I pondered writing a regular review for this, but by now I really don’t think it’s necessary anymore. There are already two other fine CHUD reviews explaining why it’s one of the best action movies ever made, and I would heartily agree and award it a full five stars. The movie is as good as Raiders of the Lost Ark or Jurassic Park. Instead, let me address one of the more surprising criticisms of the movie. There are certain individuals who describe the movie as “feminist propaganda”. Is there anything to it? And what does that even mean in the context of the franchise?
Spoiler warning: For this, I’ll reveal major plot points of Mad Max: Fury Road.
Ready? Okay, here’s one specific way you can interpret the movie. Please take it with a major grain of salt and read the whole article. Especially if you’re getting furious throughout.
One possible perspective (not mine).
Max Rockatansky is one of the most iconic male action heroes. He’s tough, smart, a capable fighter, and if you give him a vehicle to drive, he’ll do wonders with it. He’s a badass post-apocalyptic cowboy who’s great at defending carriages. He’s earn the respect of John Wayne and Judge Dredd alike.
That’s why it can be sad to see George Miller betraying his very creation. Early on, Max gets shamed by becoming a chained slave just like Wez’s very unmanly BDSM boy toy in the second movie. But instead of being able to free himself on his own and allowing him revenge by killing his captor, the story quickly forces him onto another path. He has to join up with a bunch of females who at first seem like traditional damsels in distress, but who are then revealed to be better shooters, fighters, drivers and leaders than him. Women who are better at road war than the Road Warrior. And they’re thankless girls. They’re the healthiest characters you’ll ever see in a Mad Max movie. Immortan Joe even makes sure they don’t get ill by the major radiation everyone else is visibly suffering from in his compound. Still, they steal one of his most important vehicles and drive off. And for what? To meet up with a group of old women whose genius plan it is to go starve in the desert.
One of the most peculiar scenes is one in which Megan Gale, once cast as female super hero icon Wonder Woman in George Miller’s abandonded Justice League: Mortal, shows up naked. Of course, the movie shies away from showing any interesting naughty bits of her and the whole thing gets revealed to be a trap for men. They’re trying to lure Max out with a beautiful naked woman only to surprise him with very old women aiming guns at him. Enter Charlize Theron who has once again Monster-ed up to play a nearly bald man-woman with a prosthesis. She ridiculously holds her own in a fist fight against Max and she secretly even gets to be the real hero of the flick, going so far that she offs the main villain herself. Know what the working title of the next movie is? Mad Max: Furiosa. Saying that Max gets side-lined is an understatement. This isn’t a Mad Max movie, this is Furiosa: Fury Road in disguise. This is exactly like Blade: Trinity, where male power fantasy Blade was side-lined by chatty Ryan Reynolds and Jessica Biel just to cater to an audience who didn’t cherish the previous movies.
The third protagonist of the flick, Nux (Nicholas Hoult), has another devastating arc. At first manly, strong and enthusiastic with his life, he ends up being manipulated by one of the girls. There’s a scene where the girls visibly pull on a leash he’s tied to, like a master dominating a dog. The story forces him to kill himself for the girls, and later on even Max is forced to leave as well. It’s Miller denying him a place at one of the few oases with water, food, and beautiful women. In this world, good males only deserve to die or be exiled, Miller seems to say. Max can’t even sleep in peace, having nightmares of a little girl constantly trying to give him a bad conscience. Eventually, there’s the whole theme of a male-regulated place taken over by women. And look, it’s not the attractive ones who get to rule. No, it’s the cartoony lesbian and the old hags who control every situation. Only thing missing is an overweight woman joining in to cover all kinds of females not deemed desirable. Creating a new feminist paradise, right? (please, please read on, I might not be serious about this)
Angry? Fine, now let’s take a look at another possible perspective.
Another possible perspective (still not mine).
First of all, Max does indeed get objectified. He becomes a human blood bag and car hood ornament. But how is that a fate worse than being a sex slave? All of the girls got raped by fat, disfigured Immortan Joe, and while it’s never said clearly, it’s implied that Furiosa once was a sex slave as well. They’re not spoiled princesses in a castle, they’re living sex dolls for a maniac. They even write it down: WE ARE NOT THINGS. Who gives a damn about health? Health on its own may be important, but it means nothing if you’re never allowed to leave a room. What so-called manly man would ever freely choose that over life in the wastelands? I’d prefer to eat tons of two-headed lizards if it came with, you know, not getting raped on a constant basis. Are escaping kidnapped girls stupid for not having a greater plan? Who can really hold that against them?
This is a world run by ugly men. Sick grown-up fucks who drink mother’s milk. They dress up as Borderlands action figures. There’s a religion of cars because men happen to love cars, and the bad guys travel with a rock stage on which a live guitarist seemingly cosplays every angry teenagers favorite childish metal band, Slipknot. And the wives aren’t played by actresses, but by Victoria’s secret models. Top notch wanking material. It’s a teenage boy fantasy. Moreover, it’s sad to see that Furiosa has to give up nearly all of her femininity to be accepted. She’s reduced to the Rambo-Ripley of Aliens.
