I knew I’d watch Mad Max: Fury Road because I’d already seen all the other Mad Max movies — and, well, Tom Hardy. Hardy won my heart in Inception (him and JGL, anyway), so I’m always excited whenever he pops up in something I actually have interest in. Plus, my Twitter feed has been blowing up about this movie since it first came out, and I just knew I’d have to see it for myself. So, on Monday, I finally did.
The action. Oh, you guys . . . the action in this movie is godamn glorious.
The apocalypse is here, and it’s a desert wasteland full of murderers, mutations, and general insanity. Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne), the water-hoarding tyrant, is an abominable waste of human flesh, so Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) smuggles his five slave-wives out of the Citadel and is forced to team up with the titular Max (Tom Hardy), an escaped prisoner, in order to make their getaway. MAYHEM ENSUES.
1. I wanted to be properly attired for apocalyptic mayhem, but I also felt like shaving my head and slathering my face with war paint might be a bit much, so I settled for black lipstick and my favorite skull bloomers. Sadly, I did not think to get a picture of those skull bloomers, which is too bad because they really are fantastic. But, anyway, sister selfie!
2. I’ve only seen each Mad Max film once, and it’s been years since I’ve seen any of them. Nonetheless, here is a quick recap of my general impressions:
Mad Max – Dull. Very dull.
Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior – Lots of apocalyptic fun.
Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome – Amusing, in a dissociative, WTF sort of way.
(According to IMDb, there is no colon in Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome. And to think I gave Star Trek Into Darkness so much grief. Grief it rightly deserved, mind, because there absolutely should be a colon in that title, and in this one too. Failures, all of you.)
So, I know the original movies and enjoy the greater majority of them, but I’m also not a diehard fan. I figure we should probably get that out of the way now, considering the gigantic amount of internet rage and internet squee surrounding this movie. We’ll come back to some of that in a bit (boy, will we), but I just wanted to throw out there that if you haven’t seen any of the earlier films, I wouldn’t worry about watching them before Fury Road. I mean, you absolutely can, but you don’t need to: the whole sequel vs remake vs revisitation thing is murky anyway, and it’s not like there’s a ton of plot in this movie. All the backstory you really need is neatly summed up in the beginning.
3. Because, really, let’s be clear: Fury Road is pretty much one gorgeous, balls-to-the-wall insane, two-hour car chase of a movie.
If that doesn’t sound like your cup of tea, I don’t think you’re going to like this film. The action is near relentless, and if you’re a fan of the genre (as I am), then it’s pretty exhilarating. I had so much fun watching this. I’m pretty sure it’s my favorite movie I’ve seen in theater this year, not just because of all the big booms, but because they come without some of the more annoying conventions that the genre’s known for. (More on that in a bit.) But if car chases and explosions and crazy-awesome stunts just do little for you, then I’d imagine you’re only going to find all the non-stop action exhausting.
4. The cinematography and art direction really are stunning, though.
I didn’t really think about it until IMDb trivia pointed it out, but a lot of apocalypse movies feature muted colors, making everything look duller, dirtier, lifeless. That approach works for some films, but it also makes Fury Road’s explosion of bright blues and golds all that much more striking. For a movie that deals with some pretty ugly stuff (slavery, exploitation, senseless murder), it’s kind of a joyful film, partially because of the look and feel of the movie itself, and partially because of where the story goes.
5. But first, let’s talk about our two leads:
I like Tom Hardy in this, though I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that his wandering accent occasionally distracted me. He appears to be going for a gruff Mel Gibson imitation, which is kind of awesome, but at times seems a bit too over-the-top and honestly reminds me more of Bane than anything else. Still, I would HAPPILY watch more Mad Max movies with Tom Hardy. He doesn’t really say a whole lot, but somehow, he’s still compelling — although I suppose it’s fair to point out that I like a little insanity in my action heroes, and Max has just the right level of insanity for me.
