‘Mad Max’ Has Given Us the Most Feminist Action Movie this Decade
I saw Mad Max: Fury Road the other day and it was FREAKING AMAZING. Miller has reminded us that visuals and story should go hand in hand in the cinematic medium, not separated through pages of dialogue. Also awesome death machines tearing through the desert driven by freaks and mutants.
In Marc Fannell’s review for the film he noted that it’s possibly the most feminist action movie in years. He’s on to something there.
Let’s look at the context: the biggest action movie of the year is undoubtably Avengers: Age of Ultron. Many have condemned it for it’s perceived anti-women message (a claim that is largely bogus, minus the silly kidnapping subplot). What’s more a valid complaint is the lack of female representation in the merchandise, following the modern idea that toys can either be for boys or girls and not both, and boys only want male characters and girls only want female characters. Black Widow and Scarlet Witch are essentially absent from clothing and toys, and although Black Widow has clocked as much screen time as Captain America and Thor she’s treated like a sidekick. Meanwhile, Wonder Woman is playing second fiddle to Batman and Superman reboots, we’re years away from a female driven superhero movie and the Supergirl TV movie is looking like a rehash of The Devil Wears Prada rather than an action movie.
Do we still think of comics and superheros, nerd culture as a whole, as a male business? Because that’s wrong. Stupidly wrong, and pretending that’s the case is (and I’ll put this in words a producer will understand) is going to cost you money. You’re alienating people who want to throw money at you.
Mad Max: Fury Road manages to do exactly what these big franchises should be doing – including women in their action movies without casting them as the token girl. Charlize Theron’s character Imperator Furiosa gets equal billing to Tom Hardy’s Max, which makes sense because she’s as central to the plot as he is and the filmmakers haven’t subscribed to the tradition of billing men first. She also doesn’t at any point fall in love with Max, get kidnapped and rescued by Max or in any way require Max to do the heavy lifting for her. Furiosa doesn’t fall back on the old stereotype of tough women instantly hating men either. It’s almost like they have something more important to deal with, like the world being insane and trying to kill them.
The story is thus: Max is a survivor in a post-apocalyptic wasteland. His wife, daughter and everything he cared about is gone. He’s completely out of his mind and has one goal: staying alive. Storywise Max stays true to this concept. He doesn’t have some great epiphany, he follows the path that has the best chance of survival. Imperator Furiosa lives in The Citadel, where she has the envious role of driving the War Rig on supply runs. She turns against the mutated, deadly Warlord Immortan Joe by assisting his harem of ‘wives’ in an escape plan by smuggling them out on the War Rig.
Why are these girls escaping? Because they didn’t want to be treated like objects. They existed for the Warlord’s sexual gratification and production of more boys, and it didn’t suit them. Rather than wait for their prince or plumber to rescue them, they took the matter into their own hands. When they encounter Max he doesn’t help them out of the ingrained belief that the women need his help…instead he and Furiosa beat ten kinds of shit out of each other until she convinces him that backing their horse is his best chance of seeing tomorrow. As the story progresses they do learn to trust each other and turn the tables on their pursuers.
Mad Max: Fury Road was already marked as a boys night out, and some manly men (read: angry boys who don’t understand why girls don’t throw themselves at them) have gotten their boxers in a bunch about this. It’s true that all the villains are male, but this doesn’t read like a deliberate attempt to make a statement, just a reflection of how the world could end up in the circumstances. The strongest and most vicious will rise to the top of society, with the only completely independent women being those living outside of the male dominant war tribes, surviving through mistrust and baiting interlopers with sexuality. This is civilisation without consequences – much like we see happening online.
Whether intentional or not, Mad Max: Fury Road has delivered us the most gender progressive action movie in a while. Male and female characters are given equal footing, and the one romantic sub-plot involving Nux reverses the character stereotypes. If you dismissing the movie because you don’t usually go for blokey action explosion-fests it’s worth reconsidering. If anything, it’s just a damn good movie.
And if you’re going to get uppity about it not being backwards enough for your sense of manliness, go eat your own butt.