HI, peeps! I’m currently on the road on another of my jaunts, and I somehow felt it apropos to post something about a road…though if you’ve seen this film, it’s not quite a road but rather a journey. One that involves a ton of car crashes, incredibly high speeds, scary people hopped up on the cult-like hold of a tyrannical leader, and badass women, but a journey nonetheless.
ALSO! SOME SPOILERS BELOW!
Now, for those not in the know, Fury Road (2015) is part of the post-apocalyptic world of the Mad Max franchise (I dunno; I’ve been feeling more post-apocalyptic/dystopic than usual these days…), which takes place in Australia following societal collapse due to resource shortage and war (generally understood as nuclear). So if you’re familiar with the Mad Max movies, you know that they’re premised on the idea that water and gasoline and other resources are super hard to come by, and people will chase you in various types of vehicles to acquire resources or mess with you.
The first three films included Max Max (1979); Mad Max 2: Road Warrior (1981); and Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome (1985). Mel Gibson played Max in these films (Max Rockatansky — there you go! Trivia!), and for the most part, the plot focused on Max as kind of a loner guy after societal collapse. He becomes that way because his wife and child were murdered by a vicious biker gang and he hunts them all down and kills them and then becomes a drifter through the Wasteland (Outback) where he kind of falls into helping pockets of survivors, usually who are being hassled and/or abused by some other survivors who are pretty much assholes. Initially, Max does it out of self-interest, but there’s still a tiny core of humanity left in this guy and he ends up helping for more altruistic reasons, too.
In other words, Max is an antihero, forced to become something he wasn’t in order to survive a brutal, violent, uncompromising world but somehow, he’s managed to maintain a bit of who he was. He’s the guy you want on your side in a fight because you know he’s good at it and he most likely won’t leave you behind, but you don’t want to hang out too much with him.
The films were created by George Miller and Byron Kennedy. Miller is an Australian film director, screenwriter, and producer (who is also a medical doctor). He also directed the 2006 animated film Happy Feet, for which he won an Oscar. Kennedy was an Australian film producer who died in 1983 after a helicopter crash. The third Mad Max film was dedicated to him.
Miller is also responsible for Fury Road, and that and Road Warrior have garnered accolades as two of the greatest action films ever made.
All right. So with that context in mind, let’s have a look at Fury Road, which is a bit of a departure from the usual Mad Max fare, but also fits neatly into its world. First, it was done 30 years after the last Mad Max film. Not for lack of trying. Miller started trying to make it in 1997. It was delayed 2001-2003 because of 9/11 and the war in Iraq, and then he went off to do other projects. Finally, it started filming in 2011 and though it wrapped in 2012, other footage was added in 2013 and it was released in 2015.
Here’s the trailer:
Like the other movies in the franchise, Max is in this film (played now by Tom Hardy), but his role in it is secondary at best. He’s more a catalyst for the primacy of the true strong character in this film, Imperator Furiosa, played by the astonishing Charlize Theron, whose character lost part of her left arm and thus uses a metal and leather prosthesis with a grabber for a hand. So calling it “Mad Max: Fury Road” is somewhat of a misnomer, because it seems to indicate that Max is the main character here. Think of the Mad Max tag as simply the branding for the franchise and not the character, as this is Furiosa’s movie.
The film opens with Max being captured by a band of so-called War Boys, who are minions of Immortan Joe, a tyrannical strongman who controls a segment of land and water. In addition to his minions, he also lords it over average people who cling to him because he offers the tyrant’s deal: protection and access (however limited) to resources like water. The Boys take Max back to Joe’s desert citadel, a place carved out of rock spires, and here it’s determined that he is a universal blood donor, meaning his blood type will serve anybody. This is quite a resource, and he becomes a “blood bag” for Nux, one of the War Boys who is sick (with what appears to be radiation sickness).
