Feminism, climate change, eugenics, and the fight against patriarchy are not subjects discussed in your usual summer blockbuster fare, but Philip Kurthausen finds liberal messages and inspiring depictions of strong female characters in the latest Max Max movie, Fury Road.
I want to talk about feminism, well, feminism, huge explosions, grinding metal, battles for scarce resources (blood, wombs, water, bullets), tumours with names (Larry and Barry since you ask) and thrilling chases to the death in the Wasteland (actually the Nambian desert). All the above and more, so much more are present in George Miller’s glorious, leather and iron clad, gasoline stinking fist in your face, return to the Mad Max series in Mad Max: Fury Road.
For those fans for whom the term Mad Max conjures up scratchy precious VHS copies of Mel Gibson’s havoc-wreaking revenge-driven quests in the Australian outback from the 70’s and 80’s, you can breathe easy; George has pulled it off and you will love this movie. You will love the visceral action scenes with the use of stuntman where CGI would have offered an easier but less ‘oh my God how did no one die making this movie?’ thrill; you will love the dystopian setting; the aurelent billowing dust clouds; the steampunk Western stylings; the carnage-inducing chase scenes; the nods to the old movies and importantly you will forget that Tom Hardy is your new Max. He is good in the dialogue-light role of Max, the ex-Police Interceptor who has lost everything and conveys, well the sense that he represents a civilization that has passed, the solidity of law and order. Mel who?
But even better is Charlize Theron and her character Imperator Furiosa, and there is a good argument that the movie is her’s alone. The plot centres on her personal mission to rescue five concubines, the ’breeders’ and possessions of Immortan Joe (played by Hugh Keays who played the villain, Toecutter in the original Mad Max) who has impregnated them in the hope of producing healthy progeny that can be his heir to the diseased and polluted world he rules.
Immortan Joe is the high priest of a quasi-religious cult that offers salvation to his band of followers whilst living in as much luxury as the male dominated society he has created will offer. He and his band of fanatics, the Warboys (Nicholas Hoult from About a Boy is exceptionally good as the devoted warboy Nux and is the namer of the aforementioned ‘Larry’ and ’Barry’) set off in pursuit of Imperator with Max as their prisoner after she escapes with Immortan’s concubines.
Charlize Theron’s Imperator is the adrenaline-soaked, rapidly beating heart of the movie and in her charge into hell to assert the women’s ownership of their bodies and right to decide what happens to their foetuses (sometimes in the most literal of ways) Miller has given us a a strong female action character with genuine depth, emotion and the ability to kick some serious ass.
Mad Max: Fury Road is the most intelligent and engaging action blockbuster since Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight and as much a parable for our times as that film. And for those who write off the action genre as bubblegum cinema with nothing to say about contemporary society, did I mention the feminism, the riffs on climate change, eugenics, the fight against the patriarchy represented by Immortan Joe and his Boko Harem style thugs, the liberal message about personal freedom, liberty and the need to escape the crushing dead hand of fundamental male dominated religion?
This is a movie packed with ideas, politics, action and violence delivered in a super charged, tense, chase to the death with the most stylised and beautiful rendering of a post-apocalyptic world since, well since Mad Max 2.
Mad Max: Fury Road is currently showing in 2D and 3D at FACT.