‘Mad Max: Fury Road’ movie review
By Joshua Grant, Senior Columnist
Mad Max: Fury Road may be a twist-free, two-hour car chase—but that’s not all it is. Director George Miller has seen to that. Like the otherworldly Frankenstein’s-monster vehicles from the film, Fury Road packs an impressive amount of substance (most of it explosive) onto a recognizable chassis.
I’d like to start by discussing the aesthetic appeal of the film. I didn’t think that I would ever call a movie “tasteful” where a dude chained to the back of a tricked-out desert truck plays metal riffs on a double-neck guitar, but Fury Road is tasteful. The CGI effects are kept to a minimum. As a result, everything feels real. Everything has weight. Every single explosion (there are a few) feels earned. The post-apocalyptic look is lovingly detailed and totally consistent. And the costumes—each leather harness, asthma mask, and set of nipple clamps—add to the setting and the mood.
This is not a typical action movie, and its titular character, Max (Tom Hardy), is not a typical action hero. In fact, he’s not much of a hero at all. He has his heroic moments, but mostly he serves as a super-competent sidekick to the main course: Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron). Furiosa, who’s some kind of officer in the army of big baddie Immortan Joe, kicks off the plot by stealing away Joe’s abused wives in the back of a gas truck.
Miller’s treatment of Furiosa in particular, and the agency of women in general, has been setting the Internet alight since the movie came out. Not only is Furiosa a one-armed, grease-faced fighting machine, she’s also executing her plan explicitly against a nasty patriarchy without the help of any men at all. When Max finally does show up (the baddies have been using him as a human blood bank), he’s somewhat less than welcome. Or helpful. But eventually Max and Furiosa learn to trust each other and become a team.
Further, despite the number of women in the film, the objectification and sexualization of female characters is always framed as explicitly problematic or outright vile (Immortan Joe keeping a harem of “breeders” to produce male heirs comes to mind). This is a stark break, I think, from other filmmakers who give great roles to women. In the realm of stylized action films, Quentin Tarantino might come closest, but even he can rely a bit too much on the titillation and objectification of women (Exhibit A: those lingering shots of women’s feet).
Miller is different, and I don’t think he is simply being progressive. He’s being tasteful. He avoids seduction scenes at the expense of the movie’s mood and theme. This is awesome, and the film deserves praise for pushing artistic and social norms that seem so entrenched.
Not everybody is happy with Fury Road’s women-on-top approach to action. Predictably, some Men’s Rights bloggers have crawled out of the dark corners of the Internet to express how they feel threatened by the new, more feminine face of action movies. Honestly, it’s hard to sympathize. After all, the battle is far from won, and there remain many options for those who feel uncomfortable with non-sexualized female agency. For the rest of us, a thumbs-down from a borderline hate group is just another reason to love Mad Max: Fury Road.
The movieis a triumph. The decision to recast Max from sexist/racist/everything-ist has-been Mel Gibson to the comparatively affable Tom Hardy might be emblematic for what’s made the film work as a whole. Fury Road manages to take the best elements from ’80s post-apocalyptica and tweak them with new technology, fresh faces, and modern social values—without making a CGI-bloated, pandering mess.
Mad Max: Fury Road is exciting, visually appealing, and probably one of the best action movies I’ve seen in my life.