Reviewing can be a sad business. While others are happy in simply enjoying a film, reviewers have to sit there and dissect and analyse and find holes. Because of such nitpicking, I rarely gush about a film since they all seem terribly flawed. Well, today you will read gushing. George Miller’s Mad Max: Fury Road is a visually magnificent, compelling, and a masterly actioner that everyone must go out and see.
Dystopias in Film
We have had a good amount of dystopic movie making in recent years, but the classic Mad Max films were forerunners of the genre and exemplars at that. Remember, dystopias in film tend to take two forms. Dystopias can be future worlds wherein totalitarian regimes develop societies of oppression and normally follow a rebel hero who fights for freedom (The Hunger Games, Divergent, 1984) or they can be about a world without civilization, asking what would happen if humanity returned to a chaotic state of nature (The Road, many zombie movies like Zombieland or 28 Days Later). Mad Max really takes from both traditions; while the Mad Max world is one regressed into a nature “red in tooth and claw,” Fury Road posits what would happen if a new male-dominated “civilization” was built up from the rubble.
From the beginning of the film, we know this is a savage world. In brilliant cinematic shorthand, Max (Tom Hardy) eats a live lizard and quickly gets picked up by skeletal warriors. Max is kept prisoner as a “blood bag,” a sort of health slave used for transfusing blood into injured fighters. He is brought to the Citadel, ruled by the Lobo-esque Immortal Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne), who represses the population by keeping a tight control on the water supply. The violent Joe sends a shipment of water out with one of his troop leaders, the Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron). However, Furiosa makse a detour, and Immortal Joe discovers that she has taken his harem of beautiful breeding women with her. A chase through the desert then ensues, with Max hitched up to a vehicle to keep feeding one of the injured warriors, enthusiastically pursuing the prized bevy. Max manages to escape his captors and joins Furiosa and her gang in their exodus to a green land of many mothers.
The Longest (and Best) Car Chase
If the idea of one long car chase rubs you up the wrong way, I sympathize. I normally fall asleep in the average Bond car chase. That Mad Max makes an exciting movie out of an action cliché exhibits the brilliance of the film making. It keeps you interested in the never ending action with fascinating characters, where even the smallest roles have personality, cartoon violence that is as amusing as it is stomach churning, a great musical score, and a visual vibrancy that keeps your eyes plastered to the screen.
It’s About a World, Not a Character Named Max
Complaints have been made that this is not a proper Mad Max movie because it primarily is not about Max, but about Furiousa. To some extent I agree; this movie is not about Mad Max the person, but Mad Max the world. After all with the first three films, we know all we need to know about Max, so I have no problem fleshing out the setting as opposed to the character in a fourth film. Despite having very few lines, Tom Hardy does well as Max; Hardy just knows how to effortlessly ooze cool, even when bloodied and battered. Theron puts in the bravura performance we should have seen in Aeon Flux. Furiosa is the kick-ass hero post-Lara Croft action fans want to see, strong but vulnerable, disabled but empowered none-the-less.
Patriarchy Brought Down
The films that critique authoritarianism usually present a hyperbolized version of whatever kind of authority it is they are criticizing, whether it be fascism, communism or theocracy. In Mad Max: Fury Road, the authoritarianism particularly and gloriously sent up is patriarchy, where a master morality of masculinity is developed to suppress all people. I have not seen patriarchy dealt with so explicitly in scifi since Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale was made into a film. Unlike that film, which was slow and uncinematic, Mad Max shows how feminist criticism can be presented in an exciting and action-filled way. This ideological underpinning has pissed off the so -called “men’s rights groups” who say feminism is destroying culture, trying to present women as unrealistically stronger than they really are and denigrating the natural leadership position that men should have.
Feminism Will Save the World
Feminism is not destroying our culture. In fact if it is generating such fantastic pieces of art and entertainment as Mad Max: Fury Road, then this goes more towards the suggestion that the diversity that feminism asks for is actually improving culture. May this film’s success bring on many more feminist action movies, and why not throw in a few more black and LGBT empowerment epics while we are at it!
Mad Max: Fury Road is showing in Cebu cinemas for a second weekend from May 22-24, 2015.