I waited a couple of days after I saw Mad Max: Fury Road to do this write-up and I’m still not sure I’ve completely processed this movie.
Max, the titular character, is a former cop who lives in the wasteland that used to be some part of the planet Earth. At some point, the world fell apart leaving the world is a desert. Now people live in tribes fighting over gasoline (aka “guzzoline”) and water. Max lives on with his solitary instinct being to survive. He’s also haunted by the memories of those he lost and couldn’t save. Right at the outset of the movie Max is kidnapped by a group of paste-y white guys calling themselves “War Boys”. They take them back to a settlement that’s run by a tyrant named Immortan Joe.
Joe rules his tribe of people from atop a giant rock which he seems to refer to as the Citadel. He controls the town’s waterand keeps women enslaved as “breeders” (I think we all know what that means). So, in short, he’s a terrible person. It doesn’t help that he’s ugly and looks like the baby of a cracked out pro wrestler and an X-Games drop out. He sends out his War Boys to collect people, supplies, and weapons. On this particular day he sending out Imperator Furiosa, a woman who drives one of Joe’s war machines. In case you were wondering, “War Machines” seem to just be a giant tankers tricked out with weapons and places for people to stand. What Joe doesn’t know is that Furiosa is helping his breeders escape. When he finds out that he’s been betrayed, he takes his entire army of War Boys after Furiosa along with his allies from a couple of other towns.
Max has been tattooed and used as a blood bag because, apparently, Max is a universal donor. A war boy named Nux, happens to be using Max to get a transfusion when the order to go after Furiousa comes down. The War Boys have a warrior culture that’s kind of viking-esque. THey believe that there’s no better thing in life to die in battle and be “witnessed” by their fellow warriors. So, Nux would rather drive while getting a transfusion instead of sit on the sidelines and risk not being able to die in glorious battle. Nux has Max strapped to the hood of his car and takes him along for the ride. This starts one long chase scene that lasts for the rest of the movie.
Eventually, as you’d expect, Max gets free of the war boys and joins up with Furiosa and the breeders. Not necessarily because he wants to help them, but because they’re each other’s best chance to survive. They work together out of mutual self-interest to try and find a place that they can be safe from Immortan Joe. Furiosa plans to take the girls to a place she knows as the “green place”. Like with everything else in the movie, we don’t know a lot about the green place, but that plan does end up going sideways. When it does, Max proposes that they make the Citadel their new target. That means taking the fight to Immortan Joe. The girls agree to the fight and decide to gamble their lives on being able to take the warlord down.
This movie does not care about exposition at all. They try to do their entire set up in, I believe, under five minutes. In some ways, this is awesome because it means you don’t have to think or worry about being distracted from all of the crazy action that’s going on on the screen. However, if you’re like me, it means that you’re going to be distracted because you’re going to be thinking, “what is going on here”. If you do start thinking that way, you just have to tell yourself that it doesn’t matter what’s going on or why it’s going on and to just remember and enjoy what you’re seeing. There’s probably no better example of that than when Joe’s forces roll out and are accompanied by a vehicle stacked high with speakers and a mutilated guy playing a flaming guitar while being suspended from the speakers in mid air.
The action in this movie is mind-boggling to think about just because it’s happening while cars are constantly moving in this insane environment. These outrageous looking desert war machines seem like they almost shouldn’t be able to move, let alone be involved in a full on chase. Then there’s the way the environment looks, which you wouldn’t think would be impressive in a desert wasteland. But, you’d be wrong. There’s one scene in particular that looks impressive. When Furiosa leads Joe’s party into a huge sandstorm and it looks like something that comes from the wrath of God I actually thought to myself, “I have no idea how they even thought to make it look like this”. Later, we see a stark juxtaposition of the environments when Furiosa and Max drive through a swamp land. The environment is just as hazardous but is strikingly visually different from anyplace else that they’ve been. We don’t find out a lot about this world through words, but we learn a lot about what’s going on visually.
