To kick this off, I would like to say that if we’re being completely honest here, Mad Max: Fury Road should really be called Mad Max: Furiosa Is Bae and Max Is Just Helping Out, for reasons which will become evident in due time.
Mad Max: Fury Road is technically a sequel to the 1970s series starring a young Mel Gibson in the titular role. The series (Mad Max, Mad Max 2, Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, etc.) is directed and co-written by George Miller. This reboot of sorts follows the story of Max Rockatansky (Tom Hardy), a loner with PTSD and severe survivor’s guilt due to losing his wife and daughter (semi-spoiler? The franchise is 30 years old, people). We the audience are given a brief rundown of his tragic past in the first few minutes of the film.
The story takes place in a post-apocalyptic Australia, where a tyrant named Immortan Joe has assumed power and taken control of all the resources, such as water and food. Immortan Joe is a particularly terrifying villain: ruthless, evil, and manipulative to the point of inspiring a suicidal devotion in his followers. Also under his dominion? Breeders, which is a fancy term for sex slaves masquerading as “wives.” Enter: Imperator Furiosa.
Played with mesmerizing gravitas by Charlize Theron, Furiosa is a fierce amputee who commands a War Rig, one of Immortan Joe’s “war machines,” which is an enormous big rig used to drive across the desert to abandoned cities to scavenge for supplies. Completely independent of Max, the story really gets underway when, instead of going out on her normal supply run, Furiosa uses the War Rig to spirit away Immortan Joe’s five beautiful young wives, who are desperate to be free of his sadism. They are quickly followed in ferocious pursuit by Immortan Joe and the wrath of his radical followers in what has to be the most insane road trip in cinematic history. Max then gets roped into the following chaos through a madcap series of events, and he ends up aiding Furiosa and the wives on their crusade for freedom.
Now I know what you’re thinking: This sounds wild. And it is. But what’s so great about this movie is that it’s exactly the opposite of whatever you’re expecting. Instead of mindless violence, what you end up with is a high-octane manifesto on humanity and freedom. Seriously, the resounding theme that echoes through the entire film is that people are not things.
It’s no accident that Mad Max, the title character, quietly meanders into the main action of the film instead of taking center stage. Max’s role in the film is one of support — aiding in Furiosa’s tale of redemption. This movie is incredible because it absolutely destroys tropes found in typical action movies. Rather than mindless explosions, action-driven plots, manpain, sex scenes, and gratuitous female nudity, we are treated to a character-driven action film that focuses on the humanity of all, not just the male hero. Rather than women being treated as inconvenient plot devices, sex objects, or useless dead weight, Fury Road gives them agency. It absolutely beats the Bechdel Test, the Sexy Lamp Test, and any other scale with which you can measure female presence in film.
Truthfully, this movie is for women in the way that so many action films are made for men. Fury Road allows women to have a central plot, agency, and drive. It allows them to be angry, resourceful, and entirely unconcerned with the male gaze. The refrain of “We Are Not Things” stands as a message to movie goers as well. These women are here to save themselves, and they don’t have time to be objectified. The fact that Tom Hardy’s titular character is actually the one in the traditional “female” sidelined role speaks volumes. Usually, women in action films (all films, really) are sidelined for the male character’s advancement, most often at the expense of their development and oftentimes their life. Charlize Theron along with Zoe Kravitz, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Riley Keough, Abbey Lee, Courtney Eaton, and the other women in this film challenge this to such an extreme that it’s almost unprecedented.
Inspiring egalitarianism aside, the film itself is a work of art. Director George Miller stated that he wanted this movie (filmed in the deserts of Namibia) to look different than the typical muted colors of the dystopian movies, resulting in a two-hour explosion of color and vibrancy. The editing is masterful, and the cinematography is at once sweeping and focused. The score matches the action seamlessly, and the makeup artists and set designers deserve every award the Academy can throw at them. This doesn’t even take into account the quiet competence of Hardy’s performance, the restrained rage and complexity of Theron’s Furiosa, and the indomitable determination of the wives — not to mention a host of fantastic side characters whose scarcity of speaking lines doesn’t detract from their charisma or importance to the storyline.
I’m going to be honest: I had zero interest in seeing this movie. I didn’t even watch a single trailer. That all changed, though, when I found out that “Men’s Rights Activists” and like-minded sexist douchebros returned from seeing the movie miffed that there were “so many women.” They purportedly felt tricked into seeing an action film that didn’t have women solely as mindless sex objects or plot devices. They were actually angry — really, honestly angry — that women, for once, were treated like normal human beings. After discovering this, I saw an afternoon showing the very next day.
What I’m trying to say is that Mad Max: Fury Road is an excellent movie. It unabashedly celebrates the realistic badassery of women and their triumph over a cruel, domineering patriarchy and never feels lesser for it. People are calling it a feminist triumph, and rightly so. It is a triumph. It’s a testament to the world at large that art can be incredible if you allow women in cinema to shine as brightly as they do in real life.
Revolutionary, I know.