[Charlotte Mullin | Contributing Writer]
Sometimes, there are movies that completely absorb your entire being, making you forget that you’re actually inside a stuffy room with your feet stuck to popcorn-crusted floors and not an incredibly rich and new world. These movies are like pixie dust, few and far between; very rarely has a film made me feel like I’ve just participated in a life-changing experience, so unable to process my thoughts and emotions upon its end that I don’t even recoil at the sudden brightness of natural light when it was over. Mad Max: Fury Road is one of those films.
The fourth installment of George Miller’s franchise, Fury Road is the first Mad Max film in over thirty years, with the role of the titular character passing from Mel Gibson to Tom Hardy. As someone who wasn’t even aware of the franchise before entering the cinema (yes, I know, shame on me) I can safely vouch for the fact that you do not need a detailed understanding of the first three films to fully enjoy this one. Primarily, the focus is on new characters, following Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) as she attempts to flee from despicable warlord Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne) through a post-apocalyptic desert landscape, in order to find a new home with his five sex slave ‘Wives’ (Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Riley Keough, Zoȅ Kravitz, Abbey Lee and Courtney Eaton).
[All images: Warner Bros]
Now is the time to admit that writing this article poses an intense struggle for me, because it’s all I can do to not simply type ‘PLEASE SEE THIS MOVIE’ in 96 pt font and hit the submit button. This movie profoundly affected me on a very deep level, something I never thought an action flick could achieve. But perhaps this is a good starting point. Admittedly, I’ve never been a huge fan of action films. For me personally, they were just a few hours to shut off my brain and mindlessly watch some cool fight scenes – aesthetically satisfying but never emotionally effective. I couldn’t even tell if these movies were intended to even strike a solemn chord in the first place, and so I was a little baffled at the huge obsession with them, without totally knowing why. Coming out of Fury Road, however, with my adrenaline still surging, it all clicked: how this movie made me feel was how action movies made men feel.
Furiosa and female action stars
Think about it for a second. How many well-rounded female characters are there at the forefront of action films? Of course, you have Ellen Ripley and Sarah Connor, two of the most famous movie icons of the twentieth century. In recent years, our screens have featured the wonderful Katniss Everdeen and Lisbeth Salander. That’s about all that springs to mind immediately. The sad truth is that in an industry in which action-packed blockbusters are dutifully churned out every year (cough cough Fast and Furious) women are massively underrepresented. Attempts to depict women in these films usually result in a Faux Action Girl, who is only a Strong Badass in name rather than deed. In the midst of such repetitive tropes emerges Fury Road, which features no less than fourteen female protagonists, all with unique personalities and a powerful sense of agency, instead of being shoved aside to focus on the male lead’s development. At the forefront of this cavalcade is Furiosa, who is this generation’s answer to Ripley, and who will undoubtedly live on in cinematic history as one of the most iconic women of the action film genre.
A one-armed soldier, Furiosa is the most proficient shooter and fighter of the movie, more than an equal match for Max’s animalistic survival skills. But, in her strength, she is never reduced to a caricature of the typical masculine hero; she is never quiet and cold. Neither did she have a primarily male influence shaping her toughness, and she is not a tomboy who distances herself from her gender. Furiosa was raised by women. Furiosa is dedicated to saving women. All of her tenacity, all of her fortitude is because of women, and drawn from her own womanhood.
In the same vein, the Five Wives – despite escaping from sex slavery and wearing nothing more than strips of cloth – are never reduced to damsels in distress, and they certainly do not exist as satisfaction for the male gaze. In fact, although it depicts a rape narrative, this film never relies on gratuitous sexual violence or shock value in lieu of tasteful storytelling (COUGH COUGH, GAME OF THRONES). Instead, the Wives are the emotional force behind the film, utilising their femininity in a way that is just as important and strong as Furiosa’s punches. Seriously, girls, if you are seeking a film which finally represents what it means to be a woman, beyond relegated to a love interest or sidekick, look no further. This movie will make you feel ten feet tall.
It’s not all about the male protagonist
“But wait!” you say, “What about Max? This film is called Mad Max, not Mad Furiosa!” Yes, I hear your hypothetical protestations, and would kindly thank you not to interject. Of course Max’s storyline is of prominence. It just doesn’t detract from the magnificence of Furiosa and the Wives. In fact, Max’s storyline and growth couldn’t exist without them, whereas their plot and motivations can exist outside of him. It’s only by accompanying them on their journey does Max grow beyond the husk of a man that the post-apocalyptic wasteland had morphed him into.
In a refreshing change for action films, Max is a male protagonist who is allowed to be emotionally and physically vulnerable, something accentuated by his post-traumatic stress disorder, whilst simultaneously kicking ass like a scrappy beast. Although he doesn’t have many speaking lines (and those he does have are short and spoken in that patented Tom Hardy gruff, Bane-esque voice) Max’s character development is truly humbling, and the emotional climax of the film will have you biting back tears.
As wonderful as it is to have a score of well-written characters, that in itself isn’t enough to hold up a film without an engaging setting, and boy does this film deliver in that regard. Miller’s direction of cinematography in his exploration of the sweeping outback is absolutely gorgeous, bright and beautiful, demonstrating that dystopia doesn’t have to equate to complete and utter darkness. Surprise surprise, the audience actually likes to be able to see what’s going on. As well as being visually breathtaking in its burst of colour, the world of Mad Max is fundamentally, unequivocally, earth-shatteringly bonkers, an explosion of eccentricity and insanely dangerous stunts that seem to defy every single health and safety law around.
The Kamikrazy War Boys
Aiding Immortan Joe in his pursuit of Max, Furiosa and the Wives is his score of War Boys, who describe themselves as ‘Kamikrazy’ in their unrelenting worship of him. One such Boy is Nux, fantastically played by Nicholas Hoult, who is eager to prove his worth and enter Valhalla in the afterlife. As a result of this mass cultish quest for self-sacrifice, those in pursuit of the protagonists engage in unbelievably dangerous acts whilst fanging it in souped up vehicles. One War Boy hangs off the edge of a car while spitting gasoline into the vent. Several characters balance precariously off of twenty-foot high poles strapped to vans. Another is harnessed to a monster-truck with four drum players at the back, and continuously shreds a heavy metal guitar that also functions as a flamethrower. Oh, and he’s blindfolded. The best part of all of this? A majority of it is completely real. In fact, CGI is used sparingly, reserved primarily for erasing Theron’s arm and safety cables, or enhancing the landscape. Consequently, this results in some of the most impressive action sequences to ever grace the big screen. Not only is this film grandiose in its scale, but its authenticity adds a distinct richness to it that will completely blow you away.
Push all of these components together and you end up with two hours of non-stop action, which, coupled with an exquisite soundtrack, produces an unrelenting juggernaut packing just as much soul as it does punch. In all honesty, Mad Max: Fury Road has seriously raised the bar for action films to come. I sincerely doubt that anything will ever truly compare, but what I do know for sure is that you will remember it long after the drive back home.