The action itself is also constant and violent, but not uncomfortable. There is actually a scene where they play on your expectation of how violent this movie will be. When Max first gets free he still finds himself chained to one of the War Boys. In an attempt to get free, he holds a shotgun up to the man’s arm and pulls the trigger, trying to shoot the arm off. I saw several people in the theater flinch or avert their eyes because they expected to see a man’s arm get blown off. Instead, the gun misfires and it’s played off as a comedic moment for the audience. The movie shows you that it’s trying to avoid violence for shock value with moments like that. Still we do see faces get ripped off, limbs get severed, and all manner of explosions and death. I really appreciated that the movie made those moments more palatable by weaving them into the action sequences and not something to shock the audience.
The most shocking thing to come out of this movie seems to have been the fact that this is not a movie that’s actually about Max. The lead character of this movie is Furiosa, played by Charlize Theron. Now, to be fair, it’s been posited that the Mad Max series is not a set of stories about Max per se. Instead it seems to be a set of stories about a legendary figure who appears at different points in time throughout the history of the world after it becomes a wasteland. So, from that standpoint, it makes sense that the main character in the story would be the person whose eyes the story of his being told through. For this story, that’s Furiosa, a character that will no-doubt stand out for being a strong female as well as an amputee. Furiosa is the exact kind of female character that I look for when people start complaining about how women are portrayed in media. My canned response is usually, “you don’t need a character that’s directly feminist or written to be a ‘strong female’. You just need GOOD/STRONG characters that just happen to be female”. Now, in the case of this movie, George Miller (the writer/director) has pointed out that the conflict necessitated that Furiosa be woman to avoid having two men fighting over women as property. You can see that that’s about as much consideration for being a woman that the character got too. Furiosa and Max don’t waste any time posturing, jockeying or arguing with each other about gender roles. They’re just trying to survive.
To be fair, I don’t think either one of them has more than five pages of dialogue in this whole movie. Even when they do speak, a lot of it is barely audible and almost sounds like grunts. Especially in the beginning of the movie, when Max has his face muzzled. (Side note: Tom Hardy should probably stop taking roles where his mouth is covered. Because it’s really hard to understand him.) Characters mostly speak through their actions and the audience is left to infer things about their personality through those actions and the few lines of dialogue that they do have. I’m not saying that any of this is bad, but it’s a very specific choice that this movie makes.
You still come away with some memorable characters despite that choice. Nux (Nicholas Hoult) as particularly notable as we got to see him as one of the crazed War Boys and as an actual human being later on. He has a complete existential struggle in this movie, despite not really be a being able to express himself past a high school level (and that’s being generous). The character’s lack of communication does, in some ways, help show the regression of society to the point we see it in Mad Max. We also see how childlike the War Boys actually are in their devotion to Joe and their understanding of the world around them. Similarly, the breeders or wives, whatever you want to call them, are almost childlike in some of their behaviors. I wouldn’t take that as a commentary on anything other than the fact that that’s what you would expect to people to happen to people who have been raised in captivity their whole lives basically. Even though he was a simpleton, I thought Nux stole the show as far as being one of the more compelling characters on the screen. He also delivers one of the movie’s more memorable lines with his “Oh what a day! What a lovely day!”.
Really, it’s hard to describe Mad Max in terms of any other movie that I’ve seen outside of the other mad Max movies. People are wanting to make a lot of the strong female leads or the fact that they’re fighting against a patriarchal society. However, there’s really not enough going on in this movie to try to pull anything too deep out of it. If you’re going to this movie to find some strong empowering female figure you might find it in Furiosa. However, most of what you find in this character will have to be filled in on your own because the movie is not going to do it for you. Much in the same way that few details are actually known about legends, this movie gives us the bare minimum of information about any of its characters. Instead they play their roles in this epic story and we’re left to infer a lot about their motivations and ideas. So, I would say don’t worry about any of that. Don’t worry about gender roles or societal commentary. Just sit back, relax, and enjoy the movie.