There are a couple things to keep in mind before going to see this movie: it will not stop punching you in the face with action, and you probably won’t mind in the slightest.
I will admit that before Mad Max: Fury Road released, I didn’t have any interest in seeing it. I’ve never seen any of the other Mad Max movies, so it wasn’t a franchise that I had any attachment to. Of course then it came out and the whole thing with the MRA who railed on it for being an explicitly feminist movie happened and I admit my interest was piqued. Combine that with the fact that everyone who sees it says that absolutely, no doubt, it is one of the best action movies of the year and imminently worth seeing in a theater, and I decided that I would dare to go see a second summer blockbuster this season.
For anyone who may not be familiar with the premise, the Mad Max series is set in a post-apocalyptic future where humanity has pretty much nuked the planet into a desert wasteland, and human culture has regressed to the point of mere brutal survival, but with the added twist of ubiquitous automotive technology that’s been adapted for warfare. Max Rockatansky is a wanderer who gets captured by the War Boys, a cult that controls a small grouping of buttes that have clean soil and water on top, and tagged as a blood donor for the War Boys’ sickly soldiers. When one of the generals of the War Boys, Imperator Furiosa, goes renegade and steals a tanker truck containing the five wives of the cult’s leader Immortan Joe when she’s supposed to be on a gasoline run, Max, who’s in the middle of giving a transfusion to a War Boy named Nux, gets mounted on Nux’s car and taken out with the rest of the war party to catch Furiosa.
There are a lot of things to love about this movie, not the least of which is the fact that the story really does go to great lengths to center Furiosa and the escaping wives (unfortunately I don’t know that they receive names in the movie) in a story that really is about them. Even though Max is the eponymous character, he functions much more as a prominent supporting character rather than the protagonist. Max’s involvement in the plot at all is purely accidental, and he spends the first half hour of the movie an unwilling spectator to events that were precipitated by Furiosa’s rebellion. It’s a nice change of pace.
Despite that, it’s probably worth pointing out that for all the overtly feminist things the film is doing, it still slips up in some subtle ways. The big one comes in with the characterization of the antagonists. Immortan Joe and his tribe are absurdly sexist, discussing the women almost exclusively in terms of property and their ability to bear healthy children. When one of the wives dies accidentally, Joe’s reaction isn’t one of grief over the lost of a loved one but anger that one of his incubators (the one who was furthest along in her pregnancy too) is dead and the baby is likely still too young to be viable. These are largely caricatures of sexism, and while it’s comforting to look at them and laugh because the filmmakers are sticking it to real life extremists like MRAs, it doesn’t do enough to confront audiences with the more subtle sexism that most people engage in on a daily basis. Heck, Max’s introduction to the escaping women involves a lengthy scene where he just stares at the scantily clad women who are hosing themselves down after a hard drive through a sandstorm. For all the trouble the movie goes to to make us care about these characters and their goals, it still falls back on standard objectification as the primary way of introducing these characters, and doesn’t offer any sort of remonstrance towards Max for acting that way (he does receive plenty of punishment for trying to hijack the women’s truck, but nothing’s really made of that scene with the hose).
Other things of minor note that occurred to me while I was watching the movie were these: considering Charlize Theron is from South Africa, why did she go with an American accent for Furiosa, particularly when everyone else has either an English or Australian accent, and who knew that the kid from About a Boy could play such an endearing incompetent zealot with a heart of gold? These are burning questions that I couldn’t help pondering while I watched flame throwing electric guitars dance across my vision.
This likely goes without saying, but Mad Max: Fury Road is absolutely worth seeing if you enjoy action movies at all, and it offers a far and away superior treatment of women than what’s usually on offer in summer blockbusters.