There’s not long to wait until Mad Max: Fury Road (dir. Miller, 2015) hits UK cinemas on May 14th, and recently there’s been an abundance of clips and interviews promoting the film. The original Mad Max films are probably my favourite trilogy, so obviously my expectations are high. I’ve been dissecting every bit of information that’s been released, in the hope of finding evidence that Fury Road will at least come close to living up to the legacy of the previous films. Here’s a summary of my hopes and fears, based upon the information I’ve gathered.
Both the previous sequels have expanded the saga’s existing themes, making them clearer and counteracting any possible misinterpretations. I’m hoping Fury Road will follow this tradition. Both criticised our capitalist society, and although in Mad Max 2 (dir. Miller, 1981) this message was confused due to the bad guys’ resemblance to countercultural figures, Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome (dir. Miller & Ogilvie, 1985) made its point clear by presenting the bad guys as operating within a hierarchical capitalist system. Fury Road looks set to do the same but offers to present an even more complex system, ruled by a corrupt leader, Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne).
GEORGE MILLER: “Immortan Joe, Hugh Keays-Byrne’s character, who is the warlord of the wasteland, he now has a citadel where he controls the water. And then he has Gas Town, that we see from a distance, which supplies the gas. And then there’s Bullet Farm, which supplies their munitions. So it’s an ecology, almost a hermetically sealed ecology. An economy and an ecology in a wasteland.”
Miller has also mentioned how Mad Max 2 was influenced by oil wars and that Fury Road will also present some topical criticisms of world powers fighting over resources.
GEORGE MILLER: “People effectively went to war for oil. We arguably have been fighting oil wars ever since. Now, in some places in the world, there are water wars.”
The Mad Max films have comprehensively taken a dim view of war, presenting them as being started by greedy leaderships that selfishly seek commodities and resources, but they have yet to offer a defined opinion of the military. Mad Max 2 hinted that the wicked Lord Humungus (Kjell Nilsson) was ex-military via his possession of a military gun and case, and Miller has revealed a little about his origins.
GEORGE MILLER: “Humungus had been some kind of military man who’d been in a severe accident or explosion and suffered facial or head burns.”
Miller has also suggested that Pappagallo (Michael Preston) was ex-military, but as his morality was presented as ambiguous, this can’t be seen as making any definitive statement. Another Settler, Curmudgeon (Syd Heylen), wears a military uniform, but as the Settlers were at times used to represent outdated institutions, and Curmudgeon was characterised as a senile old man who was also occasionally seen dressed in his pyjamas, it’s possible the military were also meant to be included in this bracket. With the character of Immortan Joe, Fury Road will hopefully define these themes, as he is also an ex-military man, formerly known as Colonel Joe Moore, and is seen wearing medals and military insignia.
In the past, the saga has promoted gender equality by attempting to present a society where the sexes are equal, featuring strong, free-willed, female characters like the Warrior Woman (Virginia Hey) and Savannah Nix (Helen Buday). It has also touched upon objectification and oppression of women by criticising women being used as commodities and the story of Adam and Eve promoting the suppression of woman’s knowledge. Fury Road promises that these gender equality themes will come to the fore. The latest trailer reveals the plot centres around a female character, Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron), freeing five women known as the Five Wives from the captivity of Immortan Joe, who is using them as sex slaves to bear his children. The trailer shows the Wives repeatedly screaming at Joe, “We are not things”, vandalising their prison with these words, and cutting the locks of their chastity belts once they’re freed, and Joe, upon discovering they’re missing, yelling, “Where is she taking them? I want them back! They’re my property!” It’s clear from the released footage that Furiosa is one tough character. She is seen to be involved in a lot of the action; driving the huge War Rig, saving Max’s (Tom Hardy) life by grabbing hold of him as he falls out of the vehicle, and headbutting bad guys. Her name also suggests her hardened nature, and possibly her origins, imperator meaning general in Latin and furiosa being Portuguese for furious. Along with her name, the fact we see her being branded with Joe’s mark of a burning skull, which also features on the War Rig along with her mark of a skeleton arm, indicates she was once a general under his command but turned traitor due to issues with his treatment of the Wives and decided to rescue them and flee in the War Rig. Miller has said, “I don’t think anyone’s ever seen anything quite like (Furiosa) in cinema before”. A strong statement considering the tough women we’ve seen in sci-fi in the past. However, it has to be said that many of these tough sci-fi women draw their strength from maternal instincts (Ripley, Sarah Connor), which connects them with traditional female roles, or are overly sexualised, their strength existing more for its fetishistic appeal to the male audience than for female empowerment (Black Widow). So let’s hope Miller strays away from these conventions. It’s possible Miller is not only referring to Furiosa’s gender but also her disability, as she possesses an artificial arm. Beyond Thunderdome could perhaps be criticised for presenting disabled people as helpless, as Master (Angelo Rossitto) and Blaster (Paul Larsson) are unable to operate without the other’s assistance. Furiosa is clearly a disabled character who is more than capable of looking after herself.
