Mad Max: Fury Road

You don’t need me to tell you to go watch Mad Max: Fury Road. You have probably already seen it twice, and even if you didn’t you have likely read a dozen of glowing reviews. There is little I can say here that would change your mind about it. In a way this is probably the shortest and simplest movie review I have ever had to write. Which is why I’m about week late with publishing it. I have been trying to figure out what to say about it, but all that comes to mind is: “go see it”.

Mad Max: Fury Road

Mad Max: Fury Road Poster

Usually when I leave the theater I have a list of complaints about the movie I just saw, but when I was done watching Fury Road I had none. It is a perfect fusion on old school, 80’s era action cinema, modern special effects and stunt work and progressive, modern storytelling. It is a movie about women who overthrow a literal patriarchy told as an extended car chase scene. It has post-apocalyptic automobile mayhem, electric guitar flame throwers, larger than life villains, explosions and vibrant female protagonists who are neither background decoration, nor damsels to be rescued, but the actual heroic protagonists.

It’s is actually quite amusing that I have watched this film and Age of Ultron almost back to back in the span of two weeks. If you read my review you know that I was disappointed with the portrayal of Black Widow and Scarlett witch. Fury Road succeeds everywhere where the latest Avengers movie has failed me. George Miller takes all the stale sexist movie tropes and subverts them in new, exciting ways.

For example, Charleze Theron’s Imperator Furiosa is most definitely an “action chick” of sorts, but not in the same way as Black Widow is. When she fights, she does not strike sexy poses for the camera. She is not “movie beautiful” and she does not try to be. There is dignity and gravitas to her character that is absent from the portrayal of Black window, despite the fact both occupy the same action heroine role in their respective films. I mentioned this phenomenon of fight scenes and violence being depicted differently in my review of Pretty Deadly. Miller does it right: women are depicted as capable rather than sexy, effective rather than graceful. He specifically tries to avoid the male gaze, especially during combat.

In fact, Miller’s care not to sexulalize violence against women is especially topical, considering the ongoing media debate on this topic. If you have been online in the last week or so, you are probably painfully aware of the general disappointment at the way creators of Game of Thrones have been handling depictions of rape. Or the very fact that they keep injecting rape into their stories.

Mad Max: Fury Road offers an interesting counterpoint to those who claim that depictions of misogynistic, violent societies should include such scenes for the sake of realism and pathos. George Miler however proves that this argument is bullshit:

Miller does not need to show us that Immorten Joe’s wives have been sexually abused and enslaved. We already know what from the context. We can imagine the kind of trauma they might have went through without having to see it glamorized on the screen. Max believes their story and emphases with them without having to have witnessed it.

In fact, while Miller demonizes toxic masculinity by casting Imorten Joe as a literal patriarch and his War Boys as a destructive warrior cult, Max is held up as an example of positive, masculinity. Max does not mind being used as a sniper stand, because he knows Furiosa is a better marksman than him. He does not mind fighting henchmen to give her enough space so that she can take out the big bad. He never questions her competence just because of her gender. He treats the female protagonists as his equals. He never feels the need to save them from themselves. He never delivers a monologue telling them how things are in the “real world”. He trusts in their abilities, respects their judgment and recognizes their bravery. None of this diminishes his status as a action movie bad-ass or masculine hero. In fact, it makes him all the more relatable and likable. But despite being the titular protagonist, it is not really his story. It is Furiosa’s. She is the breakout star of the movie. male-action-hero

That, in itself is somewhat ground breaking. We don’t see this in Holywood that often. But Furiosa is even more than that.

Furiosa is disabled, but her disability is handled with the grace and subtlety that is rarely seen in Holywood, much less in the SF action genre. Her missing arm is never a plot point or subject of conversation. She is simply allowed to be, and none of the characters treat her differently because of her prosthesis.

You could write an entire essay on the many ways Furiosa is an amazing character. But if she was the only female protagonist in the movie Miller might have fallen in to the same tokenization traps as Whedon did. Instead, however, he wisely side-stepped those issues by making her only one of many varied female characters.

