Well, I’ve seen it, and overall I was disappointed (and not just with the CGI and terrible narration). I know, I must be the only person in the world, but if you’ve read my previous post, you’ll know I had some pretty high expectations, and the film just failed to deliver on many counts.
My main complaint is with the feminist themes. No, not the same complaint that’s getting all the press attention (note to all the protesting meninists, if you think Mad Max has never had feminist themes, read my post on Beyond Thunderdome). We’re told it is bad to objectify women as Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne) does by treating his Five Wives as his property, but the film does nothing else but objectify them. The Wives have no agency, no character. They’re weak, useless victims, there to be protected by Max (Tom Hardy) and Furiosa (Charlize Theron) to add risk to their endeavour, for Nux (Nicholas Hoult) to have a shallow romance with (so we know he’s now a good guy), and to be fetishised by the audience. As my girlfriend said to me, “They had no character, but I liked looking at them.” In the first scene where we see all the Wives together, they are dressed in revealing clothing, their nipples visible, spraying each other with a hose and washing each other’s legs; looking like something out of a low-rent porno (I’m assuming). I understand they’re supposed to represent the kind of women who are fetishised in our own society, but to criticise this, surely they should have been given some sort of character? They are only ever addressed by name (Splendid, Capable, Fragile…) by Joe; pet names I presume he attributed to them because of their sexual characteristics. It would have been nice if they rejected these names and we learnt who they really are. The only female character with any agency is Furiosa. The Many Mothers can kick ass, but they’re basically just there as cannon fodder for the final chase as we aren’t given enough time to connect with them or reason to care about them (like the Wives, I couldn’t name a single one without a Google search). Even Furiosa is hard to sympathise with as her backstory about being kidnapped as a child from the Green Place and wanting to return there is only revealed in the scene directly prior to them arriving there and discovering it’s now a bog. We are then expected to feel sympathy as she breaks down and falls to her knees screaming in an incredibly over the top and pretentious scene. If we’re expected to connect with her and support her struggle, then her goal should be made clear from the very start. The solution to the problems with the Wives and Furiosa is there should have only been one wife, and that should have been Furiosa. This would give her a backstory we could connect with from the start (she was kidnapped as a child from the Green Place to become Joe’s future wife) and give a character that has been objectified back their agency. It would make sense for a victim of such abuse to want to return to a safe childhood place and would make the decision to go back to the Citadel and face her problems, instead of running away, more powerful. Some people may consider it unrealistic that a female victim of such abuse could become such a strong warrior, but I don’t think this issue would even occur to them if applied to a male character.
Despite being presented with a fascinating society, we learnt little more about it than was revealed in interviews and trailers. The Information given about Immortan Joe was not built upon or in some cases even referenced. What happened to his backstory, previously being Colonel Joe Moore? I guess that’ll be in the prequel comic. If it was made clear that Joe was once a military leader, one that was responsible for starting wars over commodities such as oil and water, and through his proliferation of these sins he represents the worst of the old world, then we would have a definitive answer to the repeated question, “who killed the world?” Also, although it’s made clear the War Boys believe that by dying heroically for Joe they will enter the afterlife, the fact he has tricked the populous into believing he is an immortal messiah is not referenced. This oversight significantly lessens the impact when his dead body is presented to his subjects at the conclusion. The main lapse in the religious subtext is in the depiction of Max as a Christ-like figure, as the trait of the previous films of him making a final heroic sacrifice is not included. The plots of the previous two films both involve Max assisting characters to flee a damaged society so they can create a new paradise elsewhere. Subverting this trait by having him decide to return to Joe’s Citadel and help repair that society is superb and counteracts the questionably defeatist attitude of these past conclusions. But once Max makes this decision, the film has no surprises left. Max’s plan is to return to the Citadel, charging through Joe’s war party and blocking the canyon so they cannot pursue. This succeeds, as Nux sacrifices himself by blocking the canyon with the War Rig, causing Joe’s war party to crash into it. Nux’s death is no big surprise, as he is a support character and support characters are killed off for plot convenience all the time. Plus, his reasons for making the sacrifice are shallow compared to Max’s in the previous films as they are motivated by his soulless romance with the Red Headed Wife (sorry, only distinctive thing about her). If Max were to have made the sacrifice, it would have cemented the film’s altruistic themes, with Max acting as a parallel to Joe’s selfish false messiah and selflessly sacrificing himself so a better society can be born. However, Max has less invested in the society than other characters, so what would have made more sense is if Furiosa made the sacrifice (as she was complicit in its wrongdoing). The film really should have been called Furiosa. I’m not saying that sarcastically, Max is superfluous as his goal is the same as hers (to find redemption for past failures by building a better future). Furiosa should have been the only wife; kidnapped as a child, treated as an object all her life but then finding the agency to return home. She would then come to the conclusion (by herself, not have a man make it for her as Max did) that she must face her problems and return to the Citadel. Finally, she would decide to sacrifice herself for the benefit of society instead of taking vengeance on her abuser. That’s the film I believe this should have been.
More Mad Max!