Title: Mad Max: Fury Road
Genre: Car Chase, Action Movie Perfection, Movies Perfect for Character and Gender Studies
Director: George Miller
Personal Rating: 10/10
I LIVE! I DIE! I LIVE AGAIN!
I am now embarrassed to say that I had originally assumed Mad Max: Fury Road would be a typical cliché summer blockbuster with an R-rating earned presumably for a stunning amount of gore and superfluous sex scenes. I had zero interest in seeing it. Then it was released. I skimmed through a few reviews and was surprised by the apparent lack of such mainstays, but wasn’t convinced I wanted to see it. Thankfully, a friend expressed interest in the film and I am now left with the horrifying thought that if he hadn’t, I might have missed one of the best action films of 2015, maybe even the past decade. Combining a robust soundtrack with stunning visuals, high-speed action, and a full cast of complex characters developed through the nuanced performances of stellar actors and actresses, Fury Road still has me starry-eyed and babbling days after watching.
Eponymous character “Mad” Max Rockatansky is portrayed by the incomparable Tom Hardy, who manages to perfectly capture “lost, broken, PTSD-affected, unsocialized survivor” through sparse sounds, fewer words, and amazing facial expressions and body language. Max has been alone so long that communication is a battle and trusting someone even more so, and the film, with redemption and freedom as major themes, is his odyssey towards identity and purpose. Hardy’s stumbling and out-of-sync line delivery (when he even has lines) drives home the characterization. In short, Hardy impresses.
Female co-lead Charlize Theron kicks butt as the intimidating, ever-prepared Furiosa, Imperator of the Citadel’s forces. Furiosa seeks a redemption of her own by smuggling Immortan Joe’s five slave-wives into a war rig and heading for “the green place,” the society she was kidnapped from as a child. Theron’s Furiosa embodies leadership, capable of enduring and making decisions under emotional and physical duress. When hope breaks, she takes her time to grieve and then continues on. Theron excels at finding the balance between expressing emotion and control, and she’s more than a match for any fight that comes her way.
Rounding out the main cast are Nux (Nicholas Hoult), a member of the car-worshipping death cult that serves as Joe’s army, antagonist Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne), and the five slave-wives (Zoe Kravitz, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Riley Keough, Abbey Lee, Courtney Eaton). Hoult’s turn as a frenzied fanatic, driving towards death with adrenaline and excitement in his veins, is both disturbing and thrilling to watch, while witnessing his defection and progressive disillusionment with his society can borderline on heartbreaking. The wives, though we don’t spend much time with them individually, are nonetheless a force to be reckoned with. One of the most powerful scenes in the film sees Joe taking aim at Furiosa while she drives, only for the pregnant Angharad to lean outside of the rig as a shield, anchored by the other wives, who are framed in the door and back windshield. The image gave me chills. As for the Immortan? Byrne pulls off “sadistic, tantrum-screaming dictator” with just the right amount of cruel disdain. Other notable characters include the Doof Warrior, who provides battle music with a flamethrowing electric guitar while wearing bright red pajamas, and the Vuvalini, a gang of aging biker ladies who scavenge the desert and kill anyone who tries to get in their way.
One of the biggest and most important discussions surrounding Fury Road relates to two simple questions: Is it feminist? If it is, what makes it so? The answer, to me, seems like an obvious yes. The entire plot revolves around a group of people seeking their personhood. Furiosa and the wives are chasing independence from a lifetime of servitude. Max is captured early on and used as a living bloodbag for Nux. He fights to escape his chains and for release from his own madness. They are not things, and they refuse to be treated as such. But the film’s strength as a feminist work stems from how the theme is handled. No character arc is treated as more important than the others. Max does not take the reins as de facto action leader hero-man. He does not “win the girl.” He does not make all the decisions and expect people to follow his direction.
What does happen is Furiosa and Max enter into a mutually beneficial partnership. And in this partnership, there is no removal of agency or questioning of skills. When Max is unable to make a sniper shot with limited ammo, he passes the gun to Furiosa because he knows she is the better sniper. Likewise, Furiosa trusts Max to have her back in a fight and cause enough ruckus to slow their pursuers down. There is no making decisions for each other. Furiosa offers Max a motorcycle when she heads across the salt with the wives and the Vuvalini. Max is free to decline. Max comes up with a plan to conquer the Citadel and presents it to Furiosa as an option. No demands or commands. Just discussion and support. And at the end, when the Citadel is won, Max accepts no accolades and simply fades into the crowd because the Citadel was never his fight. He is a loner and a vagrant whose fight is out on the road and in his own head; he doesn’t need or want the attention, and he knows Furiosa and the Vuvalini have everything well in hand. This is feminism in action. Mutual respect, support, and agency.
Fury Road is a refreshing addition to the canon of action movies. It contains all the explosions and fighting expected from the genre, but with a sensitivity for its characters that should be lauded. Plus a soundtrack I can’t wait to buy for road trips and visuals that I could watch for days. The contrast between the desert and swamp can induce goosebumps, and if the storm scene does not leave you on the verge of hyperventilation, you need to increase your admiration for weather phenomena.