Why Mad Max: Fury Road Is Important
Mad Max. Mad fucking Max.
Mad Max: Fury Road is, quite possibly, the best film of 2015 so far. It’s fast-paced, stylised, post-apocalyptic wasteland awesomeness, with more than a peppering of 80’s-esque extremity dashed throughout. Performances are excellent all-round, characters have as many layers as they do leather jackets, and it’s a visual masterpiece — incredible stunt work, breathtaking landscapes, exceptional character design and imaginative grading combine to create a movie that is truly a marvel to behold.
Yet beneath all its visual mastery, beautiful score and out-and-out violent fun, Mad Max: Fury Road presents us with something so rarely seen in Hollywood…
Furiosa And The ‘Wives’
Furiosa and her band of women are, arguably, the strongest female characters we’ve had in film, perhaps ever. There is no forced romantic subplot. There are no damsel in distress moments, and none of them end up fridged. Characters fight and die, and are, all around, treated as equals.
Furiosa herself is a force to be reckoned with. Tough, confident and powerful, she not only out-thinks the vile overlord Immortan Joe, but successfully defeats him at the movies end. She lives through a near-fatal wound, a lifetime of abuse and what is, by all accounts, a tumultuous and distressing upbringing thus far. She absolutely commands the war rig, a vehicle packed to the brim with hidden weapons, which she not only drives, but also maintains with relative ease. Her metallic prosthetic only adds to her rough exterior and threatening attitude, and her command of the limb is nothing short of excellent — it’s almost an extension of her body, as opposed to an addition. Her war paint, taken from the grease of her war rig, is utterly perfect when combined with her shaved head. She’s a severe looking woman —— but that’s not all she is. She houses a delicacy, a vulnerability inevitable from decades of abuse at the hands of her captor. She often has tears in her eyes, a minuscule snapshot of a greater hope within her. When her dream of the “Green Place” is later scuppered, we’re treated to an absolutely devastating scene, Furiosa utterly stripped down to her barest, vulnerable and exhausted and despairing. It’s as difficult to watch as it is beautiful, and Theron’s performance, combined with the phenomenal landscape, make it a tear-jerking and incredibly memorable scene.
The ‘wives’ are equally interesting. Each one is unique in personality, fleshed out to an extent so rarely seen in ensemble pieces. The portrayal of typically ‘girly’ appearances teamed with the brutality of violence is also rather marvellous, given the often misplaced belief that ‘girly girls’ are somehow lesser than ‘tomboys’, that violence or a tough personality is only reserved for those with a more masculine exterior. To see that trope destroyed so excellently is truly wonderful. Beautiful women, with flowing hair and plump lips, brandish guns, knives and bolt cutters. They’re ready to fight, even on a moving war rig, any time a threat is present. The Splendid Angharad’s fights fiercely despite her pregnancy — name me another movie which features a heavily pregnant woman scaling a gas-guzzling behemoth of a vehicle!? Capable offers softness towards the troubled Nux. Cheedo The Fragile’s ultimate betrayal of the vile Rictus Erectus is a real fist-pump-the-air stand out moment. Each woman is unique, both in appearance and personality, and it’s so damn refreshing to see the ‘cookie-cutter tough woman’ look and personality thrown out the window (think Ellen Ripley and Pvt. Vasquez from the Alien franchise, Trudy Chacon in Avatar, etc,) for not only one character, but six.
The movie’s focus around these women is something utterly unique. I can’t think of another major film in recent years which centres around a group of women, especially those who team up with a man who helps them escape — a man who does not become the saviour, nor a martyr. Few modern films feature their female characters as such strong, unapologetic, fierce human beings, especially alongside a character like Max.
