Mad Max: Fury Road sputters, despite its feminist cred

Mad Max Fury Road image
Mad Max: Fury Road has feminist overtones, but it’s not enough to give the story depth. Image courtesy Warner Bros.
My college-age daughter Emily and I saw Mad Max: Fury Road over the weekend and we left the theater wondering what all the fuss is about. Film review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes gives the George Miller action thriller a 98 percent rating. Competitor Metacritic rates it 89 percent. I know three people who probably wouldn’t recommend it: myself, my daughter, and a retired firefighter friend who knows what really happens when cars blow up, flinging bodies in all directions.

I wanted to see MM:FR mostly because I liked the second Mad Max picture, subtitled The Road Warrior, but not the original Mad Max, which I found tedious. I also saw Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, but I wasn’t all that impressed. Thirty years after Thunderdome, I hoped Miller had brought maturity to the franchise with MM:FR, but I ended up wondering if it was worth the price of the tickets.

To be sure, MM:FR has its high points. The stunts are terrifying and amazing, and the camerawork and photography is first rate. I often felt as if I was riding along with Max Rockatansky (Tom Hardy) and Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) as they were chased by the bad guys. The world created by Miller and his art director is rich, varied, and plausible as a post-apocalyptic nightmare-scape, though a few of the cars looked suspiciously like heaps I’d owned in high school.

As a writer hoping to make a mark in sci-fi, however, virtually every character in MM:FR disappointed me. Max himself has little to offer someone unfamiliar with the series, partly due to Miller’s decision to heavily truncate the backstory. The antagonist, Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne), is nothing but a cardboard cutout, in spite of his monstrous desires. Only one character, Nux (Nicholas Hoult), goes through any significant transformation as a human being, but it’s not enough to carry the story.

My daughter was interested in MM #4 because of the feminist buzz around the picture. Furiosa makes a credible rescue leader, and she’s got a mean right hook, knocking the traditional weak female trope on its ass. Vagina Monologues writer Eve Ensler consulted on the film, but her influence on the movie seems more limited than the buzz would have you believe. Max convinces the women to make a strategic decision that results in their victory. Nux offers himself in self-sacrifice to help the women—carriers of the next generation—to victory as well. Without these men, in the context of the story, the chances of failure were much higher. Given the necessity of male warriors for success, Emily thought the feminist politics of the picture was over-hyped. (But then, my dear, everything in Hollywood is over-hyped.)

With at least two and possible three more Mad Max movies on the way, Mad Max junkies have plenty to look forward to. Perhaps my problem was seeing the thoughtful Ex Machina only a couple of weeks back, and so I was primed for a movie with more depth, despite Miller’s filmography, which includes Babe, Happy Feet, and Happy Feet Two. Next time I see a George Miller picture, I’ll control my expectations.

I’m out of the mainstream here with my review. What do you think?

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