Heads up, this post is going to be chock full of spoilers. Continue on at your own peril!
So I am fresh home from a lovely day out with friends which included seeing Mad Max: Fury Road at the cinema this afternoon, and I cannot NOT blog about this one. Holy crap what a movie! I don’t normally do review type posts for movies unless they have a distinct fat theme, but this is one that I just HAVE to write about.
I actually wasn’t going to see Fury Road at the cinema originally. I had seen the original trilogy back when they first came out but wasn’t particularly attached to them in any way. I remember the first one being extremely violent, and the third being kind of cheesy, but hadn’t given them much thought since then. I had been seeing bits and bobs about Fury Road in the media for some time, and while I was thrilled to see that Tom Hardy was cast as Max (he’s wonderful in everything), I am not really much of an action movie fan, so I wasn’t all that interested. But I’d seen some good press about it a while ago, some friends had really raved it was going to be great so I thought I might go and see it in the cinema, because it’s good to support the Australian film industry, but thought if I missed it, I wouldn’t be that bothered.
But then the “Men’s Rights Activists” started whining about it being “feminist propaganda” and I was INSTANTLY thinking “Oh sign me up for this one then!” Anything that pisses off the MRA’s can have my money, just for shits and giggles.
Before I go on, there is a lot of talk from all perspectives about Fury Road being a “feminist movie”. Now personally, I don’t believe there really is such thing as a “feminist movie”, short of perhaps a biopic about famous feminists or a story about the history of feminism. What most people really mean when they suggest a film is a “feminist movie” is that it either approaches the story from a woman’s perspective, or that it simply treats women as human beings with agency over themselves. I know, doesn’t take much to get that “feminist” label, does it?
What Mad Max: Fury Road is however, is 120 minutes of strap yourself in, hang on tight and try to remember to breathe occasionally top shelf cinema. Right from the beginning you are thrown in to some intense action and it barely lets up for the entire movie. I cannot remember the last time I saw a film that had me white knuckle, breath-holding, “Holy shit!” uttering engaged from beginning to end.
Now I must say, I am not normally an action movie fan. Mostly I find them boring, because while there are lots of jaw dropping stunts and big explosions, they usually lack good narrative and engaging characters. I need to be attached to at least one character and to feel like I’m being taken along in a story to be engaged in a film. Fury Road has got it all. Wild car chases, fire, big explosions, creepy villains, a flame-throwing guitar player strapped to a huge mobile stack of speakers, dust, desert, and punch ups… but it also has tenderness, courage, intelligence, kindness and a whole lot of heart.
Max is not a testosterone fueled hero. He is a man suffering obvious PTSD who is facing his greatest fear – of being captured and used as a living “blood bag”. His terror at being captured by Immortan Joe’s war boys is palpable. You feel his frantic attempts to free himself from the chains and mask the war boys have put him in. His only goal is to escape. It is not revenge, it is not a lust for blood, it is simply escape. Max isn’t even the protagonist of this film, even though it bears his name.
The true protagonist is the wonderfully named Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron). We don’t know all that much about her. She drives one of Immortan Joe’s (Hugh Keays-Byrne, who was in the original Mad Max film) war rigs (a big bloody truck). She has a prosthetic arm. She is marked with Joe’s brand, as are his war boys, a group of men bred and brainwashed as a kind of cannon fodder. We soon learn that she is liberating Joe’s five “war brides” – beautiful, fertile young women he has been keeping as his own personal sex slaves and breeding stock. Later we learn a little more about where she is from, but we never find out how she lost her arm, how she came to be part of Joe’s army. We can only guess at these things.
Personally I wondered if she may have either been one of his war brides once, or if she had once had the threat of being a war bride, but losing her arm had saved her from that fate?
Furiosa is badass. At no point are we led to believe that she is any less capable than Max – in fact, thanks to a scene where he fails to shoot The Bullet Farmer (Richard Carter) twice, and she takes the final, and successful, shot using Max as a rifle stand, we know that she is more capable at some things than Max is. Charlize Theron puts in a hell of a performance, fighting, driving, crawling all over a moving rig, shooting and generally just kicking arse, while also managing to convey a hell of a lot of emotion, and mostly wordlessly. We see her anger, her fear, her pain, her frustration, her worry clearly on her face. She cares about the war brides, and she cares about the Vuvalini, her own people, when they enter the story. At no point is she exacting revenge with her violence, merely seeking liberation for herself and the war brides. There is one moment that she comes close, but the war brides remind her of her promise to never to kill unnecessarily.
Which brings me to the war brides. These five beautiful women (played by Zoe Kravitz, Rose Huntington-Whitely, Riley Keough, Abbey Lee and Courtney Eaton) are the embodiment of perfection in this post apocalyptic world, sex slaves of Immortan Joe who has been keeping them in a kind of pampered captivity. These are five slim, beautiful young women who have been kept as pristine and special as any creature can be in this world. They are frightened and traumatised. However, not one of these young women could be called weak. Joe’s favourite, The Splendid Angharad (Huntington-Whitely) uses her pregnant body as a human shield, they are all handy with a weapon, and willingly fight and work to ensure their freedom.
I also need to mention here that quite a few people who have already written about this film have raised that it’s very much a white person’s film, and yes, it is predominantly white, but many have dismissed the ethnic backgrounds of Zoe Kravitz, Courtney Eaton and Megan Gale. There has been a lot of assumption that all of the women in this film are white… they are not. I also feel that whiteness has been used well – the evil villains could not get any whiter than they are in this film! The old white men are the bad guys (and they are truly repulsive, Keays-Byrne, Carter and John Howard as The People Eater – those nipple rings! – are all MEGA gross and creepy) using violent young white men as their henchmen. Would have been good to have some more people of colour on the good guys side to bolster that colonialist metaphor though.
One of the things I loved most about Fury Road was the complete lack of sexual/romantic connection Max has with any of the women. He respects them. He helps to protect them. He even shows tenderness to Furiosa when she is wounded, but it is in no way because of a romantic or sexual connection. He has spent the past days fighting by her side, and he clearly has respect for her and shows that in his gentleness in treating her wounds. She is not displayed as sexual, but as strong and brave. None of the women are subjected to the male gaze from Max or even from Nux (war boy turned rescuer, played by Nicholas Hoult, who manages to STILL look gorgeous while rail thin, bald, scarred and ultra-pallid). We as the audience are not invited to look at the women sexually except in the context of their vulnerability to the villain, but we don’t see them through his eyes, but we see them through Max’s. Even though there is a tenderness between Nux and Capable (Keough), it is an emotional tenderness, not sexual.
Even though Megan Gale as The Valkyrie (holy shit what an amazon that woman is!) has a nude scene, which at first I felt uncomfortable with, I realised that it was right to use her nakedness as “bait” – the Vuvalini only know that one of Imperon Joe’s war rigs is heading towards them – they have no way of knowing that it is Furiosa – what better way to bait Joe and his minions than with a “trapped”, beautiful, naked, young woman to distract them while the Vuvalini can ambush them. Incidentally, the Vuvalini are mostly badass biker grannies from what is left of a matriarchal society, the one which Furiosa originates from. She and The Valkyrie are the only young women of the Vuvalini left.
Badass biker grannies. I mean do you need anything more to entice you to see this movie? Plus, the only fat women in the film have a pivotal role in saving the day right at the end, which is pretty bloody awesome.
Look, this is an amazing film. Yes it’s a rollicking great action ride that takes you along with it and leaves you breathless by the end. But it’s also a beautifully shot film with tonnes of nuance from it’s cast. It’s a story of hope, freedom and the strength of women. Go see it.