Max Rockastansky comes with his own set of vulnerabilities. On the outside, much like Furiosa, he is tough and threatening, but beneath it, there’s a deeply troubled and traumatised man. He’s haunted by the death of his child and wife (seen in Mad Max), and potentially the Qantas Boeing 747 survivors, (from Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome.) We’re only given snapshots of these, but its clear they haunt Max on a daily basis, enough to provoke PTSD-style flashbacks. To be presented with a male character who is not only rough and violent, but also troubled, is a breath of fresh air in a world of ‘tough guy action movies’ like Taken, Die Hard and the James Bond franchise. Instead, Max goes out of his way and risks his own life to help a group of women, perhaps with the intention of gaining some redemption from his distressing past losses. It would have been easy for Max to ultimately ‘save the day’, or even die for the cause, but instead, he simply aids Furiosa in her ultimate goal — overthrowing the terrible Immortan Joe.
They’re two characters almost entirely equal in their determination and intentions. Their initial distrust of one another reveals plenty about the troubles they’ve both faced independently, and the rough fight scene that follows between them is violent and gritty, fighting out of desperation rather than showmanship. The connection that eventually grows between them — a slow, satisfying build up of character development — is born out of two wronged human beings simply trying to survive, hoping for a little redemption along the way. It’s a fantastic relationship that grows, one that I can’t recall having seen done so perfectly prior to Fury Road. They learn to trust each other to an extent, open up to reveal a few of their cracks, but neither character is weakened by the relationship. There is also absolutely no romantic element — something incredibly refreshing after recent nonsensical movie pairings. By the end of the movie, when Max keeps Furiosa alive with his blood, it comes naturally. It’s a natural progression from their redemption-survival relationship.
Even Nux, who begins as one of Immortan Joe’s War Boys, is offered more depth that you’d initially expect. His character grows exponentially throughout the movie, ultimately ending in someone you now feel a degree of sympathy for — especially given the almost child-like sweetness in his relationship with Capable. It’s another male character who is more than the sum of his parts, both vulnerable and flawed, near-insane in his devotion to Immortan Joe and Valhalla. Even our supporting characters are given depth, in a movie that features guitar flamethrowers and exploding vehicles.
We’re treated to another unique moment towards the end of the movie. Furiosa and co arrive at their destination, the supposed “Green Place,” to find another group of women. All older, more weathered and clearly used to bumping off bad guys, (note their use of bait,) this amazing rag-tag team rock motorbikes and rifles like nobodies business. It’s particularly awesome to see a group of older ladies featured so prominently in the movie, and so full of bad-assdom. They all have individual skills, and more importantly, personalities. Each of them is unique, much like the ‘wives’, and only serves to increase the excellent female-centric cast.
An Action Movie With A Difference
Mad Max: Fury Road is an action movie, but it’s an action movie with a difference. We’re given strong women on an equal playing field to men, women who can fight without falling into trouble, women who absolutely hold their own. The women actually drive the movie, literally liberating Max from his cage and being the main focus of the story. As both a woman, and an action movie fan, it’s absolutely amazing. To also be treated to a Max Rockastansky who is equal parts tough guy and emotional wreck is an additional bonus — his slow character development is absolutely necessary for a long-running franchise. In Fury Road, we’re offered tiny snippets, and if this continues in future movies, we could truly wind up with a character slowly and properly developed — surely a first for what is, essentially, an action movie.
Mad Max: Fury Road is important. It excels in stunt work, visuals, performances, character design, character development and female representation. It takes the genre of ‘action movie’ and flips it on its head. We’re treated to everything we want from our action movies; explosions, guitar flamethrowers, ultra-violence, war rigs, car chases. But it also gives us things we never expected. Unique, amazing characters, crafted expertly. Beautiful set pieces, exceptional performances, incredible visuals (those black and white flashes in the storm scene? WOW,) strong women, strong men with flaws and emotion. Even Max’s near-escape at the start of the movie is shot distinctively, with a frantic, sped up effect. It’s a truly unique movie, which, in a world of remakes, sequels and reboots, is overwhelmingly refreshing. My kudos go out to every single person involved in the process of making Fury Road, especially given how long it took to come to fruition — it was beyond worth it.
Oh, what a day… What a lovely day!
Originally posted on Need To Consume in June 2015