Meanwhile, Furiosa serves as one of Joe’s lieutenants, and she’s about to start out in a big rig on a mission to find more gasoline for Joe and his minions. Gasoline is absolutely critical in this world, because of the vastness of the landscape and the search for resources. Unbeknownst to Joe, Furiosa has a plot to escape from him and take five women with her. The women are part of Joe’s harem, selected specifically for breeding — a crucial aspect of this film is the role of sex and gender. More on that in a little bit. Anyway, one of the wives is already pregnant, which has its own set of complications. Furiosa has hidden the women in her rig, and she sets out ostensibly for gasoline, accompanied by a War Boy escort.
But soon, she goes off-route and it becomes apparent to the War Boys and Joe that she has taken the five women and is leaving him for good. He initiates a pursuit, of which Nux is a part, and Max is strapped to the front of Nux’s vehicle, still functioning as a blood bag. I mean, seriously. The tubes run from Max into the car into Nux.
Thus begins some of the most amazing car chase sequences in modern film (see link below, under #5). Once Furiosa is on her way, this film becomes a non-stop action/chase sequence, with Furiosa’s role front and center. Max does escape from Nux’s vehicle and ends up catching up to her. He tries to steal her rig, but to no avail and in his antihero way, he ends up helping her and the women as they attempt to escape to “The Green Place,” which Furiosa remembers from her childhood.
I’m not going to tell you much about this Green Place or whether they find it or not, because the film is focused more on Furiosa’s quest rather than the destination, and on the role the five women play in that quest.
What I loved about this film:
1. Charlize Theron. Did I mention Charlize Theron? OMG YOU GUYS CHARLIZE THERON. For those of us who have followed Theron’s career and the various and very different roles she has played over the years, this was a tour de force. As Imperator Furiosa, Theron is also an antihero of a sort, because she’s had to walk the boundary between serving as a minion among the War Boys for a tyrant but also remain true to her ultimate wish, which is to escape back to the place of her childhood and take a few women with her. She occupies a fascinating role in Joe’s world. She’s a woman, but not placed in the position of breeder or even gendered as subservient. We don’t know much about her backstory or why she’s granted a reprieve from the role women are forced to enact in Joe’s citadel. What we know is that she serves as a lieutenant, and he trusts her enough to make fuel runs in a big rig.
2. Furiosa and Max. I really enjoyed this relationship. First, it isn’t sexual, and that is so refreshing, though in the other movies in this franchise, there isn’t emphasis on Max and intimate relationships, which I really appreciate. Instead, Max negotiates relationships based on pragmatism and also his still-intact streak of humanity. Love and sex aren’t currency for him, or for Furiosa. So they forge a bond based on, first, mutual enemies: Joe and the War Boys and second, the realization that they can actually help each other, so they develop a sense of tentative trust and Max ends up engaging with Furiosa’s quest. Not necessarily because he likes her, but because he’d rather cast his lot with her and because he develops a sense of respect for her. Second, they both bring their skill sets to the table in dealing with the War Boys, and it’s a pleasure to watch them make decisions together on behalf of the people who travel with them — antiheroes they are, but both make sacrifices for others, which lends a really beautiful humanity to this whole shitstorm of a world.
3. Nux. I really enjoyed this character’s arc. Obviously, he begins as a minion of Joe’s who wants nothing more than to prove himself to Joe, to demonstrate his loyalty and gain Joe’s notice — Joe, to the War Boys, is basically a god. And to gain his favor is to gain a place in the afterlife. But somewhere along the way, Nux ends up disillusioned and in the company of Furiosa’s posse and we watch him come to understand a few things about himself and about Joe. His arc is an indictment of the cult of personality that defines Joe and how he maintains power; it demonstrates the corrupt core of an authoritarian regime that propped up a petty tyrant and, ultimately, the physical, spiritual, and emotional weaknesses of that regime. As this movie progresses, you come to like Nux, and you also come to understand how a man like Joe was able to sell his version of reality to so many people, leveraging the shortages and horrible difficulties of a post-apocalyptic world and ensuring — for a time — his hold on a tenuous hierarchy. Nux thus is also an antihero, but he seems to be more in touch with his humanity than Furiosa and Max, and we see that in the sacrifices he makes.