Immortan Joe is seen to derive his power from manipulating religious superstition; tricking the masses into thinking he was brought back from the dead. This suggests a more blatantly negative depiction of religion than in the previous films. Mad Max 2 presented the religious Settlers in a mostly positive light: their religion leading to social progress. In Beyond Thunderdome, the fact that members of the Lost Tribe make it to their Tomorrow-Morrow Land, in a sense fulfilling their prophecy, could be misinterpreted as pro-religion by people not realising it is the rejection of their religion that led them to progress. Max’s (Mel Gibson) characterisation as a Christ-like figure could also be misunderstood by people not appreciating the message that he makes his altruistic sacrifices despite being just a man. Joe’s false resurrection suggests he could be cast as a Christ-like figure of a different nature. Plus, in the latest trailer, we hear him preach to his followers that they will only enter the afterlife through him: his words imitating those of Christ.
IMMORTAN JOE: “It is by my hand…you will rise…from the ashes…of this world.”
JESUS CHRIST: “I AM THE LIVING GOD, The Way and The Truth and The Life; no man comes to my Father but by me alone.”
We also again see Max presented as a Christ-like figure, as he is seen in a Christ-like pose, chained to the front of an enemy vehicle. It could be possible that like Wez (Vernon Wells) in Mad Max 2, Joe presents a dark parallel to Max, representing religion’s power to be used for corruption, manipulation and power seeking, while Max, as always, promotes charity, communal spirit and sacrifice, but rejects deification. The character of Nux (Nicholas Hoult), it seems, is also being used to expand the religious critique. The previous films, presenting the good guys as being in search of paradise, could easily be misinterpreted as praising the concept of seeking a glorious afterlife, even though Beyond Thunderdome’s intended message was for us to build our own paradise here on Earth. Nux is initially an antagonist, being one of Joe’s best pursuit riders; a group of drivers who are willing to sacrifice themselves for his cause. The trailers even feature one of these pursuit riders acting as a suicide bomber, possibly acting as a criticism of religious extremism. Nux is sent to chase down Max and Furiosa, and according to Miller, “(Nux’s) looking for a glorious death in battle, in the hopes of a sweet afterlife.” In the trailers, we see Max carrying an unconscious Nux on his shoulders after rescuing him from a crash, and promotional pictures show Nux joins the good guys. This could mean that after not experiencing the afterlife during a near-death experience and being shown kindness by Max, when none was shown by him, Nux has been taught to appreciate and make the most of the life he has now. As trailers reveal the film will also include the past plot thread of Max losing his family, it’s possible Max could be taught the same, and this could be a main theme. Nux’s journey would be similar to that of members of the Lost Tribe, but him actually acknowledging he saw no afterlife would be the most direct statement on the existence of Heaven the saga has ever made.
