/ Rob Beschizza / 8 am Mon, May 18 2015
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  • Mad Max: Fury Road

    Mad Max: Fury Road

    Fuck yes.

    Mad Max: Fury Road shows us how blockbuster movies can work, stripped of all the usual bullshit. The story races onward, unfattened by weightless videogame CGI or Campbell-inspired plot lard. There is violence, insanity and the baking post-apocalyptic Australian desert. There is no romance, no rape, and no reason to look away. It is fast, fun and weird.

    It clocks in under two hours and sticks with you all the way. Tom Hardy's is a more sympathetic, actoring Max. Charlize Theron is so at home in close-cropped Imperator Furiosa that there is never the slightest question about the authenticity of her character. These two badasses are both damaged before the movie's timeframe begins, in symbolically different ways, but they come together to orbit its surprising moral center, a constellation of escaped slave girls in tow. madmax2

    Warlord Immortan Joe is cruel and magnificent, easily the most deranged nutter yet to grace the Mad Max bestiary. And the camera sympathizes with everyone, even him, without dipping into pathos or excusing shortcomings. This film, to which so many expectations could apply, just doesn't give a fuck about anything beyond its own way of seeing things.

    In Australia decades hence, oil wars leave the world stripped of order and prosperity, but not quite of hope. Loner Max, beset by troubling memories of his family, drifts too close to Joe's territory and is captured. Put to use as a ritual blood donor, Max ends up a literal figurehead, mounted upon a buggy to "nourish" its driver, Nux, an eager but particularly sickly member of Immortan Joe's brigade of hairless warboys.

    Joe rules his community from behind a terrifying horse-teeth mask (concealing his respirator), crude legends of his immortality, and the safety of an industry-encrusted mesa. Introduced a la Harkonnen under the care of doctors and minions, he collects young, beautiful slave "wives" to incubate a cadre of offspring. Furiosa, a trusted lieutenant, is tasked with an important supply mission to a nearby community, but uses the opportunity to free the wives and make a bid for freedom. Spotted too soon, she is pursued by Joe and his allies. Nux, and therefore Max, joins the war party. Amid dust, blood and fire, Max and Furiosa find themselves dangerously at odds, but circumstances make them aware of shared aims—and brings them together as the temporary parents of five vulnerable but hardened young women.

    madmax3 They set out for a "green place" that may well be mythical or misremembered, and their journey is a relentless pursuit yarn from beginning to end; even darkness and mud can't stop the action. The pace is lightened only by symbolic reversals and returns, and the weird Miller-world moments of familiar charm (an old lady's seed collection, Joe's sons' concern about "dad", and the bickering, fraternal perversity of Club Warlord) that sustain and subvert the nihilism surrounding it all.

    Fury Road's looks embody and embellish Miller's minimal apocalypse. War parties communicate using colorful flares, erupting like desert flowers over the sand. Settlements, built around control of vestigial infrastructure, wink at one another using elaborate arrays of mirrors and optics. Bizarre cult religions—spray your face with Krylon, become chromed in the afterlife!—inspire the childlike warboys. It is all lost on common folk, controlled not by Immortan Joe's inane mythology but the water he magnanimously dumps upon them.

    Aside from a nightmarish sandstorm scene, where Fury Road briefly loses its bearings, the film is sparing with CGI effects. The world's weights and measures are our world's weights and measures, and a lot of beautiful customized vehicles (and, surely, stuntmen) were harmed in its creation. When convoys of armed, spiky death-mobiles converge on and surround a redlining target, it all seems there, and it makes a huge difference to the film's illusion of space and speed.

    And that's more or less it: enjoy the ride! Notable for being absent are things we wouldn't even notice were we not programmed to expect them served up with the old Hollywood ultraviolence: think impossible acrobatics, sad villain backstories, and female objectification. Especially in the latter case, you won't miss these things, unless they were the things you came to see.

    That's not even to agree that Fury Road is the feminist empowerment fantasy that so terrifies the men-dorks of the manosphere (even if, in its portrayals and performances, it contains more female agency than just about every prior post-apocalyptic movie put together). This is simply what happens when vanquishing irony is applied to sexist tropes that have outstayed their welcome. Its achievements in that regard will eventually be hard to spot, and it'll still be a great film.

    madmax4

    Even the suggestion of a romantic interest between two supporting characters is, more truthfully, maternal and necessary—a moment of emotional growth seized by adolescents infantilized by Immortan Joe's insanity. It's amazing that this relentless action movie not only bothers with this sort of thing, but presents it both as an essential manipulation (Nux is dangerous and must be turned) and the spiritual truth of the moment. It's like Robocop shooting at baby food or Ripley returning into the Nostromo to fetch the cat: you're allowed to find it risible, but they did it all the same and a lot of people will like it more for it.

    R-rated in the US, Fury Road may be watched by unaccompanied teens in the UK, and I think the certifiers there got it right. The violence, while relentless, isn't dwelled on in torture-porn fashion and is often craftily obscured. To have seen this as a kid would have made my decade.

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    Notable Replies

    1. I'm not sure you understand what "objectification" is.

      Objectified does not mean naked or scantily clad. Objectified means treating a person as an object.
      A naked women in a movie who exists for no reason but to provide titillation is objectified. A naked women who is a fully fleshed out character, naked for a reason consistent for that character and that world is (probably) not.

    2. I think the suggestion is that there is, by the time of the movie, a gasoline surplus for the tiny population that remains after most of civilization bites it. Basically, they have an entire refinery, and, presumably, operating oilfields around it.

      Pump jacks cough up all sorts of crap that's flammable but not really refinable, too. The world of mad max is a world soaked in decrepit, low-efficiency energy and water production.

