May 16, 2016
Mad Max: Fury Road (2015): A manly movie with badass women
Mad Max: Fury Road is an awesome movie… but you knew that already.
Seriously, if you haven’t seen it yet, you’ve probably at least heard the excellent word of mouth. This site alone already has three separate v-logs about how great and terrific this film is. What you’re currently reading is nothing more than the obligatory text review that must be written when a dark horse as popular and brilliant as this comes along and takes the inter-geek community by storm.
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I must confess, I haven’t actually seen a Mad Max movie before this (though I really want to check them out now); it’s always been on my “to watch” list, one of those classic movie action trilogies that sooner or later you feel you have to see just to find out what all the fuss is about. But given the impact those movies had on pop culture and the ultra-specific genre of “post-apocalyptic desert punk”, I kind of feel like I have seen those movies. I literally had a moment watching this film where I thought to myself “cool, this feels like a proper post-apocalyptic desert movie”, before realizing that my idea of “proper” was based on those films I hadn’t seen. Such has been their influence.
What I’m talking about is the balls-to-the-walls insanity of this movie. Max Rockatansky (Tom Hardy), a man we meet while he’s hallucinating the vengeful ghosts of all the people he failed to save in the previous films, is one of the sanest characters onscreen at any given time. Hell, if this is the kind of crazy world you had to survive in, you’d go mad as well.
Within ten minutes, we’re introduced to the Citadel and the cult of Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne, who played the villain Toecutter in the first Mad Max), a lunatic in a skull-themed ventilation mask. Joe leads an army of white-skinned, terminally ill “war boys” who he promises can enter “Valhalla” if they manage to earn a glorious death in battle (sometimes getting high on spray paint to perform a suicide attack: “Witness!”), but who otherwise must survive by abducting random wanderers as “blood banks” (Max is a universal donor, which we know because they forcefully tattoo this on his back five minutes in).
Joe keeps women captive for making babies and milk (yes, milk), and rides out to war with a flame-throwing guitarist (yep) and drummers alongside his son Rictus Erectus (ex-wrestler Nathan Jones) and allies known as the Bullet Farmer and the People Eater. His mission is to recapture his “Imperator” Furiosa (Charlize Theron), who’s rescued his rape-wives—Capable, The Dag, Cheedo (the Fragile), Toast (the Knowing), and his heavily-pregnant favorite Splendid Angharad—from the vault he kept them prisoner in.
Max is literally brought along for the ride by sickly war boy Hux (Nicholas Hoult), who hopes to earn his way into Valhalla trying to get them back with Max strapped to the front of his car while Hux pumps him for blood in the middle of a suicidal car chase, all the while screaming “What a lovely day!”
That’s more or less the first 15 minutes of the movie. There is little to no explanation for any of it; we, via Max, are dragged kicking and screaming into this ludicrously maniacal over-the-top story, and we have to piece together what’s going on from random bits of conversation, and the movie is all the better for it. The choice of “show, don’t tell” both adds to the craziness of this world, yet helps you immediately get absorbed into it.
But more to the point, after years of grittily “realistic” post-apocalyptic dramas (like five seasons of The Walking Dead, which I enjoy, but is depressing as hell), it’s nice and refreshing to see that just because the world came to an end doesn’t mean things aren’t going to get insanely over-the-top and interesting (or not be brown and desaturated… Color! Oh, I have missed you so!). It’s both a welcome return and a welcome change of place, like a nostalgic memory of the hellish yet rocking awesome future that we’ve all been promised. Armageddon has never looked this rock-and-roll before.
(I have since learned that there are plans to make prequels to this movie exploring the backstory of Furiosa and Immortan Joe and the other members of the Citadel; I’ve got pretty mixed feelings about that, since while every character in this movie is awesome and it’s a joy whenever anyone is onscreen… prequels are rarely a good idea, and a big part of the charm of this flick is very much the fact that most of the time we the audience don’t have a clue what the fuck is going on. George Miller, you’re a terrific writer and director, but… please, don’t.)
Notoriously, certain MRA-types had called for a boycott of this movie as feminist propaganda, because while Max is technically the main character, he’s really the supporting protagonist in his own story; the real star of the show is Furiosa and the plot is about her efforts to get the wives to the “Green Place”, an oasis of sorts in this desert world from where she was kidnapped as a child, with the wives themselves proactively helping her whenever they can. At about the third act, we’re introduced to a gang of badass (mostly elderly) amazon women called the Vuvalini as well.
Max gets lots of his own action, and the women would certainly have died without him (and vice versa), but he’s a gruff and mostly silent protagonist, and you could really replace him with any other generic action movie hero and get pretty much the same movie. We learn little about him (it helps, of course, that there are past and future movies about the character) and he isn’t forthcoming with details, and it’s not until after the finale that he bothers to answer Furiosa’s question from the first act: “What’s your name?”
And the above is really just a footnote in the history of this movie, because (to the best of my knowledge) even people who normally sympathize with or support MRA-type stuff, or otherwise have issues with the feminist movement, pretty much universally agree that this is a freakin’ brilliant, well-financed, modern-age ‘80s action movie and you should see it and see it again. In many ways, it’s the most manly film this year, and one of the most manly of the decade, what with all the car chases, explosions, blood, fighting, practical effects for once, and the already-mentioned-but-what-the-hell-it’s-awesome guy with a flamethrowing guitar.
Also, we get a blind man shooting and screaming into the darkened night about how he’s the hands of justice, while Mozart’s Requiem blares through the cinema speakers, because why the hell not?
It just so happens that this is a manly-ass manly movie that has a lot of badass women in it. And kudos to Miller for realizing that the best way to represent women onscreen is simply to put as many of them on the screen as possible until there are so many you have to treat them as characters (rather than female characters) and just let them do their own thing.
So yeah, if this is a feminist movie… more please. If it’s not… still more. There’s a ton of stuff to commend this film for beyond its feminist themes. The acting, the action, the camerawork, the music (the drummers and the flamethrowing guitarist actually play along to the movie’s soundtrack), and the effects (CGI is applied sparingly, but blends in where it’s used, like Furiosa’s half-practical/half-CG metal hand) all provide the movie with a certain level of substance and story, but at the same time, it doesn’t preach to the audience or distract from what everyone came to see: Two hours of Crazy-Awesome: The Movie. My one and only real complaint is that I wish there was more.
There’s so much I haven’t talked about, because this is a movie that you can’t really talk about. Mad Max: Fury Road is a movie-going experience, the kind of delicious film-fest that theaters were built for, and the best kind of nostalgia for those of us who grew up loving both big blockbusters and ‘80s and ‘90s action flicks. It takes the best of gritty and violent realism (director George Miller was previously an emergency room physician, so yes, the violence and first aid in this film are researched and accurate) and hammy, exciting, and utterly crazy over-the-top action movies and makes something beautiful out of them.
As of this writing, it currently has a 98% positive rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and if you judge a film by its Tomato-meter, this means this movie is objectively better than Schindler’s List. I mean, you can’t, and it isn’t, but it’s still a great film, you know?
In other words, I enjoyed this movie, and I think most of you would too, and there’s not much else I can add. Go and “Witness!” Fury Road if it sounds like your sort of thing. I doubt you’ll be disappointed.