This opinions piece contains major spoilers for “Mad Max: Road Fury,” read at your own risk.
I have never seen a “Mad Max” movie, and when I heard that “Fury Road” was coming out soon, I didn’t give it much attention. Another day, another overblown action blockbuster. Yes, I would let Tom Hardy destroy me, but that’s not enough to sway me to spend on a movie ticket.
Then I heard that it had a Certified Fresh rating on RottenTomatoes of 99%, and that hard-to-please film critique site TheDissolve gave it five stars out of five — the only other film on TheDissolve that earned a full five-star rating for a new-release review was Spike Jonze’s “Her.”
Now things were starting to get a little interesting. I am, after all, your beloved Associate Arts & Entertainment Editor — these kinds of things make my heart beat a little faster.
Then the clincher. I was half-mindedly scrolling through tumblr while sitting in Aldrich Park when I saw a post with a link: “’Mad Max: Fury Road’ Draws the Ire of Men’s Rights Activists.” Count me the fuck in.
Directed by George Miller, “Fury Road” is the fourth installment in the “Mad Max” series beginning with the first in 1979, starring a then-unknown-all-around-terrible-person Mel Gibson as the titular Max Rockatansky.
“Fury Road” opens with with Max (Tom Hardy) quietly observing the desert, a wasteland since the destruction of civilization. He is captured by the War Boys, the barely-human army commanded by tyrannical cult leader Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne).
In the meantime, Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) is sent off by Immortan Joe with a heavily armored oil rig to collect gasoline from a distant town. When she veers off course, Joe realizes in horror that his Five Wives, beautiful women that were specially selected for breeding, have disappeared. Furiosa is taking them to freedom at their pleading.
Naturally, Joe sets off with his entire army in hot pursuit to reclaim his “treasures,” and Max becomes entangled in the whole thing.
Near the release of “Fury Road,” Aaron Clarey of ReturnofKings.com, “a blog for heterosexual, masculine men,” published an article entitled “Why You Should Not Go See Mad Max: Feminist Road,” which the article I mentioned above references. Boycott this feminist trash! Clarey screams, probably engulfed in a cloud of Axe.
In Clarey’s steaming refuse pile of an article, he writes that he is “angry about the extents Hollywood and the director of Fury Road went to trick [himself] and other men into seeing this movie [when it] is [a] vehicle by which they are guaranteed to force a lecture on feminism down your throat.”
Oh, and Clarey didn’t watch the film. This is all based on trailers and reviews he read for “Fury Road.”
“Charlize Theron sure talked a lot during the trailers, while I don’t think I’ve heard one line from Tom Hardy. And finally, Charlize Theron’s character barked orders to Mad Max. Nobody barks orders to Mad Max,” writes Clarey, likely dribbling Hot Pocket grease onto his lap as he typed.
Now, enough about Clarey and his Cheeto-dust stained fingers and onto the film. Honestly, based on the special effects and spectacular action sequences alone, the price of admission was worth it ten times over. But as Clarey feared, I can confirm that “Fury Road” was entirely centered on its cast of women and their strength.
When Joe scrambles to the beautiful prison he encased his Wives in only to discover it completely empty, the camera pans onto large white words scrawled by the wives onto the floors and the walls. “WE ARE NOT THINGS,” and “OUR BABIES WILL NOT BE WARLORDS” among them.
In post-apocalyptic action films, women are generally treated pretty shittily. Weak in the face of men who can easily overpower them, subjects of servitude, rape and abuse, too stupidly pathetic to be able to think properly in order to survive and navigate a dead world.
Not so in “Fury Road.” This is certainly Furiosa’s movie. She kicks more ass than Max, outsmarts him, makes heavier decisions and drives on with the fire of hope and compassion within her heart.
It is Furiosa who commands the gigantic armored rig; it is to Furiosa that Max relinquishes the final sniper bullet so that she can make the fatal shot that counts. It is Furiosa who convinces Max to join her quest and change his one-man-survival mindset to one that holds hope for the future.
Furiosa’s face is the last that Immortan Joe sees, and it is Furiosa’s name that is chanted in reverence and victory by the common people while Max slinks away quietly in the crowd, unnoticed by anyone because he knows that she rightly deserves the praise.
The Five Wives, who are beautiful beyond belief and definitely untrained in combat the way Furiosa is, could have easily been useless damsel-in-distress tropes. But Miller decided to flesh them out as survivors, not victims.
For one thing, the Wives are not introduced or seen until they are well out of Joe’s grasp. There is no tragedy porn here, no gratuitous extended scenes of torture or abuse at the hands of men, as Miller knows that the mere notion of sexual abuse is enough to make the audience recoil.
Miller actually flew Eve Ensler, who wrote “The Vagina Monologues,” out for a week to work with the actresses playing the Five Wives. Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, who plays Joe’s favorite wife Splendid, noted that they all did extensive research with Ensler in order to properly understand the mindset of sexually abused women, so that their characters would be “something more than just five beautiful girls.”
Indeed, the Wives operate under an entirely different kind of strength: mercy and love. They are inseparable, bound to one another in their shared trauma but look forward towards a brighter future. In a moment early on in the film, an act of mercy at the hands of the Wives leads to a pivotal action near the end. I’ll keep that one a mystery for you all.
Miller uses the Wives to portray the multifaceted nature of women, to redefine strength as something beyond physical prowess. What the Wives lack in warrior capabilities, they make up for through their skills in automechanics, medicine, their nature of heart and sacrifice among other things.
Whenever Max and Furiosa need help, the Wives step in any way they can. Whether it is helping move the large rig out of a muddy hole or clambering on the roof of a car driving at break-neck speed in order to hoist one of our falling main characters back into a stable position, the Wives are there.
At the film’s conclusion, it is heavily implied that they, along with Furiosa, will be the beginning of a new, more beautiful future. They will be mothers of a new era, focused on nurturing and growing in great contrast to Joe’s iron-foot oppression and obsessive glorification of death.
Though “Fury Road” has a few issues at hand, including (sigh.) the glaring lack of diversity in its cast of actors and what seems like pointless deaths of some badass female characters near the end for the sake of rousing emotion, this is something that is worth talking about.
Miller has introduced a notion that shouldn’t be radical, but sadly is: that action-films helmed by female characters can be done, and done well, and that people will enjoy them despite its shift from the usual machismo masturbatory session. That women in action films are not stupid pretty things to be commanded or used by men, but resources and keys to a more fulfilling film experience. Thank God there’s rumored to be four more of these.
Shannon Ho is a fourth-year English major. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.