Fury Road: The most feminist action movie of the 21st Century
The Academy received a lot of flack last year through #OscarsSoWhite.
Some of it was deserved. The selection lacked A LOT of diversity. But a lot of praise needs to be given for their selection of Mad Max: Fury Road in multiple categories.
Mad Max: Fury Road is nominated for 11 Academy Awards in 2016. That's monumental for a summer blockbuster, an Australian production, and an arguably queer white film.
Even though the film is incredibly white washed, the film makes a ridiculous amount of progress regarding a slew of other inter-sectional issues.
I have a significant amount of love for action films full of explosions, special affects, and macho personas. I also have a significant amount of love for films breaking stereotypes all across the geopolitical spectrum.
Since Fury Road released, I haven't stopped fawning over how phenomenal the latest installment of one of my favorite franchises is. It meets every need of my loves listed above.
My review of Fury Road analyzes the Mad Max franchise as a whole and explains why the film is not only awesome as an action flick but also awesome for being a 40 year vehicle for progressive storytelling.
The review pulls from multiple analyses I have written in the last three years about the Mad Max franchise compiled into one cohesive report.
So, brace yourself. Run a couple of laps. Grab a stress ball. Try not to lose your mind over what I'm about to share.
Post-apocalyptic filmography is grounded in folk-lore that traditionally accelerates itself with concepts tied to community hierarchies, colonial exceptionalism, geopolitical struggles and patriarchal advantage.
The Mad Max franchise is an example of a prominent post-apocalyptic film series that has over time both supported and contradicted traditional representations of the genre's portrayal of folk-lore.
The Mad max franchise portrays the decay of prior institutionalized concepts into primitive behavior policed by morally driven outsiders. Fundamentally, the series flawlessly matches the post-apocalyptic genre in narrative and tone.
Beyond the simple abstract that the four films have built their stories off of, the series takes on a heavier task of breaking traditional expectations developed by the film industry and their intended audience.
Mad Max: Fury Road, which was released May of 2015, exemplifies this in every way as it culminates 36 years worth of trial and error storytelling.
It's title character, Max Rockatansky, is the picture-perfect profile of a broken hyper-masculinity figure trying to find his identity in a world that accepts nothing less than white, aggressive, successful male figure in any position of value.
In each unique film Max remains a means of demonstrating how the abandonment of particular ideologies surrounding systems of oppression, privileged levels of leadership in small communities, exceptional treatment of dominant settlers and personal masculinity.
His position as the stake around which every aspect of the story revolves tends to change as the weight of the social commentary increases through the franchise.
For 39 years, much of this has gone unrecognized as consumers have accepted the franchise either as cult entertainment or non-existent.
Fury Road, released three decades after the third installment, functions neither as a sequel or a prequel, but rather an independent installment that works as either. Because of the time gap, much of the films audience is unaware that Fury Road has a rich history that has influence its production.
The narrative of the film and its faithfulness to the genre have been questioned by young critics with socialized expectations - that are interacting with Mad Max for the first time. The first critique to gain traction was published on the Internet by extremist male rights blogger Aaron Clarey shortly after the teaser released.
Clarey gives a negative critique by chastising the director for directly attacking the post-apocalyptic genre and the art of action films as a whole. The teaser makes it clear that Max was the title character, but not the center of attention.
It also makes clear that a small band of women, the characters who drive most of the narrative in the film, are working to deconstruct the masculine society they are fleeing from and find a utopia where their equality with men will be valued.
In an effort to defend prior Mad Max productions which Clarey had not seen and slander the new Mad Max production, he insists that positive and excessive inclinations towards institutionalized dimensions of oppression and systems of patriarchy are necessary for a genre faithful and generally appealing story.
After sourcing various articles published by mainstream news outlets regarding Miller's insistence on leaders of feminist reform being film consultants, Clary declares that Fury Road is a piece of propaganda with forced female characters. He states that the film deserves to be boycotted by all men who have respect from themselves.
A handful of bloggers with similar sentiments follow suit. Meanwhile, an opinion columnist for The Verge named Adi Robertson is the first of many voices that responds positively to the film and discourages any idea that Fury Road does anything but amplify the positive aspects of the genre while encouraging a more comprehensive presentation of women's issues in film.
Citing similar aspects of oppression and patriarchy, Robertson declares that Mad Max deflates on a major masculine fantasy; that men are always in control and the only bearers of freedom.
Reflecting on the franchises ability to historically applaud female fighters and its desire to distribute victim-hood even-evenhandedly, Robertson congratulates the film for being capable of encouraging a deflating set of institutions in a world that desperately and poorly attempts to hold onto patriarchal dominance.
Max's journey shifts from his own concerns to a story that focuses on women and their own individual causes. He has no other choice as the narrative places him in a position where his survival is dependent on supporting their causes. His frail masculinity is dependent no longer on short-lived, interchangeable bouts of approval but rather the success of his female counterparts.
Unlike Clarey's negative critique, which focuses only on promotional material for the last film in the franchise, Robertson's positive critique focuses on the installment's implications on the franchise as a whole in order to accurately assess what the promotional material is implicating for viewers.
Robertson is one of a handful of authors to utilize the franchise as a whole to develop a defense for critical claims. However, even Clarey's reflection when looked at in a context that analyzes the entire franchise proves a positive argument for a once broken but now strengthened means of presenting post-apocalyptic folk-lore.
Tom Hardy replaces Mel Gibson as Max and Charlize Theron introduces herself as a new character named Imperator Furiosa. Creator George Miller utilizes the 30 year gap between installments releases to make Max's role titular but secondary, without question.