Meanwhile, this is easily my favorite role of Charlize Theron’s to date because, up till now, I haven’t been her biggest fan. Which isn’t entirely fair because she’s a very well-respected actress, but she’s mostly respected for movies I haven’t seen. The ones I have seen tend to be terrible genre movies like Aeon Flux, Prometheus, and Snow White and the Huntsman. The poor quality of these movies is not always her fault (she actually does decently solid work in Prometheus work, I think, save one excruciating line), but sometimes . . . it’s a little her fault. (I’m holding my ground here: Kristen Stewart outacts Charlize Theron in Snow White and the Huntsman. That movie is terrible, but Theron’s performance is one of the worst things about it.)
But she’s awesome in this movie. Furiosa is badass and interesting and has her own agenda. She’s not tagging along on the hero’s mission — she is the hero on the mission. Maybe best of all, she and Max don’t have any kind of bullshit love connection. There’s no forced romance here, no long kisses or last minute declarations of love. At best, there are a few shared looks that could be interpreted as romantic — but the story never goes any further than that, which I deeply appreciate.
6. Which brings us to the ongoing feminism versus meninism debacle. (Shhh, little squiggly red line. I don’t like the word ‘meninism’, either, but we’re just going to go with it for now.)
So, many people have seen Fury Road as an unapologetically feminist film and have been extremely jazzed about it. For one thing, Mad Max and Imperator Furiosa probably share about 50/50 screen time. There are also a lot more than the 1-2 female characters you usually find in action movies. In fact, the male-to-female ratio is basically reversed.
Which means that when one of the women makes a pretty questionable decision, it feels more reflective of her particular character instead of, you know, the entire gender. Also, none of them are total damsels-in-distress. I mean, technically, five of them are damsels-in-distress, but in most action movies, they’d watch the hero fight the villain and maybe, if they were particularly plucky, throw something at the villain’s back at an opportune moment in the big climactic fight scene. Here, though, the slave-wives all play active parts in their own rescue. It’s kind of awesome.
Also, George Miller apparently consulted Eve Ensler (who wrote The Vagina Monologues) to improve the female characters. This, along with everything else I just mentioned, has certain men very upset. These men seem to feel that they’ve been tricked into watching feminist propaganda instead of the manly man’s action movie they were promised. One man called Imperator Furiosa an “impossible” character, presumably because she has better aim than Max and, simultaneously, a vagina? I don’t know — these people don’t make much sense to me, and I don’t care to try that much harder to understand them.
I suppose I could see people — particularly fans of the original film trilogy — feeling that the title hero of the movie should have more screen time than his co-star. I’m not at all concerned by this myself (in fact, I like the 50/50 structure), but I can see this being a legitimate complaint that sane, non-misogynists might have about the movie. (I would say, though, that while unusual, it’s not completely unprecedented for a title character to split a considerable amount of his screen time with another actor. Like Tim Burton’s Batman, for instance, where Jack Nicholson got WAY more screentime than Michael Keaton did. I feel like a lot of time is devoted to villains these days, which makes me wonder if people would be complaining so much if Max’s time was split evenly with Immortan Joe instead of Furiosa.)
So, where do I sit on this? Is Fury Road a Feminist Victory or an abomination caused by the PC police taking over the action genre?
Well, it can’t surprise you to know that I think the latter position is just ludicrous cause, you know, it IS. But yeah, as a woman who likes movies where shit gets blown up, I’m pretty happy with Fury Road. I’m happy because the action is fast and furious and primarily non-CGI, and I’m happy about the multiple female characters that actually get to do things.
Still, I mean . . . can we be real here? This shouldn’t be that high of a bar. Like, why is consulting with a feminist to make better female character so shocking and controversial anyway, when movies use consultants all the time. It’s not like there’s any outrage when a SF movie consults a scientist for a basic understanding of physics. If you want to know what happens in boot camp for your war movie, you go talk to someone who went to boot camp. These aren’t political decisions, just research done in the effort to make your film a better one — so why not consult a feminist if you want your female characters to be more interesting?
And I meant what I said — it’s awesome to see multiple women who actually do useful things. But let’s be clear here: these are all model-gorgeous women, most of whom are white and none of whom can possibly be above a size 6 (but who are actually probably between a 0-2). And yeah, they get to do useful things, but let’s not pretend they’re all fully developed characters or anything. At least on a first viewing, I can’t tell you any huge character differences between, say, The Dag and Toast the Knowing. (They do have the most interesting names, though.)
