I did warn you that this (mostly) weekly bit might not always be about books. And this time, it isn’t. I’m taking time out this week to gush about my newest obsession: Mad Max: Fury Road.
By now, I’m sure you’ve noticed that I’m drawn to dystopian settings like moths to a flame. I also love movies, and I’m also one of those people. That’s right; I’m a feminist.
Ahem. Anyway. I love dystopias; I love action flicks; and I love well-developed female characters who stand on their own, rely mostly on themselves, aren’t emotionally tied to a man, and don’t get knocked down a peg in the end thanks to their confidence and bravery.
So basically there aren’t many action movies for someone like me. I usually just take what I can get. I’ll admit, I liked Taken alright, but by the time they recycled the same old refrigerator woman tripe for the second and third films, then for films that had different names but were basically the same crap, I didn’t really like it anymore.
Basically, I’ve been limited to things like xXx, The Fast and The Furious franchise, and a smattering of other options here or there if I want to avoid sexual violence and various other disgusting uses of women as set dressing.
Then, along comes Mad Max: Fury Road, which I already expected I would like. I like the originals, though admittedly I haven’t seen them in ages. But this one promised me everything I wanted, and then more. Dystopias, hyperbole, cars and more cars, well-executed explosions (side-eyeing you, Michael Bay) and a woman who maybe looked like she might be heroic.
Then along came the article about Eve Ensler consulting with George Miller on feminism in the film, and suddenly I knew. This was going to redefine everything I’d come to expect about action films. Maybe about films in general. Either that, or it was going to be a horrible disappointment. But it wouldn’t be the first, so hey, what did it matter?
So on Sunday the Husband and I took his dad to see the movie.
It. Was. Amazing.
Of course, it wasn’t perfect, and I’m sure there are plenty of places you can go that will break down its faults. There could have (and should have) been more visible PoC, for starters, but overall the film was exquisite. An exercise in how movies of all genres, but specifically action films, should be.
So here goes the actual review. Spoilers abound. I mean, you really should just go see it at this point.
You don’t need to know much — if anything — about the first three movies, so if you’re a newcomer to the series or just haven’t watched the originals in awhile, you won’t be missing anything. There are so many unanswered questions in this film that you’ll leave wondering what the hell just happened whether you’ve seen them all or not. (For more on that, check out Chuck Wendig’s words over on terribleminds.)
The movie begins with some introspection via a voiceover from Max’s perspective, followed by Max jumping in his car and being chased by a pack of War Boys in cars I’ve had
dreams nightmares definitely dreams about. Yup, that’s right, it begins with a gasoline-soaked car chase, followed by Max being captured and tattooed, then almost getting free, then getting captured again and branded.
Essentially, the rest of the film consists of two more car chases. And I can see how you’d read that sentence and think, “wow, that sounds boring,” but you’d be really wrong, and how are we even friends? I don’t need that kind of negativity in my life, man.
Two more car chases, basically. But that boils it down to so much less than it is. There are explosions, yes, but they’re beautiful. There are cars the likes of which I never could have even hoped to design, cars that actually function as characters on their own, so much so that I could have literally written a well-developed thesis on the topic for my English program. I mean, look at this insanity:
So Furiosa, tied in damaging but unspecified ways to Immortan Joe, is supposed to drive her War Rig with a convoy of War Boys into Gastown, then the Bullet Farm. Those places provide exactly what you think they would. But she doesn’t go to Gastown; she veers off into “hostile territory” and quickly raises alarms at Immortan Joe’s base, the Citadel. Joe realizes she has made off with his prized possessions, which we learn are beautiful women he calls The Wives, kept holed away to birth healthy babies to eventually inherit Joe’s territory.
We learn pretty quickly that Furiosa is highly ranked and generally well-respected; it takes longer than it probably should for her accompanying War Boys to realize she’s gone rogue.
Max makes his way back into the plot when we find him at the Citadel, being used as a bloodbag for a dying War Boy. (Max is apparently O Negative.) The War Boy wants to join the fight to bring Furiosa and the Wives home, so he demands that Max be strapped to the hood of his car.
Ultimately, the assault on the War Rig is unsuccessful. Max and the War Boy named Nux survive, and Max tries to commandeer the War Rig to escape the second wave of Immortan Joe’s armies. He doesn’t get far. But the women let him join and Nux sneaks his way on board.
There’s a betrayal, Nux is discovered, and the crew meet up with Furiosa’s remaining family and learn her childhood home has been destroyed. Max pitches the women an idea to go back and take the Citadel, rather than going farther east, and Furiosa reluctantly agrees.
They head back. There is another chase, things explode, people die, people I really like, and then there’s an entirely unexpected wave of emotions that had no business being in the middle of all that fire and gas and blood. (Thanks, Nux.) (It was a beautiful moment, though.)
I can’t even begin to appropriately articulate how fantastic this movie is. One blogger whose original post I can’t find anymore said it made her realize she was grading action movies on a curve, and it brought me to the same realization. Oh well, it had one woman, so it’s okay I guess. Oh, well, the explosions were decent. Oh well, the story was mostly coherent.
Mad Max is gogogogogo from start to finish. I was catching my breath after the first chase sequence, not realizing I’d been holding it. I’m still not sure I blinked.
I feel like Miller used the cravings-machine from Hitchhikers’ Guide to determine exactly the action film I wanted, and then created it. The cars were like Frankenstein creations on steroids, but they were practical for the landscape, with every little detail put there to embody one or more of their priorities. Shiny. Deadly. Practical. Maximum damage, minimum weight.
Perhaps most importantly to me, we don’t need to see the sexual violence inflicted on the women. We don’t need to have spelled out whatever horrors Immortan Joe visited on Furiosa to understand that she is angry and apparently righteously so. We don’t need to see what happened to the surviving pregnant Wife to know that she struggles with her emotions toward the baby, and rightly so; or to see what happened to the Wife who wrestles with Stockholm Syndrome. The violence is not the story; the surviving it is.
We also get to see women who have character flaws and physical imperfections who are not vilified for such or taken down a peg because of them. We see women and men who work together but do not want or need to be romantically or sexually involved. We see a man who acknowledges a female for her capabilities, even when it means acknowledging his own shortcomings.
(And, as a woman who is an exceptionally good shot, that was a particularly satisfying scene.)
Was Mad Max: Fury Road the most over-the-top, theater-of-the-absurd film I’ve ever seen? Probably. Was it the best film I’ve ever seen? Oh, definitely. Without a doubt. It was fast and loud and hard-hitting and took no prisoners and I would watch it in place of every movie that ever gets released for the rest of my life, probably. It was what I imagine would happen if heavy metal music itself became a woman and had a baby with Salvador Dali which she breastfed on pure gasoline. If that sentence sounds absurd to you, I think you haven’t seen the movie yet.
Was it perfect? No. Nothing ever is. But it most definitely has raised the bar for action films, and, in my opinion, for films in general, and I’m genuinely excited to see other filmmakers try to reach this new lofty standard.