      I find the world quite convincing: gasoline as almost ridiculously abundant, but availability on a famine-or-feast basis for those who aren't working for the warlords.

      Likewise with Immortan Joe and water. The outputs are huge and obviously not constructed by him. Whatever it is an outlet for (an aquifer-fed reservoir?) there's perhaps so much water that the scarcity is artificially-maintained--if only as far as his population size is concerned. In other words, what is a catastophic shortfall for 20m australians might have found ecological equilibrium when only 200,000 of them are left.

      But in general I like how little is sketched. The tech isn't teched, it's just there to tell a story.

    3. To be fair, the second movie was all about fighting over gasoline and a refinery. I don't look for a whole lot of verisimilitude in a movie wherein three of the four named settlements are named after their chief contributions to this word's economy (i.e., Gas Town, the Bullet Farm, and the Green Place... they might as well have named the Citadel something like Joe's Hydrant instead). But that's okay; none of these movies are supposed to be realistic depictions of what might happen in a plausibly real postapocalyptic future, and in fact each movie since the first has strayed farther and farther from reality and deeper into comic-book land. If I were to care about believability, I might wonder lots of things: how were the enormous steel chains and gears forged to make the Citadel's giant elevator, if it still needs pedal-power to propel it? How does such a bountiful spring of fresh water emerge only a couple hundred feet up a mesa, while the valley floor below remains parched and arid? Why does Immortan Joe think that clear plastic armor is even a little bit useful? What exactly is he breathing? What combination of available resources and tactical need convinced him that this rig right here:

      ...was an appropriate military allocation of material resources and personnel?

      Obviously, none of that stuff matters. The internal logic is sturdy enough for my purposes, and so none of these issues bother me in the slightest. This stuff works for the only reason that matters to Fury Road's audience: because it's awesome.

      I still haven't played Borderlands, but if you detect a fair amount of its influence in Fury Road, I'm gonna have to check it out.

    4. You seem to be saying "Either everything is objectification or nothing is—so nothing is." It's the kind of convenient false dichotomy that spares us having to think, but I like thinking.

      Let's look at those scenes. The "nekkid Valkyrie" was, as Max tells us, bait. She had a reason to be there, and she had a reason to be naked. It certainly could have been filmed in an objectifying way—we would have gotten lingering pans across her bare legs and belly, or boobs pressed together with her upper arms. She would have had a seductive expression on her face, which would have made no sense in the context of the world (the war rig was too far away to see her expression) but would have satisfied the implied male gaze in the audience. Instead, we got shots of her from a distance, in about the least titillating way possible, which fit in neatly with the audience POV in the cab of the war rig. Miller didn't bend or break the logic of the scene to satisfy horny dudes, even though it would have been trivial to do so. It was as sexy as the nude scene in Life of Brian.

      The water scene was addressed to the male gaze—one male gaze in particular. Max's. We got lingering shots of sexy wet women because we were in Max's head, and he was momentarily gobsmacked when he came around the corner and saw them. It's not innately objectifying for a film to show us a man being distracted by beautiful women. (See Under the Skin, which is as far from sexy as you can get, despite a frequently naked Scarlett Johansson.) It had reasons for being there: It was funny by contrast, it made character sense for the women in the context of a rest stop after a long dirty ride in an oil tank, and it illuminated Max's character—he didn't drop his guard, didn't try to join up with them, didn't flirt. Even if there were no horny men in the audience, it would have had reasons for being there—and after Max got over his momentary gobsmackedness, the lingering shots went away, and we began learning about the women as characters.

      Again, the presence of scantily-clad women is not, in and of itself, proof of objectification. Going out of the way to satisfy the implied male gaze of the audience with scantily-clad women is.

    5. Who got boners, however briefly? An R-rated movie that contains this little nudity or presentation of women as sex objects to be slavered over by the audience (as opposed to former sex objects newly escaped from their oppressor) is not going out of its way to satisfy the male gaze (well, it did go out of its way to satisfy my male gaze and its unabashed lust for vehicle porn, spinning tires, floored gas pedals, screaming superchargers, and very very large explosions, but nobody cares about the poor exploited cars, ha ha).

      Yeah, he blinked. A lot. That moment struck him more deeply than anything else that happened in the movie. And "needing protection"? Do you remember Splendid hanging out the other door of the cab, shielding Max and Furiosa from Joe's guns with her own unprotected body? That took more raw courage than anything Max did in the whole movie.

      That's really the point of that hosing-down scene that bothers you guys so much. Miller is showing us these five young, scantily-clad and beautiful women, and at first glance they do appear to be helpless and vulnerable sex objects, since that's all Joe ever wanted or allowed them to be. And they escaped that. They spend the rest of the movie working toward their freedom, speaking their minds and never backing down from their opinions. Splendid shields her would-be rescuers with her own pregnant body. Capable shows no fear of Nux and helps him regain his humanity. Toast plays a key role in distracting Joe and allowing Furiosa to kill him. Max barely contributes, except for convincing them to turn around rather than just fleeing out over what I assume is the desiccated floor of a former ocean.

      Would the achievements of the Wives have resonated so deeply if they had first been seen clad in burqas, or sensible outdoorwear? Nobody complains about the objectification of Charlize Theron, since she's presented as pure no-nonsense badass from the beginning. Her arc is different from the wives, and she's got nothing to prove, and nobody mistakes her for a sex kitten to be used and thrown away afterward. Joe made the mistake of assuming his Wives were that disposable.

      And that was the last mistake he ever made.

      How is that not a strongly feminist message?

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