind by being an absolute, raging assault on my senses, and I would definitely recommend it to anyone who wants to escape and have nothing but a good time for two hours.

A +

Images courtesy of Warner Bros.

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One response to “‘Mad Max: Fury Road’: Feminist manifesto, or equal opportunity good time?

  1. Mad Max: Fury Road as an “…equal opportunity good time…” Brilliant. Wish I thought of it.

    BTW: George Miller’s Babe: Pig in the City is the Citizen Kane of anthropomorphic movies.

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