4. Grrl Power, y’all. Ultimately, this film has a theme in which Joe’s vision of how society should run is strongly gendered, and not in favor of women (Furiosa notwithstanding and she, too, is in service to the regime in her own way). But ultimately, Furiosa tears that shit down, and opens a can on the regime, with the help of the women with her — hence the feminism and grrl power. It’s not necessarily what she was planning on doing, but the events of the movie lead her there. Included in the final confrontations are a band of older women who are a motorcycle gang (the Vuvalini), who end up helping Furiosa and who provide a framework for how this plays out and what steps she will take with regard to her quest to find “the Green Place.” I’m not going to reveal much more of that, but suffice it to say that it was freaking awesome to see badass older women (in their 50s and up) as warriors in a movie.
As an aside, the older women in Mad Max — including Australian actress Melissa Jaffer, who is 78 — DID THEIR OWN STUNTS. Did you catch that? Good. Age ain’t nothin’ but a number, y’all.
5. Stunning visuals. I don’t think I can adequately capture with mere words the incredible camerawork in this film, and how it creates a strange, raw beauty out of the savagery of the car chases and the post-apocalyptic landscape, and of those who somehow manage to inhabit it. The stark emptiness of the topography is a juxtaposition with these weird, jerry-rigged vehicles and the people who look like they left a speed metal concert and headed directly to Burning Man. If for nothing else, watch this movie for the visuals.
Here. See for yourself. This is the first car chase, with Joe and some of his War Boys on the trail of Furiosa. You’ll notice Max chained to the front of Nux’s vehicle.
6. Pacing. Relentless. From the opening sequences of Max’s capture and the evidence of his internal demons and his tenuous hold on his sanity to the sprawling vehicular pursuits of Furiosa and her band of escapees — you won’t want to leave your seat no matter how bad you have to pee, and you won’t want to put it on pause because holy crap, YOU’RE RIGHT IN THE MIDDLE OF THIS CRAZY AND OMG YOU CAN’T LOOK AWAY WHO NEEDS TO PEE ANYWAY.
7. Characters. Everybody in this movie brought their A-game. Tom Hardy plays Max as a severely damaged but less cynical man than you might expect while Theron’s Furiosa is hard-edged and the leader we’ve all been looking for. Also, the way almost entire conversations are held without actually using dialogue is brilliant. The expressions and body language of the characters conveys more than words could, and it’s a testament to everybody engaged that spoken dialogue isn’t a major part of this film, and that you get entire stories through a glance or an expression.
The first time I saw this movie I loved it so much I went into the next showing. For reals. Twice in a damn row I saw this movie and even though I’ve watched it since, there are things I’m still picking up. And YES, I would have liked to have seen more POC in this movie as main characters or at least as more of the War Boys, because I think that kind of representation is important, and I’m not buying that only white people are left after an apocalypse. So maybe in the next Mad Max (will there be one? Let’s hope!) we’ll have more POC in the mix and maybe even a POC main character. Also: some people may find some aspects of this movie triggering, especially with regard to Joe and the lack of consent in his taking of wives though there are no overt sexual abuse scenes. If you have seen this movie and if perhaps I’m not catching something triggering, please let me know what it is in the comments. Thanks.
At any rate, if Miller decides to do another Mad Max film — and given what he did here — I’m going to have hope for POC as main characters.
In the meantime, do yourselves a favor and catch this flick for a kick-ass, heart-thumping, adrenaline-pumping, inner demon-shaking fist-raising ride.
It’s available on DVD and Blu-Ray through Netflix and you can stream it off Amazon Prime.
There you go. Happy trails and may the odds be ever in your favor.