Let’s start with this: I have never seen any of the original Mad Max movies. I barely know enough about them to understand pop culture references to them. And one week ago, I had no intention of seeing Mad Max: Fury Road at all.
Then this happened: Men’s Rights Activists the internet over started pissing their pants about the movie’s blatant feminist agenda. Now, I don’t consider myself a spiteful person by a long shot, but if doing something is going to make bigots angry, sign me right up. If it has the added perk that I get to watch lots of explosions and cool action on top of that, well, that’s just gravy. While the pessimist in me felt that there was no way that the movie could be as bad (which is to say, good) as the MRAs claimed, I was determined to give it a go. My (also deeply skeptical) mom and I hit the cinema on Monday night to take this so-called feminist screed into our eyeballs.
And holy hell, I loved it.
(Trigger warning for discussion of rape below the jump—nothing explicit. Also, spoilers.)
Mad Max makes you believe it’s the story of the titular Max Rockatansky, post-apocalyptic road warrior, in its first fifteen minutes. Max is set upon by the mutant War Boys and imprisoned in their citadel to be used as a source of blood, should anyone require a transfusion. While he’s strung up there, our real protagonist makes her move. Imperator Furiosa, driver of the citadel’s War Rig, ostensibly rolls out to make a guzzoline (gasoline) run for the settlement. What she’s really up to, though, is smuggling the many wives of citadel’s dictator, Immortan Joe, out of their harem and away to freedom. Joe and his war posse, complete with a herald playing an electric guitar that shoots flames, tear out after her to get his “property” back.
Max joins Furiosa’s party when the War Boy that’s using him as a portable blood bag gets knocked out mid-chase. Neither he nor Furiosa trust the other at first, but they eventually gain respect for each other’s driving and fighting skills. They travel through battles and mud and storms to reach the Green Place where Furiosa grew up, only to discover that it’s been eaten by the wastelands. There’s nothing for it but to go back—but not back into slavery. They beat their way back to the citadel, killing Immortan Joe in a climactic scene, and return victorious to create a more equal society in their former prison.
Before I get into the nitty-gritty, even if you’re not seeing it for its hella fab female empowerment, it’s just a fun movie. It’s a two-hour-long car chase with maybe ten whole combined minutes of quiet in its whole runtime. It’s got ridiculously stunning cinematography, and the character designs and special effects are downright amazing. The interactions between characters are deeply emotionally satisfying, and the writing is terse (so much so that Max doesn’t actually have a full line until like thirty minutes into the film) and doesn’t waste time explaining what doesn’t need to be explained to the audience.
Mad Max is a victory for representation on approximately a million levels. Max may seem like our typical gruff white protag, but he’s clearly suffering from a monster-truck-sized serving of PTSD from his previous travels. Furiosa is not only a badass female heroine who doesn’t conform to typical beauty standards, she’s also an amputee with a kickass robot arm. The Wives—the Splendid Angharad, Toast the Knowing, Cheedo the Fragile, Capable, and the Dag—are racially diverse and strong in spirit despite being less physically strong than the other characters. Director George Miller even had The Vagina Monologues author Eve Ensler, who’s worked with rape and abuse victims, come on set to help the Wives flesh out their characters. The Many Mothers are a matriarchal biker gang (a matriarchal biker gang!!!) led by amazing old ladies (who did their own stunts!!!). The movie drives home the importance of families of choice through Nux, the War Boy who’s taken in by Capable and ends up dying to save her and the rest of the party, all of whom he’s grown to love.
This isn’t just a feminist movie because it’s got a female lead, or a mostly female cast, although that’s still a victory. Lots of terrible and actively anti-feminist movies have female protagonists and an abundance of female characters. It’s also not just a feminist movie because it passes the Bechdel test. As we’ve pointed out before, many empowering movies don’t, and many bad movies do. Mad Max: Fury Road is a victory for feminism because it’s a story about women of different ages, races, body types, abilities, and skill sets banding together to actively break down their oppressors. It’s a movie about a woman helping women who were sexual slaves to seize back their agency, but it’s also a movie that doesn’t objectify or even do more than allude to that abuse on-screen. It’s a movie that rubs engine grease on its face and shouts “we are not things” at you while it runs you over with an eighteen-wheeler and plays a riff on its flaming guitar, and if you don’t think that’s a reason to go see it immediately, then, well, there’s no helping you.