Until last week, the I only thing I knew about Mad Max was from my friend who owns an absurd amount of black leather, black platform boots, and fake blood for his Mad Max Halloween costume. I assumed he was some sort of seventies-movie vagabond, which is mostly true, but he’s also a man searching for vengeance after his family is killed in the wastelands of a post-apocalyptic Australia. I’d be mad too, Max, if all I had was one leather outfit to wear in the desert.
The original Mad Max was released in 1979; the remake, Mad Max: Fury Road, was released last week. The trailer made it seem like another action movie set in the future, with some gross looking evil ruler trying to find women who escaped from his fortress, all while partying at Burning Man. I was expecting basically a remake of 1996 Romeo & Juliet with way more fire tornadoes and sand. It seemed targeted towards men, as most action movies are, so I didn’t really pay too much attention to it until I saw the raving reviews.
The best way to describe how this movie made me feel is after I left the theater, I could only text my friends in all caps for three hours. That’s how pumped I was. I’m already planning to see it again in the theater, because it was that good. And why was it that good? The female characters.
In Mad Max, Charlize Theron plays a one-armed protagonist named Furiosa who captures the wives of antagonist Joe (a guy who uses his masculinity in a terrible way to rule his society) and leads them to a safer place. Along the way a bunch of crazy obstacles happen—like fire tornadoes, guns, and warlord Joe’s war boys. Furiosa is never disputed as a leader, with the men on her truck asking for directions and taking them without second-guessing her. Even when Max shows up and gets into a gunfight with the war boys, he hands the gun over to Furiosa because she’s a better shot. It made me want to stand up in the theater and yell “THAT’S RIGHT MAX!”
I love this movie because the female characters are depicted as ACTUAL human beings and not objects. The young wives didn’t have many lines, but their characters were still strong and important, which rarely happens in action movies. Even their lack of clothes didn’t take away from their importance. It fit with the story. There was no making out, no woman waiting for the hot muscular man to make the first move, (although I wouldn’t have minded a scene where Tom Hardy had to get a wound cleaned on his sweaty man chest), and no damsel in distress waiting to be rescued. Instead, the damsels in distress beat the crap out of the villains.
Meninists (yes, this is a real thing) were upset over the “feminist propaganda” of the movie. On behalf of the women in the movie, I’m so terribly sorry your egos were drowned by the mother’s milk stored in Furiosa’s truck.
The feminism wasn’t entirely planned, though. It’s a utilitarian outcome to the plot. The director, George Miller, recruited the Vagina Monologues writer Eve Ensler to speak with the actresses playing Joe’s wives about what women who’ve been through their situation might be like. Miller didn’t change a male-oriented franchise into a female one. He turned it into an awesome one. If George Miller can make a flaming guitar seem like a vital part of the story, he can do anything.
It’s not like the manliness was sucked from the plot. Max is still a super manly character. He isn’t fighting against masculinity; he’s fighting for his individuality. He doesn’t get upset or angry at the women, or leave on his own to do “man” stuff, instead he joins the women on their journey. This movie gives female heroism a legit spot in a world mostly saturated with men.
Ultimately, Mad Max has people thinking more about female-driven action movies, and how can that possibly be a bad thing?