One of the main criticisms of Mad Max 2 is that the appearance of the deviant Marauders – they’re decked out in BDSM gear, with Mohawk haircuts, and two are in a homosexual relationship – could be seen as criticising homosexuality and the punk movement. This was never Miller’s intention, and there are ways Fury Road could rectify this. It would be great to see a positive depiction of a homosexual character and Nux seems the most suitable option. It’s possible such feelings could be suppressed under Immortan Joe’s tyrannical religious regime, and this could provide Nux with a motivation to join the pursuit riders; hoping the afterlife would offer him a better existence. Having him join the good guys, who’re excepting of him, would provide a positive message. I think the fact Miller is a known rock music enthusiast, and his casting of punk icon Angry Anderson in Beyond Thunderdome, has proven he has no beef with the punk movement, but a direct criticism of what he believes are the failings of the rock industry could help make his feelings clear once and for all. His favourite band is the highly political Midnight Oil, which could suggest he’s not a fan of the more excessive and indulgent aspects of rock. One of the bad guys in Fury Road is seen atop a vehicle stacked high with amps, wielding a guitar flamethrower similar to that used by Gene Simmons of Kiss. This could be criticising the self-indulgent excesses of rock, or perhaps it’s simply been done because it looks totally badass.
So far, I’ve taken a positive look at what’s been revealed, but there are definitely some aspects that don’t look too promising. The latest trailer features an extended monologue from Max, which suggests Tom Hardy will have more dialogue than Mel Gibson had in the last two films combined. Not only that, but what he says is pretentious, self-pitying crap, greatly reminiscent of Nolan’s Batman (Christian Bale). Max does not need to imitate other heroes, and he never needed words for us to know what he was all about, so I’m really hoping this talking is limited to the trailer and won’t feature at all in the film. Another concern is the chance of a romantic relationship between Max and Furiosa. There’s little evidence that this will occur, but my girlfriend’s convinced, and they are standing very close together in some promotional images. A romantic interest for Max, if done right, could be very effective, but disastrous if done badly. The Marauders’ sadomasochistic gear and sexual excess, the Settlers’ conservative relationships, and the fact that Max has remained asexual since the loss of his traditional family in the first movie could imply the saga has a very prudish view of sexual relationships. Continuing to criticise treating sex as a commodity, introducing a homosexual character and sexualising Max could turn all this around. On the other hand, a clichéd romance, featuring the strong, independent Furiosa being tamed by the dominant Max, would have a really negative effect on the film’s gender equality theme, as well as incorporating a conventional trope into a hitherto unconventional saga.
So far, I’ve dealt with character, story and thematic issues, but probably my greatest concern with the film is its visuals. Although it’s been promised in interviews that there’s been minimal computer-generated tinkering, the trailers tell a different story.
INTERVIEWER: “So it’s still very real? You’re not using CGI cars or anything like that?”
GEORGE MILLER: “No, there’s no CGI like that.”
INTERVIEWER: “Good for you.”
GEORGE MILLER: “There’s a CGI storm, because there’s no other way you can create it, but everything else you see is real. Every car stunt is real.”
Sorry, George, but that’s bull. I can tell the difference between a real explosion and a cartoon one. I recall Spielberg and Lucas saying similar things before the release of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (dir. Spielberg, 2008), and we all saw how that animated feature turned out. By comparing the teaser trailer and the final trailer, we can also see that scenery and numerous cars have been added to shots, and the colours have been greatly oversaturated, giving the film the look of a comic book (which the story initially started out as). The cars could have been filmed for real and just superimposed into the same shot together, but it’s this kind of trickery that I fear will take away from the realism and make us feel less involved, which was never a concern when watching the gritty action of the original trilogy.
These issues aside, Fury Road promises to stay faithful to the original trilogy but set itself apart by telling its own story and expanding the saga’s existing themes, as I’d hoped. The last entry, Beyond Thunderdome, despite expanding the saga’s existing themes, lacked the action and efficiency of Mad Max 2, due partly to its segmented plot. Miller has said that Fury Road will be “almost a continuous chase”, so action will not be sacrificed for story. It also offers to present action like we’ve never seen before, with bad guys attached to poles on the back of vehicles battling with Max as they swing back and forth; an innovation that could rival the Thunderdome fight scene. With the offer of non-stop action and the most richly thematic story of the saga so far, Fury Road could be Mad Max’s greatest adventure yet.
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