It’s risky to infuse a huge Hollywood film with a political message. It takes a visionary director like George Miller to reboot his “Mad Max” franchise with an unabashed feminist theme.
The original “Mad Max” was so 1979, featuring a dystopian society marked by oil shortage and biker-gang violence. Women were marginally shown and only as victims. Max Rockatansky, played by a fresh-faced Mel Gibson, was a good cop turned vigilante after his best friend, wife, and child were murdered.
Thirty-six years later, Max returns, played by the charismatic Tom Hardy. Now the precious commodity is water, not oil. The warlord who controls it, Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne), rules a settlement called the Citadel. Women are treated even worse now; they are milked like cows while five of the prettiest are reserved as the warlord’s wives and sex slaves. But there’s one woman—Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron)—who commands the War Boys, drives the War Rig herself, fires heavy-duty weapons, and fights as ferociously as any man. Oh, and she has only one arm.
The movie is a high-octane ride through the wasteland, beginning with the chase and capture of a rabid Max, who simply wants to be left alone in his wanderings. He ends up as a prisoner in the Citadel.
When Imperator Furiosa goes rogue while driving the War Rig, Max is dragged into the fray. He’s strapped in front of a vehicle as a human “blood bag” to the fanatic Nux (Nicholas Hoult), who’s receiving Max’s blood via transfusion. As one of the War Boys pursuing Furiosa, Nux is ready to die for Immortan Joe, taking Max with him.
Furiosa’s War Rig is carrying water, mother’s milk, and the five wives. She’s helping the women escape the Citadel. Immortan Joe, who desperately wants a healthy male heir, is bent on capturing the women back, especially because one of them is pregnant. This is how Max and Furiosa are thrown together as unlikely allies.
The Alpha Male in a Feminist Film
The female characters in this film are outright feminists. Furiosa, with her shaved head and grease-painted face, is the most intimidating among them. Even the pretty wives turn out to be fierce. They are joined by a band of retirement-age, kick-ass women.
But it’s the transformation of Max from a stereotypical alpha male into a feminist—and George Miller’s growth from an action director to a socially conscious filmmaker—that’s truly noteworthy. In one scene, Max concedes to Furiosa that she’s a better shot than him. Not only that, he lets the one-armed woman use his shoulder to stabilize the gun barrel as she takes a long shot.
It’s refreshing to see that Max is not the savior of damsels in distress, but a partner of the women in fighting the good fight. This is what I find extraordinary in an otherwise conventional action film.
Tom Hardy as Mad Max
A monosyllabic character like Max requires an actor like Tom Hardy whose mere presence commands our attention. He burns up the screen whether he plays an ordinary working man (“Locke,” 2014) or an angry cage fighter (“Warrior,” 2011) or a violent prisoner (“Bronson,” 2008).
Charlize Theron is the perfect choice to play the ultimate action heroine. Only Sigourney Weaver’s Ellen Ripley in “Alien” comes close to giving Furiosa a run for her money.
I’m not a fan of either action movies in general or the original Mad Max trilogy, but I admire George Miller for single-handedly creating the dystopian wasteland film genre. His new “Mad Max” proves that when an action movie is done right, even non-fans like me can appreciate it.
“Fury Road” is everything an action film should be—fiery, relentless, hugely entertaining—and then some. It’s a hell of a kick-ass movie about women fighting for survival. And Max Rockatansky, the leather-clad road warrior turned feminist, is an alpha male I can root for. If you haven’t seen this movie, go watch it now!