In the interest of complete honesty, the trailer for Mad Max: Fury Road filled me with Meh. It looked cool and explosion-y, and I have vaguely fond memories of seeing Mad Max movies on VHS, but that wasn’t enough. (Also, I generally have a hard time looking at Tom Hardy’s face and not seeing something that shouldn’t be there. Like how the Mockingjay pin resembles Johnny Bravo holding an arrow. Once you see it you can’t un-see it, so I’m not going to tell you what it is.)
As more details of the plot came out, my opinion didn’t change. A group of prized “wives” of a warlord attempt to escape, yadda, yadda. Pretty women attractively suffering or in peril are not a huge draw for me, mostly because those characters are usually not really characters but McGuffins and their suffering and abuse are often simply titillating set dressing. Not necessarily criticizing the display of pretty people in media—I watched an entire season of Legend of the Seeker for similar reasons.
Also, if you put aside all the social/feminist problems with rape scenes designed to titillate, it’s kind of been done. A LOT. It’s not even shocking anymore—to the point where I frequently feel embarrassed for the people responsible, though the lack of imagination and self-awareness that such things require is kind of impressive, in its way. They think they’re being “edgy” the same way every teenaged boy I knew in 1987 thought aviator glasses made him Tom Cruise.
Two things got me interested in seeing Mad Max: Fury Road–the pants-messing in misogynistic corners of the internet and the ecstatic reviews from everywhere else. The details of the Manosphere complaints have been extensively deconstructed in several places, most of them pointing out the mistaken references to the Australian Mad Max franchise being “American culture” and eel-like predatory fish. I won’t rehash all that here, but I will point you to Jezebel’s fantastic satirical take on a Meninist review:
They’re not wrong in saying that Mad Max: Fury Road is feminist, but I think they maybe don’t understand why it’s feminist. The really outstanding, revolutionary thing about Fury Road isn’t that there is a strong female character who moves the story along–we’ve had that before. It’s feminist because it has a mixture of male and female characters (read: more than one named female character with some importance to the plot other than as a prop) and because many of the women are fully realized characters. They are believable as people with motives and thoughts that are unique to each of them. Also, because there are so many different female characters, no single one of them feels like a stand-in for all women. So they can all be different and flawed and do or say things some women won’t like without the film as a whole seeming like it’s saying something very specific about all women.
They leave a message for Immortan Joe: “We are not things” and “Our babies will not be warlords”. They could just as easily not have said anything. Immortan Joe is a grotesque man covered in sores who can’t even breathe without help, and the audience would have had no trouble imagining that being in his harem would be really gross. But, no, they are defiant in their insistence that they are people, not things, and that they will have a say in the rearing of their children or die trying. It’s not necessary to the plot that they say those things–it was necessary to them. Their defiance makes them seem more like people and less like the property he insists they are.
This is just a small part of what makes this film so incredibly effective. Every part of the world has been thought through–even the props were constructed to function wherever possible. It’s a world that feels real and immersive, and was created mostly visually, through practical effects and nuanced performances. This is not a dialogue-heavy film. If you took all the words spoken in Fury Road and typed them, double spaced, you’d have less than thirty pages (I’m guessing, but…). Max’s dialogue alone might be two pages, including the opening voice over and various grunts. Characters don’t pop up and monologue to tell you their stories, but you still know who they are and why they act the way they do. The religion of the War Boys is consistent, and could easily produce people who behave the way they do. Without knowing all the details, I believed that they believed it.
Yes, Fury Road is one long car chase. It is also a triumph of visual storytelling. The experience of watching Mad Max: Fury Road has been compared to being run over while people shout at you, and that isn’t inaccurate. Everything is driven on relentlessly by the chase, but–thanks in large part to some truly magnificent performances–it tells a very human story.
There’s a long-running joke in my family, cribbed from MST3K at some point in the mists of time: “Action sequences filmed in confuse-o-vision”. Mad Max: Fury Road is NOT filmed in confuse-o-vision. The editing (by director George Miller’s spouse, Margaret Sixel) is seamless. I was never lost, even though there was often a LOT happening at once. Individual mileage may vary, of course, but I am almost old enough to be eligible for AARP membership. If I can follow what’s going on in Fury Road, so can you.
Mad Max: Fury Road manages to tell a very complex and interesting human story without excess jibber-jabber, all while blowing shit up in new and interesting ways. Also, OMG, War Guitarist!
Go see this movie in a theater—you don’t want to be squinting at the details on a home screen, even if you have an 80″ HD monster TV. It’s not only worth the theater experience–it requires it.