Similar to Beyond Thunderdome, Max is a means of launching a large geopolitical social commentary into the narrative and supports other leading roles.
Seven leading women were introduced alongside three leading men in a story of survival that shared the extreme repercussions of sex slavery, female persecution by males, and abuse of community hierarchies.
The film introduces a superior class of men that tease every class beneath them with water that they control. Women are at the bottom of any chain of respect as they must be kept as sex slaves and milk producers.
The enemy of the film is a regime that controls water through a monopoly. The enemy promises eternal life to those who join in the regime's efforts of maintaining the monopoly.
Furiosa is the franchise's second feminine warrior. She is motivated by revenge, a need to protect abused women, and a desire to start fresh outside of masculine oppression. She works to destroy the framework of male dominance but never becomes a pawn.
Upholders of the regime are hyper-masculine, psychotic men chalked up in white substances. through a character named Nux, their identities are proven to be frail shells of masculinity that must be broken down by fellow upholders of the post-apocalyptic patriarchy.
Furiosa finds a way to convince the leader of the primary colony controlling water, named Immortan Joe, to let her collect gasoline from a distant biker gang. She uses this as a disguise to kidnap and free Joe's five wives kept as sex slaves, milk breeders, and child bearers. Joe sends his crew on a suicide mission to retrieve the women.
Max becomes a part of the story when he is found strapped to Nux's vehicle as an emergency O negative blood bag. Max escapes during a vehicle chase for the women that ends with a sand storm that destroys half of Joe's crew.
During the fight, one of the sex slaves shows Joe that she is pregnant and then dies trying to protect Max. As a result Joe continues his effort to retrieve the women, but to get vengeance on Max instead.
Max agrees to help the women continue to escape when Furiosa tells him that she believes in a utopia she experienced as a child. Nux, whose identity is crushed during the vehicle chase, joins their crew as the women still living try to help him rebuild his fractured psych.
Furiosa returns to her homeland only to learn her utopia no longer exists. Max considers leaving the women until a vision of a child he failed to save plagues him, and then convinces him, into remaining with them until they found a city he remembered visiting called the Citadel.
On their way to the Citadel they battle with Joe one last time. Before the fight ends, Nux sacrifices himself so that the women who helped repair his fractured identity can live. After all of the enemy forces are killed, Max transfuses his blood into an injured Furiosa so that she might live and continue to lead thew omen she saved.
Max gets the crew to the Citadel where all of the women are openly accepted by the community. Before anyone can convince him otherwise, Max leaves the women and the community knowing that he has no place there. He continues to move forward in effort to find identity in something other than power through hyper-masculine behavior and dominance.
In each film, Max can evidently be watched battling the concepts of institutionalized dimensions of oppression and systems of patriarchy. Patricia Hill Collins, who studies inter-sectional and institutional means of oppression, suggests that gender oppression – one of the most prevalent forms of oppression - can be structured with three dimensions.
The dimensions include institutional, symbolic, and individual. The Mad Max franchise explores in most depth the symbolic dimension of oppression. Masculine and feminine roles carry characteristics that reflect a variation that mirror most that of North American culture.
Masculine characteristics are aggressive, rational, strong, intellectual, and more inclined to lead. Feminine characteristics are passive, emotional, weak, physical, and more inclined to follow. When attributed to women of color, barbaric and animalistic traits are assumed to diminish some of that feminine behavior.
When attributed to varying classes, only women affiliated with men of power have the ability to maintain varying traits of femininity while overcoming what is perceived as their flaws to become more like men.
These characteristics are both supported and contradicted at various points throughout the entire Mad Max franchise. The first and second Mad Max installments were cast predominantly white and predominantly male.
The female and adolescent characters were weak, expendable, and secondary. Graphic and explicit scenes of violence were enacted only on these weaker characters as male leads either inflicted the behavior or internally battled with the behavior they were witnessing. The script made hardened male leaders both heroes and enemies.
However, in the third and fourth installments, while still cast predominantly white other characters of color were introduced. These characters of color acted contrary to what audience members expected.
Allen G. Johnson, who studies patriarchal systems, explains that the system of patriarchy pined after follows a cyclical structure of system before individuals and individuals before systems. Social systems are something we make happen.
When we partake in a social system, we are shaped by it and follow a path of least resistance. Patriarchy, which has dominated most of human history, is dependent on male-dominated, male-identified, male-centered, and control-obsessed characteristics.
Femininity is described as “other” and therefore a secondary position that should only be utilized if it advances masculine ideals. Johnson argues that patriarchy is exclusive to individual lives and, while prevalent in the mainstream society Mad Max is marketed to, is also prevalent in many forms of literature – both pre and post apocalypse.
This prevalence drives consumers to desire it. And, while the Mad Max franchise delivers it on varying scales, it refuses to glorify it; rather making the cyclical habits an enemy integral to advancing moral policing or a cause.
The Mad Max franchise is grounded in the traditional post-apocalyptic folk-lore that has always accelerated itself with the negative concepts explored in this essay such as inter-sectional issues regarding gender and race, institutional dimensions of oppression, and systems of male dominance.
Mad Max declares that oppression and evil cannot be defeated by better institutions. Institutions are bad. Rather, individualism wins; especially when a select set of individuals work together to counter the established institutions. It tells us about the issues that are influencing culture and where our salvation lies.
As made evident in the series evolutionary pursuit in deconstructing systems of patriarchy and other means of oppressive representations of gender, race, and class, the Mad Max franchise proves to be a prominent post-apocalyptic film series that positively exists in apocalyptic canons and maintains a positive feminist appeal.