Mad Max: Fury Road is a summer blockbuster action film in which the main protagonists are disabled women, women of color, pregnant women and elderly women. I was especially overjoyed to see Melissa Jaffer (whom I haven’t really seen since the days of Farscape) cast as a tough, motor-bike riding, rifle shooting desert scavenger. I was even more impressed when I heard that she did her own stunts.

For these, and many other reasons, many critics hailed the film as a feminist triumph. Granted, not everyone agrees. There has been a lot of discussion whether it can be called a feminist film, and what makes film to be feminist. I already shared my thoughts on it in a Storify the other day so I will include it here, rather repeat myself:

Whether or not Mad Max: Fury Road is actually a feminist picture, it is still a fantastic movie with great characters, memorable action sequences and unique aesthetic. When I first heard they were making a new Mad Max movie I did not think I could get excited for it. The genre seemed overplayed and dated to me. George Miller however knocked it out of the park, proving not only that he can resurrect an old franchise in style. He made it clear that he can make modern, progressive movies better than folks half his age.

I hope that folks at Marvel are taking notes. This kind of movie making is what we need to see in 2018 when they finally give a solo film to Captain Marvel. After her stint as Furiosa, Theron should be a no-brainer pick for Carol Danvers.

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4 Responses to Mad Max: Fury Road

  1. Victoria Google Chrome Mac OS says:

    Well, I for one didn’t love the movie. It’s hard to explain why exactly but it wasn’t Mad Max, it was Fury Road. Of course, I only have child memories of the original movies, more an image in my head than an opinion.

    But despite being the titular protagonist, it is not really his story. It is Furiosa’s.

    That is my problem, probably. Don’t call it Mad Max then – he felt like a supporting character with annoying hallucinations.

    Furiosa was awesome and it was her movie. As I said, I am all for that, and I loved the fact that Charlize Theron, bold, dirty and with one hand, looked regal and imposing next to a bunch of models half her age.

    World details, cars, sand storms, pop culture turned religion – great. People covered in white paint against the sun – nice touch.

    The end was a tad silly for me, like Elysium – let’s open the water valves and let the greatest treasure in the world just turn to mud without knowing how much water is there or how it is being brought up so that the pipes run dry and we have a second round on our hands.

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  2. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Google Chrome Linux Terminalist says:

    @ Victoria:

    To be honest, Max was always kinda the supporting character in his own movies. The plot was usually: Max blunders into a situation he wants no part of, but he can’t make himself to walk away. So I didn’t really mind it. I kinda like the fact he wasn’t the heroic savior who swoops in to fix everything. He was an outsider who blunders into a situation beyond his control, and tries to help as much as he can to make things right. He was useful, instrumental, but he wasn’t the all powerful action hero. And I like that, because it is a nice subversion.

    Honestly, I wouldn’t mind seeing more action movies taking this route with their hero: make him strong, competent, interesting, but not all powerful. Make the final victory seem like a team effort rather than solo win for the hero.

    As for the water valves, yeah I kinda had the same reaction. But I think it was meant to be symbolic: Furiosa’s ascending to power meant end of the caste system, and redistribution of wealth. I kinda figured they would have to shut the water down eventually and start rationing it in the long run.

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  3. MagicMint Google Chrome Windows says:

    I’ve been thinking about this movie quite a bit over the past few week after seeing it. I think it is one of those rare, smart movies that come into being every once and a while and stir quite the interesting conversation across the ideological mine-field that is the Internet. Anyways, there are some well said points here. I do believe Anita Sarkeesian’s shrewd points are worth considering in the long run, but in the context of Fury Road, I think her observations were, I guess, too quick or too judgmental, avoiding any real engagement with the film. Of course Fury Road isn’t a perfect piece, but I believe that because it is generating such wonderful and stimulating conversation between thinkers on the Internet, it is a precious film that needs to be (cautiously) celebrated while being critiqued.

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