It has been 30 years since the last Mad Max movie, and by all accounts Fury Road represents the movie that George Miller (the Director) always wanted to make, but didn’t have the budget or technical wizardry at his disposal to realise at the time.
Without question, Fury Road is a movie replete with thunderous action. Many will see it as being largely inspired by Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior; but it would also be fair to say that Fury Road is defined by a deeper and more personal storyline.
Where Max was front and centre in the post-fallout Australian landscape of The Road Warrior, defending an embattled outpost from Lord Humongous and his gang, Fury Road widens this vision dramatically and rests just as heavily on the strong female lead of Imperator Furiosa – played brilliantly by the chameleonic Charlize Theron – as it does on Tom Hardy’s reinvention of Mel Gibson’s iconic Max Rockatansky.
I would even go so far as to suggest that Furiosa outstrips Max in her thematic importance here, and when Hardy does finally mumble some lines of dialogue, he comes across as a shadow of Gibson’s portrayal of vulnerable machismo. What does work here is the madness that has descended upon Max since we last saw him onscreen in Thunderdome. Max has always been the reluctant hero wandering the wastes, but in Fury Road he is a haunted figure, defined largely through savage physicality rather than humanity. It is only towards the end of Fury Road that we are given a glimpse of the humanity that still exists within Max’s tortured psyche.
Thematically, Fury Road presents an important question: What is the role of a woman in a savage world dominated by savage men?
When Furiosa embarks on her quest to find The Green Place, it is with the vocal backing of Aunty – the elder woman of Immortan Joe’s repulsive oligarchy – who says: “you push someone, and they’ll push back!”. Aunty represents the older and wiser woman, along with the Many Mothers, advising and helping the next generation of daughters to escape the possessive clutches of savage men. We see the thrust of the film spelled out quite literally on the floor of Joe’s luxurious abode in white paint: “Our sons will not grow up to be Warlords!”.
Joe’s Citadel is a society controlled by the greed of powerful and violent men. Children are raised to be War Boys and Rev-Heads, and women are either Breeders or provide Mother’s Milk in battery farm conditions in order to sustain the elite. The remaining fallout survivors rely on minimal handouts of water controlled by Joe and his testosterone filled family.
We also see the results of this savage male patriarchy in the sad character of War Boy Nux; haunted by his failure to meet the expectations of his father figure – Immortan Joe. But when Nux is touched by the feelings of a woman, he transforms into a redemptive character that audiences care about. Nux is a boy damaged by insane men; a theme driven home when he is first found in the War Rig by the escaping Five Wives and is called “just a kid”. His life is spared and his condition as a damaged and terminally sick boy is pitied.
Fury Road is as much a movie about redemption, hope, and the place of women and boys in a man’s brutal world, as it is about thrilling car chases. The young women, representing the hope for a fertile future, journey to the promised land to escape their male possessors. They arrive only to find that the Green Place has been soured by nuclear fallout. The nomadic desert dwelling Many Mothers are the older and wiser women from before The Fall, who can both protect and advise their younger daughters. They join forces in order to topple the patriarchy and restore hope and a kinder civilization.
The plot is thicker here than in any of the preceding Mad Max films. It is a movie steeped in symbolism and is more than simple action fare. That George Miller was able to successfully weave the threads of over-the-top visceral action and female empowerment in a movie like this is eye opening for the genre.
The tone of the film is highly personal and it is less of a Mad Max movie than it is a movie about female empowerment and abuse victims. Those wanting an action movie will not be disappointed. But I also think Fury Road has some important things to say about the damage caused by unchecked brutality and insanity.