Famed franchise hero Max is anything but a central hero in this. He aims a gun at a pregnant girl and tries to recklessly leave them behind, to be captured by rapist Immortan Joe and his gang of lunatics. It’s only when his own survival depends on their knowledge that he decides to help them. And it still takes a lot of time until he stops denying them guns for protection. Most of the time he can’t articulate himself like a human being, just grunting like the Feral Kid from The Road Warrior. Max might be right that going back to the citadel is a better chance than cluelessly heading out to plain desert, but he obviously only suggests it because he’s too much of a coward to go back on his own.
He’s such a weak character. Furiosa is easily as good as a fighter and driver, and the movie clearly establishes her as a better shot. She does all of that with one arm missing. Yeah, maybe this movie should have been called Furiosa: Fury Road. Charlize would have earned it. She’s clearly the most central and most important character. Her getting to rule over the citadel is the only right decision, and of course Max leaves as he can’t see himself in such a world. He’s a relict of the old world, one destroyed by men.
Harsh? Let me go one step further.
The following is MY actual preferred and suggested perspective on things:
In my mind, the movie does not take a stance for either side. This is neither pro-male nor is it propaganda of raging feminists. In the end, neither Max nor Furiosa win on their own. They win because they work together. If the franchise makes one thing clear than it’s the fact that gender does not matter, whether for the heroes or the villains. Seriously, all of the roles could be reversed and it would not change a thing.
Fury Road girls are sex slaves? The Humungous clan had male sex slaves. Just like Immortan Joe, Aunty Entity chose to live way in a higher place, leaving everyone else in dust and pig shit. What about Max vs. Furiosa? Shooting skills depend entirely on training. We never saw Max using long range weapons before. Hand-to-hand fighting: Males may often be better at taking direct hits and at putting strength into punches and holds, but females tend to be more agile, and Furiosa comes with a built-in baseball bat. Is she unfair for using aspects other than sheer strength? Then do you qualify Max as a pussy for tricking out the way, way stronger Master in Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome? Because you can’t have the one thing without the other.
Furiosa being as awesome as Max doesn’t take away from the enticing hero he is. I mentioned Blade: Trinity and I still think it’s a good comparison. Before, Blade had Whistler and Scud, but only in the third movie his partners take up a lot of screentime. Max used to work with the Gyro Captain and the people of the oil compound, and his survival depended on them. This time, Max only takes a third of screentime as the other thirds go to Furiosa and Nux each. Still, I don’t see any whining over Nux taking up screentime, or any acknowledgment that male characters dominate most scenes. Does it mean that if Furiosa would have been a man, everything would have been fine? I’d argue that Max was never the central aspect of the Mad Max movies, nor was he ever meant to be a male power fantasy. The world itself is the most important element. Max is just a traveller, but a very human one. He’s vulnerable and getting injured so often during all of the movies that he’s far from a real power fantasy. Nothing he ever does in Mad Max: Fury Road is fantastical. Even old Rambo could easily kill twenty Rockatanskys at once. Max tends to survive because the screenplays allow him to, he never feels like an undefeatable character who would grow old in such a world. He’s an exciting option to experience this world, and the downfall of those who rose to power in it. He’s a symbol of hope.
As for the villains. All four of the Mad Max movies show strong-minded, egocentric individuals who put their needs over everyone else’s. Toecutter, Humungous, Aunty Entity and Immortan Joe don’t care about others and will kill, rape and sell whoever they want to. Immortan Joe doesn’t care about gender. There may be a scene in which he is disappointed about one of his offspring’s genders, but famed imperator Furiosa proves that he doesn’t care about genitals as long as his followers make sure he stays at the top. That is all he wants: to keep his luxuries and to stay in charge. That is what all of them want. Combined with a lot of self-confidence and a severe lack of empathy, they get to rule over the weak until a hero such as Max or Furiosa comes along. And it really doesn’t matter whether it’s a man reigning over men and being defeated by a male hero, or if everyone in the equation is female.
Anyone is free to voice his opinion on anything, from Anita Sarkeesian’s reports on feminism in video games to gender stuff in Mad Max: Fury Road. Disagreeing? Not seeing what others see in it? Perfectly okay. But the moment you take up any actions to silence voices like that you aren’t defending the Max Rockatanskys of this world anymore – you’re actively working for the Immortan Joes. You’re early Nux, high on false ideologies and ready to hurt others. You may argue that you selflessly want to keep the world from getting worse, but you’re actually just trying to force your preferred vision.
The Fury Road Max is actually a dick at first, yes, but he was shaped by a most dangerous world in which any nice moment could reveal itself as a trap of cannibals or rapists. Same goes for Furiosa. Both of them expect the worst from others and only slowly learn to trust again. They find back one of the most important human aspects, empathy. Max doesn’t fight for a world where everyone is equal. He fights for a world of equal opportunities, and the moment someone puts a knive to a throat that equality is gone. Time to run such a threat down with a Gigahorse. Just for the record: I loved Charlize and Furiosa. I’m still not a fan of Blade: Trinity or men’s rights activists.
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