Mad Max: Fury Road – a Review
Fury Road is an action film in the purest sense of the word. The entire film is one long car chase, stopping only rarely to give you a quick breath, before jumping back into increasingly intense, high-speed action sequences with a fervour living up to its name. It relies very little on dialogue, and apart from a few key moments and iconic lines, much of it gets swallowed by the roar of engines without it ever being an issue.
So why, then, did I walk in hoping to at least enjoy the visuals, spectacle and explosions, and walk out having found one of my new favourite films?
Fury Road makes you care. It gives you near continuous, spectacular action shots at high speed in a visually magnificent setting, and in the middle of it all manages to get you invested in how it will turn out. It is a prime example of a film that trusts its audience. It does not waste time over-explaining background or plot points, nor do its characters get the opportunity for long, expository conversations. Instead, we get hints and tidbits of information, and we are trusted to be able to fill in the blanks ourselves while the movie gets back to the people jumping between cars. This also frees up time for the film to include an extensive array of characters, both good and bad. And, as an extra treat, a remarkable amount of them are female.
There is an unfortunate tendency in modern action films to include, at most, a couple of important women, with the result that said characters must face the burden of representing the entire female gender. In Fury Road we have the wives, the all-female Vulvani biker society, and of course Imperator Furiosa. All of them have their individual stories and personalities, strengths and weaknesses. They are characters with agency, rather than mere plot devices and motivators for the male protagonist. Even when the wives are drinking water clad only in light, white dresses, they are not sexualised or objectified by the camera, a visual choice that would have strongly undermined their ferocious claim that “we are not things!” Further, the narrative does not take the easy way out by having Max decide to help them simply out of compassion or pity. His own survival depends on him joining them as much as theirs does, and so a far more interesting character dynamic develops.
This is especially true for Furiosa, who could have so easily defaulted into either the seemingly competent, but eventually in need of rescue love interest, or the perfect, kick-ass, unfailing, “strong-female-character” – the action film answer to the manic pixie dream girl. But she moves beyond that. She is as much a protagonist in the movie as Max, but she doesn’t reduce his role in any way. She is just as gritty, dirty, damaged and real, and still she is very clearly and distinctly female. It is a vital part of her identity, but not a defining trait.
Their relationship starts out with a long, brutal fight, but rather than being told he eventually cares for her, we get to watch as they fight together, complementing each other’s strengths and weaknesses, and develop mutual respect. Again, the film presents perfect evidence to support the “show, don’t tell” argument. When Furiosa finally succumbs to the blood loss from a bullet wound and Max frantically tries to save her, the scene is infinitely more intense, despite them only having known each other a few days, than any action hero trying to save a wife or daughter we have only been told of.
Mad Max: Fury Road defied many expectations, and is to me an example of the how genre film can be unexpectedly progressive. It is far from the only instance of this in recent years (see, for instance, Pacific Rim) and we can only hope more directors will take note of the success of Fury Road, particularly amongst female fans.