Mad Max Fury Road: Feminism and Movie Review

Yesterday Holly reviewed one of the things that stood out most starkly and surprised us most when we got to (finally) watch Mad Max: Fury Road. That is, the post-apocalyptic religion. I guess that kind of leaves me to do a review of “everything else,” but there’s one main thing I want to talk about.

For one thing, and as I’ve said before, this was a movie we were really excited for, and were sad that we missed in theaters. We were literally in the hospital when it came out: it just wasn’t in the cards for us. In the cars?… Anyway, when we heard it was out digitally, we jumped, set aside time, even had people over.

And we always knew we were going to like it because, if nothing else, Borderlands. Neither of us have actually seen any of the original Mad Max movies, but we know that a large part of the aesthetic of the Borderlands video games is based on these movies. And then we saw the trailer, and we could see it: we could see Borderlands, and it was glorious in its ridiculous. I could be heard saying “if you’re going to make an action movie, make a movie like that.”

So let me first talk about what few expectations we had going into the movie, then discuss the number one thing we heard once the movie came out: feminism. This somehow managed to pique our already high interest even more… So join me for the review, then head off to buy yourself a digital copy of Mad Max: Fury Road!

WHAT WE KNEW GOING IN

So we had heard some things going into the movie. From those who had seen Mad Max movies, for one thing. Like one of the most important aspects: Max himself is generally not the main character, and is really more of the survivor character who happens to be there to witness all the key events of the plot. He’s your storytelling catalyst, without having to be the main character.

So once we heard that, the idea that you could have a female co-star with him, and then that people might say “hey, this movie is kind of feminist,” makes some sense. Because it can be, if Max is the backseat driver to the plot. There’s no reason it can’t be. And you still get to capitalize on a known world and franchise.

We also knew a lot from Borderlands, though maybe we didn’t know how well we knew… but lots of interesting weapons (they used just about every weapon type from Borderlands in the film, I was watching!), ridiculous tooled up and repurposed vehicles (in which most of the plot happens), and there was even a town devoted to guns! I was waiting for references to Marcus the Gunbringer, but alas, they’re not quite that much the same…

In other words, we knew to expect ridiculousness and action, and we knew to expect that Max was not the main character. Honestly, with those two pieces of information, I think any viewer is reasonably informed and ready to watch and enjoy this movie.

FEMINISM

Of course, the other thing we heard in advance was that the movie had actually had consultants to help with the story, with making it feminist. Which had us intrigued. Too often, it seems like the response to something like that is to just throw female characters out there – that can be hit or miss, and we are still sitting and waiting when it comes to the new Ghostbusters.

Otherwise, you tend to get the single token female character (recent example: Riddick) – or else, female characters as the plot device. And for that, the most common seems to be the Damsel in Distress – the female characters are taken, and our hero jumps in to save her. So she’s technically in the story, but often doesn’t show up at all, or not until the end. Something, as a plot, we’ve explored before.

So really, to be feminist, had the movie gone over the top? Was it blatant and obvious? Was it a propaganda film? Was it a marketing ploy and the movie was actually just explosions? These were the sorts of questions we had going in.

And I heard it described best after we watched it: it’s about the sum of its parts, not any single thing. It’s not just that Furiosa is a badass (though she is). It’s not just that you have a troop of women espousing the novel concept that they are not, in fact, property. Nor the clan of women at the Green Place. Nor is it about the number of female characters. Nor the Bechdel Test.

However, taken together as a whole, with a diversity of female characters, ones who matter to the plot, who make smart decisions in tight spots, who deal with problems in a variety of ways… it’s subtly done. So subtly that I can actually tell why they wanted to really get out there the idea that this was something they were actually shooting for, and not just that they had stumbled upon it.

As to Damsels in Distress. While in many ways this was an essential part of the plot as a whole, it was not laid out as the plot itself – and not at all set up in the usual way. My biggest complaint with the Damsel in Distress was that more than anything, it’s sloppy, boring, and repetitive storytelling.

It tend to be girl is taken, guy goes on a quest to save her, levels up as he goes (story-wise or actually in a game…), and he’s a badass by the end while she basically sat there waiting to be saved. However, in Mad Max: Fury Road, the women are on the run from the start. We’re starting at the traditional end of the story. Now for the getaway. And the hordes of men on the epic quest to get back the Damsels are the antagonists.

And all the parts are there to do the story differently! We have a journey out and a return in the movie. But that again is flipped, and at the end, the Damsels return of their own volition to where they had been held as property, and take over.

That doesn’t sound like lazy storytelling at all.

A normal sort of action movie – much like your average, not-actually-story-driven video game – isn’t there for the plot, so they rely on heavily trope-based, known stories. Like I said, boring and lazy. This movie was not boring – in a way that had nothing to do with the explosions keeping us awake. Indeed, the Geek Baby slept through most of the movie…

FINAL THOUGHTS

All that aside, this was one of our favorite things in the movie:

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11 responses to “Mad Max Fury Road: Feminism and Movie Review

  1. What also surprised me about the movie, there were quiet bits of depth to the antagonists. Don’t get me wrong, I’m rooting against Immortan Joe and his army, but there was something childlike about the pursuing warboys that made me feel sorry for them.

    I wanted to know more about the one guy who was Furiosa’s lieutenant on the War Rig, who loyally obeyed her despite his confusion about the unexpected change of plans (until it was clear that she had betrayed Joe in some way.)

    As well, all of the wives of Joe were distinctive, with their own personalities and differing reactions to what was going on (as well as their roles, like … and I’m sorry that I don’t know their names, that’s on me… the one red-headed wife’s nature of tend and befriend that gained them an ally, to the one who didn’t seem as committed to the escape, and how that cleverly was worked in on the final sequence.)

    That movie was so great.

    Liked by 2 people

    • So great. And yeah – I would take more from these characters. But not necessarily that the movie was lacking – just that I would take even more!

      Liked by 1 person

    • (Hey, CompGeeks, Ellen here. I rarely comment but love reading your posts!)

      I utterly loved Mad Max for a lot of the reasons you mentioned, and I totally agree with Patrick’s comment. One of the most powerful aspects of the story (and something I find the most “feminist” about it) is that everybody that throws in with Furiosa does so, in some sense, because it gives them their agency back.

      The wives, once treated as breeding stock, get to shine as individuals and pull their weight during the chase. Max, previously just used as a “blood bag”, is treated like a human being again. Nux, the Warboy who ends up tagging along with them, finds a group of people who will treat him like a person and not just disposable cannon fodder. Above and beyond that, like Patrick said, there are hints that everyone else under Joe’s heel has their own stories to tell. (I loved that the “milking mothers” were the ones at the end who released the water for everyone to use).

      Ultimately, Miller and Co. did a great job of portraying how a poisonous, destructive, hypermasculine society like Joe set up hurts *everybody* — which, as I understand it, is the original underpinning of all the Mad Max movies.

      Liked by 3 people

  2. Pingback: Holly’s Best of 2015 | Comparative Geeks

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