Good morning! Do you have a minute to talk about our lord and savior Imperator Furiosa?
Those of you who know me from The Tweeters may know that I have a live-in gentleman friend. A few of you may also know that he is very much a movie buff, but can be ::ahem:: extremely critical of cinema, enough that he hasn’t set foot in a movie theater for about five years.
My boyfriend has been talking about Mad Max: Fury Road for months, and I’ll be honest with you, at first I just wasn’t interested. Really all I knew about it was that it was the continuation of what looked like a coked-up action franchise I’d never seen, and that Tom Hardy and Charlize Theron were in it. And while I enjoy a well-constructed action sequence as well as the next girl, and possibly more considering the years I spent training in stage combat and stunts, MMFR just didn’t look like it was up my alley. I was perfectly happy to let my boyfriend go to the movie theater and break his absence streak on his own.
Then I saw a news piece online that Eve Ensler had been on set, there to consult specifically on the subject of violence against women for the benefit of five female characters. Five of them. In addition to Theron. At this point I had just recently seen Age of Ultron, and during the coming attractions I had counted how many trailers boasted more than one female character. The answer was one. (San Andreas, in case you were wondering, because it’s a disaster movie so the hero has to save his college-aged daughter AND his estranged wife.) And now it turned out MMFR not only had at least six female characters, but a famously feminist playwright had been brought on set to make sure those characters had depth and were treated with respect. At this point my interest was somewhat piqued.
Around this time I also started seeing articles posted by my friends in the stunt community extolling the difficulty and scale of the stunt work in the movie. I started to get a little more interested.
George Miller, the director, offered up some quotes about how he can’t help but be a feminist after being surrounded by “magnificent” women. He insisted that his wife be the one to edit the movie so it wouldn’t look like every other action movie. I was highly interested now.
Then came the MRAs marching one by one, shouting about boycotting the movie because it was feminist propaganda (if you don’t know about this one especially, Google it because it was hilarious).
At this point I told my boyfriend he would have company at the theater when he went to see Mad Max: Fury Road, and a few days later we were in a remarkably silent theater for a Monday matinee, my boyfriend practically vibrating with excitement next to me.
First, I will address the one hang-up I had about the film, which is personal preference and nothing else. I’m not sure exactly how to describe the aesthetic of the movie; the closest I’ve come is “grotesque western metal-punk.” This is not your Hunger Games post-apocalyptic society, where everyone is still beautiful and whole, merely covered with either dirt or crazy make-up depending on district. The majority of people you see on-screen are misshapen and bizarre, sometimes even monstrous. Body modifications abound, and the masses of scar tissue are the least of your worries (I could go the rest of my life without ever seeing the gout-stricken feet and ankles of one of the warlords again). It’s a choice Miller made, and it’s certainly visually striking, but I wasn’t a fan. And that’s okay!
Because everything else about the movie was awesome.
The storytelling, first of all, was excellently done. There was no unnecessary exposition; everything that was important for the viewer to know was shown through the plot without bogging down the viewer with extraneous information or backstory. Imperator Furiosa (Theron) only has half her left arm. Do we learn how she lost it, or even if she ever had one? Nope. Do we need to? Absolutely not.
In fact, the viewer doesn’t learn much that Max (Hardy) doesn’t feel he needs to know. He’s less the protagonist of this film and more our way in, our eyes and ears. He doesn’t ask many questions or even do much talking, which I’ve gathered was the case in the first three films when Mel Gibson played the role, which makes sense, because aren’t we all happiest when Gibson is silent?
Instead, the plot of the film is initiated by Imperator Furiosa, on a self-proclaimed mission of redemption to rescue the warlord — and, let’s be honest, cult leader — Immortan Joe’s (Hugh Keays-Byrne) five wives from a life of sexual/breeding slavery and also a mission to be a total fucking badass.
Basically Furiosa is amazing. She holds a highly esteemed position in Immortan Joe’s society. The War Boys, Joe’s footsoldiers, follow her orders without question. She’s clever and strong, and she asks for help when she needs it, which I find to be a fantastic and rarely seen character trait in a hero of an action movie.
Also, as I mentioned before, she is missing her left arm below the elbow, which means she is not just a female action hero but a disabled female action hero, and the movie treats both of those things as such non-issues that I didn’t even reflect on how important it was that she was disabled until I saw a blog post from a woman with a nearly identical disability.
I doubt any of you will be surprised to hear that MMFR is chock-full of massive-scale stunts. The vast majority of them were performed in-camera, which basically means that what is on the movie screen is what happened. There was very little CGI involved, and it was mostly used to erase cables and safety rigs. They didn’t even need to use green screens, because all the filming was done in Namibia. (I’m pretty sure I saw one piece that claimed 90% of the stunt work was in-camera, but don’t quote me on that because I can’t find/remember the source.) It was all flawlessly executed and staggeringly impressive and if you’re there for the explosions you will not be disappointed.
I was not there for the explosions. They were stunning to watch and my jaw was dropped half the time, but let me tell you about my favorite stunt sequence. It was several minutes long, it was explosion-free, and it was some of the best character work in the whole movie. I am talking about the eight-person combat scene between Max, Furiosa, the War Boy Nux (an unrecognizable Nicholas Hoult), and Immortan Joe’s five Wives: The Splendid Angharad, Capable, the Dag, Cheedo the Fragile, and Toast the Knowing (Rosie Huntington-Whitely, Riley Keough, Abbey Lee, Courtney Eaton, and Zoë Kravitz, respectively).
A well-crafted fight scene can reveal a lot about character. It can reveal their background, what they want, and how far they are willing to go to get it. And this fight scene is the best of all the fight scenes, brilliantly created in the technical sense but also with regards to storytelling. Everyone in it is fighting for their lives but they all do it in their own very specific way. I could watch it about ten more times without picking up on all the nuances and not be bored.
We’ve really only just met the Wives at this point in the story. All we know is that they wanted to escape and they begged Furiosa to help them do it. They’re five lithe, young, beautiful, fertile (some even pregnant) girls, first seen washing the grime off of their perfect bodies and cutting away their chastity belts: Furiosa’s precious cargo. Only they’re not. They’re in the fight, hitting and pinning and yanking, throwing Furiosa weapons when they can. They are not passive bystanders, they are avid participators.
The Wives have been carefully selected, pampered as breeders their whole lives. They’ve never learned to fight. But Miller doesn’t use that fact as an excuse to have them standing on the sidelines watching. Instead, this is the first of many instances in the movie when the Wives contribute vital assistance to their escape, including my absolute favorite moment of the entire film, when they literally use their pregnant bodies as a shield for their companions, knowing Immortan Joe won’t risk hurting his own property and progeny.
I could talk a lot more about this movie, you guys. I could talk more about the scale and execution of the stunts. I could talk about the killer performances given by every actor. I could talk about the excellent character development, how the Wives repeatedly make the decision not to harm anyone that isn’t posing them immediate danger, how Max makes the journey from unwilling travel companion to ally to friend. I haven’t even mentioned literally half of the female characters yet. HALF.
What I will do is throw just a big thank you to George Miller and the whole creative team for believing and therefore proving that populating his world with awesome women and giving them agency and purpose doesn’t make this movie any less of a high-octane, explosion-filled thrill ride.
All that being said, just…see the movie.
And then watch this.