It’s safe to say there hasn’t been a strong demand for the fourth installment to the Mad Max trilogy, but after thirty years George Miller’s return to his crazy, dystopian series has definitely been welcomed by film lovers everywhere.
Mad Max: Fury Road is basically one long battle scene, but don’t let this deter you; the whole film is visually spectacular and a feast for the eyes. Miller hasn’t overloaded the action scenes with special effects in an effort to enhance the post-apocalyptic landscape. However, the CGI that is used doesn’t insult the viewer by being drastically unbelievable despite being set in an entirely unfamiliar world. Miller has definitely let the action do the talking; the stunts are so aesthetically stunning that he is able to keep the dialogue to a minimum throughout the film.
Perhaps the most obvious (and my favourite) development in this installment is the huge advance for women in the genre of action; Charlize Theron, who plays the fearless Imperator Furiosa, has the secured the leading role, outshining the title character, Mad Max (Tom Hardy).
The plot begins with Max being captured by an anarchic, if not nihilistic, blood cult and being used as ‘blood bag’ (blood donor) for the sick War Boy, Nux (Nicholas Hoult) – the War Boys are the army of tyrannical warlord, Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne). In the post-apocalyptic world, further chaos ensues when Furiosa, one of Joe’s most trusted warriors, betrays the cult and smuggles Joe’s five wives out of Citadel in a War Rig. She’s basically a total inspiration to all women everywhere. Strapped to the front of Nux’s car, Max is forced to unwillingly witness the pursuit of Furiosa over the barren and hellish landscape. His expressions while tearing along the dusty Fury Road reflected my confusion at this early stage of the film but as the plot began to unravel I became more intrigued and a willing participate in this totally bizarre world.
It is impossible to turn away from the grotesque imagery Miller creates in the nightmarish setting. This strangeness is captured in the image of one of Joe’s men hanging from a moving (speeding would be more appropriate) tractor unit while shredding a double-neck guitar which also happens to be a flamethrower. It’s at this point that I learnt to just go with it. Miller strips down the plot and dialogue and focuses entirely on the action; words are not needed to display the characters’ identities as their actions reveal their humanity (or lack of it). Max’s flashbacks display his broken state – he has one instinct: to survive.
There’s a lot of themes in this film and religion in particular is quite prevalent. Immortan Joe has created a domineering, dehumanising regime over his almost willing subjects. Women in particular are especially inferior. There is a certain morbid unity about his warriors as they shave their heads and wear white paint resembling skeletons. The regime is based on power and control; Joe is a godlike figure who makes the rules and expects his people to follow them in his name – Nux attempts to sacrifice himself a number of times and is initially eager to prove himself to the warlord. It could be argued that the cult represents the very real religious extremism that exists in today’s society. Traits such as tyrannical social control, total ignorance, deviation from societal norms and the oppression of women (as well as treating them as property) are traits that are evident in certain extreme, religious sectors in our own world. Although this is a piece of dystopian fiction, it is a stage to play out the ‘what if’ element of a post-apocalyptic world if the wrong people reigned. It’s also scarily believable.
Another major theme is the subjugation of women. Women are only valued for one thing in this ‘new world’: their fertility. Joe’s five wives are forced to be sexual slaves and have been specifically chosen because of their good health and strong fertility – many other women have been left disfigured because of the polluted world of fallout radiation. There is a horrific early image of the women hooked up to ‘milking machines’, dehumanised and reduced to nothing more than animals as if they’re void of any emotion.
Despite this, Furiosa is the real protagonist of this film even though she isn’t the title character. Her eagerness and persistence is evident in her attempt to save Joe’s wives from his patriarchal tyranny. The Many Mothers tribe also represent strong, independent women and are critical in overthrowing Immortan Joe with their defiant nature. Although this post-apocalyptic world is set in the future, it lacks any civilisation and has gone backwards in the movement for equality. With the lack of consumerism, basic human instincts have emerged – basic necessities are treated as luxury items (water, mother’s milk, blood and petrol) and Immorten Joe gains power by monopolising these necessities. There is no sign of the civilised society people have worked tirelessly for over the centuries and instead primitive human needs are the main focus.
Max is a key example of these people focusing on their basic instincts. He is ruled by the instinct to survive and is haunted by his past. Personally, I am thrilled Miller did not sell out and make Furiosa the love interest of Max. In this plot, the main woman and man respect one another for their ability to survive and help each other to restore justice. However, Nicholas Hoult’s character, Nux, may be the most interesting. Despite living under the suffocating reign of Immortan Joe and giving his entire being as a sacrifice under a religious delusion, underneath lies human qualities and emotions. His uncontrollable feelings for a female play a part in his transformation from bad to good. He turns against the vicious warlord in favour of love and instead of sacrificing himself for deluded reasons, he sacrifices himself for love and dies with a purpose.
As I stated at the beginning, nobody demanded the continuation of a thirty year old film, but as dystopias seem to become more and more popular in a world with an ever increasing mysterious future, it is easy to see why Mad Max: Fury Road has been such a hit. Miller’s energetic and kinetic film will be remembered for a long time to come and despite being seventy years of age, he has given everyone in Hollywood a new height to target. For me, it is refreshing to see a woman dominate the heroics in a genre so often dominated by men and I think the biggest thing to take away from this film is its moral relevance in today’s society.