To the people who are angry about the PC-ness of this movie, I mean, Jesus Christ, you guys. George Miller didn’t reinvent the fucking wheel here. Everyone’s all excited because this movie gives women more to do than 99% of other action movies, but does that really say so much about how intentionally feminist this movie is, or how much the rest of the genre routinely fails when it comes to female characters?
Maybe I did myself a disservice by reading Rat Queens, Vol. 1 the night before I went to see Fury Road. When Rat Queens becomes a movie, THEN I’ll be like, “This is the feminist victory I was searching for!”
7. Finally, before Spoilers, I just want to clear up who the best character is. Because it’s not Max. It’s not even Furiosa.
Dude. Every time we went back to Guitar Guy, I automatically smiled. I love Guitar Guy. The next time I command hundreds of minions to chase down fugitives over a giant apocalyptic wasteland, I’m definitely bringing a musician for the road. After all, how does anyone get anything done without a little theme music?
Just a few additional notes:
8. My favorite moment of yay!feminism is when Max tries to make a shot, misses twice, and gives the gun to Furiosa, silently acknowledging that he can’t make the shot and letting her use his shoulder. On the off chance that you haven’t seen it yet, here is the pretty awesome ‘Hey Girl‘ tumblr which documents this moment, along with a few others.
9. I generally liked how Max’s insanity was handled.
It’s all in small flashes — there are no ridiculously extended sequences of Max talking to several miniature, rambunctious versions of himself or anything. (I’m looking at you, Captain Jack Sparrow.) It’s also not really resolved. Like, Max doesn’t have a moment at the end where he’s, like, “Well, I feel liked I Learned something, and now I’m not crazy anymore!” That worked for me.
10. Nicholas Hoult’s a lot of fun in this.
Going into the movie, I didn’t expect him to be a redemptive character, but once I figured that out, obviously I wasn’t surprised by his redemptive death. Still, his over-the-top crazy is pretty awesome, and I haven’t been able to get his godamn tagline out of my head all week. It just keeps echoing insistently in my brain: what a day, what a lovely day!
11. I will say, though, that if I were to find one of my pursuers hiding in a fetal position in the back of my rig, I would not show him mercy because he’s sick and been brainwashed by an evil tyrant all his life; I’d kick his ass to the curb (so to speak) for a third time. At the very least, I’d tell the other ladies up front, “Hey, look, what I found!” But this is what I was saying earlier: Capable’s compassion and rather abrupt kissy-kissy time with Nux annoys me a lot less because she isn’t the only woman in the whole movie. Her mercy isn’t the stereotypical sign of femininity that it would normally be (because I sure don’t believe the other slave-wives would have kept this guy around); it’s a sign of her character. That means a lot to me.
12. Of all the wives to kill, they kill the most obviously pregnant one. I feel like I should have been surprised by this, but wasn’t for some reason. Sad, though. I liked her well enough.
13. Finally, I really like that instead of finding some magical Green Place or searching the desert for a new hidey-hole, the gang ultimately circles back, takes out their oppressors, and reclaims their home, liberating it not just for them but for all the other people who’ve been terrorized and dehumanized by Immortan Joe. I wasn’t necessarily expecting that, and it made for perfect resolution, especially because it’s up to Max to come up with the (appropriately) crazy-ass plan and up to Furiosa to kill the shit out of Joe.
Oh, teamwork. These two are great together.
Max: “You know, hope is a mistake. If you don’t fix what’s broke, you’ll go insane.”
Toast: “What are you doing?”
The Dag: “Praying.”
Toast: “To who?”
The Dag: “Anyone who’s listening.”
Furiosa: “Out here, everything hurts.”
Ms. Giddy: “We are not things! We are not things!”
Max: “I am the one who runs from both the living and the dead.”
The Dag: “I thought he wasn’t insane anymore.”
Max: “You took my blood. Now you stole my fucking car.”
Pretty damn awesome. Not a lot of complaints about this one. Also, just because I forgot to mention it before, I really like the chain fight scene between Max, Furiosa, Nux, and all the slave-wives.
A- (Though I suspect this will go up with repeat viewings. I rarely give A’s to anything on the first watch.)
Hope can drive you wacky, but it can also push you to fight for the better future you deserve.