In this rebooting sequel of a remake Tom Hardy stars as the titular Mad Max as writer-director George Miller returns to his post-apocalyptic Australian franchise without its former star Mel Gibson. After being kidnapped and used for his blood Max finds himself teaming up with the no-nonsense Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) as she seeks to escape an oppressive patriarchal cult led by Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne). In an armoured tanker they storm across the desert with Joe’s five wives and a reforming cult member (Nicholas Hoult) in tow as an entire army of assorted maniacs barrel after them. With mere minutes of pause Mad Max: Fury Road is otherwise a relentless two hours of chase movie filled with numerous stunts, spectacular visuals, and as little dialogue as possible.
As far as reviewing this film as an entry in the genre there is little more to say that hasn’t already been said. The stunts are remarkably authentic and well choreographed and, with the film being non-stop road chase, there are fewer moments not involving a stunt than those that do. Despite the chaos ensuing all around Miller executes controlled direction with the melee never getting beyond comprehension and the peril never seeming artificial. Everything looks beautifully imperfect; cars are rusty and dirty, characters are scarred and dirty, and a thin layer of dirt covers everything else. The acting mostly requires stern voices and sterner faces but both Hardy and Theron are skilled enough to let a little humanity slip through.
As an action movie then Mad Max: Fury Road is a success but the real question emerging around the film is not whether it is a good film but whether the film is feminist or not.
Those that say that Mad Max: Fury Road is flying the feminist flag look to Theron’s Furiosa for proof. Here we have a strong female lead who not only drives, fights, and smoulders on par with Max but is actually acknowledged as surpassing him in certain skill sets. It is certainly refreshing to see such a commanding female presence in a film that would otherwise be about a man fighting other men to save some vulnerable women in their underwear.
What makes me hesitant to award Max the Feminist of the Year Award is the fact that the vulnerable women in their underwear are still ever-present. Joe’s wives are played by a mixture of models and actresses and never find their way into more substantial outfits than the off-white, occasionally see-thru, rags they were rescued in. When Max first sees the five wives they are hosing one another down outside the truck with predictable consequences for their outfits. Considering a lot of the plot revolved around how scarce water is their Lynx advert worthy showering looks all the more sketchy.
In defense of the five wives, as they will now forever be known, they do all have names and personalities and collectively allow Mad Max: Fury Road to pass the Bechdel test but I remain unconvinced. I feel as though either Furiosa was there to compensate for the wives or the wives were there to compensate for Furiosa. I just can’t decide on who was compensating for who in order to try to appease both feminists and misogynists.
As an action film Mad Max: Fury Road is a huge success with eyeball pleasing nonsense for a full two hours. As a feminist manifesto I am less convinced by the film but there’s no proof it ever even had that agenda.