Only Fury (Mad Max: Fury Road)

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 so-called 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 and 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 fetishized 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 fetishized 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’ve only been one wife and that should’ve 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.

Five Wives

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 that Joe 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 Max making a final heroic sacrifice is not included. In the previous films, Max has assisted characters fleeing a damaged society so they can create a new paradise elsewhere. Subverting this trait by having Max decide to return to Joe’s Citadel and help repair that society is superb and counteracts the questionably defeatist attitude of these 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 that 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. His reasons for making this sacrifice are shallow compared to Max’s in the previous films as they are motivated by his soulless romance with the Red Headed Wife (yeah, I’m just gonna call her that as it’s the only distinctive thing about her). Max’s sacrifice would’ve 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’ve been called Furiosa; I’m not saying that sarcastically, Max is superfluous as his goal is the same as Furiosa’s (to find redemption for past failures by building a better future). Furiosa should’ve 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 make the decision to sacrifice herself for the benefit of society instead of taking vengeance on her abuser, Joe. That’s the film I believe this should’ve been.

More Mad Max!

Just One Man Can Make a Difference (Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior)

If We Can’t Stick Together (Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome)

Hope & Fury (Mad Max: Fury Road)

Mad Max 

Missing Mel (Mad Max: Fury Road)

The Man Who Came from the Sky (Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior)

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9 comments

  1. Interesting thoughts, I agree with most of it. I just wanted to let you know (and maybe you’ve heard this by now) that they have plans to create three more mad max films after fury road, which will be prequels. Thought I’d tell you when I saw you mention prequel comics. This will help reference a lot of the background info they never elaborated on in Fury Road.
    Also, to share my two cents, the way you described how the movie “should have been” in terms of feminism and Furiosa wouldn’t even be a mad max film anymore. If Furiosa was so independent then where would Max even fit into the story? There would be quite a domino effect if they had gotten rid of the wives, lux, AND Max’s decision to go BACK. Essentially all you would be left with is Furiosa and there would probably have to be huge changes to the story to make that work properly (Furiosa escapes captivity only to head straight back? There are a lot of missing pieces without the rest of the cast). Now it’s not an impossible plot so assuming they made those changes I agree the film should then be called Furiosa, but it would be a completely different series with nothing to do with Mad Max. But who wants that? We want Mad Max. The title is literally the name of a cis white male, like if people wanted a film ABOUT feminism I don’t think Mad Max is the best venue to do that. Yes there have always been feminist themes in the mad max series which is good, its the post apocalypse for christ’s sake and women can be just as hardcore at surviving as men. But never forget these movies are called MAD MAX and so they should be about MAX. This felt like they couldn’t decide whether they wanted to make a film about Max or a film about feminism.
    As it stands I think Furiosa does steal the show and Max could almost be any nameless male badass (ESPECIALLY if you start removing things like his suggestion to go back). Fury Road as it is is BARELY about Max, hell originally he didn’t even have any lines in the film! So I understand the impulse to rename the film Furiosa. But as I’ve already suggested, focusing even more on feminism and Furiosa would’ve almost completely rendered Max irrelevant. Right now, if I could give the existing film a new name it would be Mad Max: Furiosa. Since for the most part they are 50/50 in the film which I dig, they need each other (and in my opinion that’s true feminism). On the topic of feminism.. I think you nailed it and I hadn’t thought of it like that before. As I watched the film I felt the feminism came off too heavy handed and something about it was way too forced. After reading you pointing out the contradictions I feel as though I see why I thought it was forced. You’re a writer correct? So then have you heard the idea that an author should SHOW the reader instead of TELLING the reader? In other words instead of saying “I’m scared”, descriptively SHOW the fear. I felt the film TOLD us feminism and didn’t SHOW us feminism. The film just felt more “Look at me, I’m a powerful woman kicking mens asses” instead of a true look at strong women. That’s something I really loved about the old Mad Max films, they were about PEOPLE not CARICATURES. Lord Humongous wasn’t just some bloodthirsy, steroid driven villain. He had layers, he was human. Max always had to fight his big heart to remain unattached to anyone. The people in the films were unpredictable. In Fury Road we just get caricatures, Max is the stoic badass with a big heart, the objectified slave girls, Furiosa is the “We can do it” all around ass kicking feminist powerhouse, and then you’ve got your typical misogynistic villain and his army of clone-like cannon fodder minions. Hell even the villain’s followers in the old films had more personality. I think the film could’ve been a more effective feminist film if the feminism had actually been more subtle. This is the apocalypse, everyone is killing everyone who cares what their gender is!! It really shouldn’t be hard to make a feminist movie, they really didn’t have to try so hard in this one. In fact, if they HADN’T tried so hard to make it about feminism then they probably never would’ve made the slip up contradictions which you pointed out. In summary, the film would’ve been better off making it about Mad Max with feminist themes, then about feminism with Mad Max themes.

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