It’s entirely appropriate that Mad Max: Fury Road end with Max bidding a quiet farewell to Imperator Furiosa and slinking away into the crowd that has gathered for what appears to be her coronation. For as you sit through the extended closing credits, listening to a pounding reprise of the movie’s epic score at full volume, you realize you didn’t really need Max in the new Mad Max movie. Sure, Max Rockatansky–AKA the Road Warrior–gets into a few fights, drives a bit, and even comes to the aid of a few womenfolk, but when the smoke clears, it is pretty clear some rewriting could very easily have resulted in a movie all about the Imperator and her ambitious plan to liberate the captive breeder wives of Immortan Joe, the apocalyptic warlord of the post-apocalyptic wasteland that is now the earth. The new incarnation of the Road Warrior is strangely subdued and diffident; he is happy to play sidekick; he is traumatized, as numerous rapid-cut flashbacks let us know, but his trauma has resulted in a personality markedly different and not straightforwardly evolved from that of the Road Warrior. We could have done without him. And concentrated on Furiosa and her band of Furies.
Mad Max: Fury Road is an action movie from start to finish, with one chase scene following another, and all paying homage to the epic chase that ended The Road Warrior. Indeed, the entire movie may be thought of as one long chase scene; an interval workout of sorts–intense activity followed by a brief rest, rinse and repeat—-that shows off the technical wizardry of its makers. The music and visuals are extravagant, gloriously, recklessly so, with some flourishes–the drums and guitar truck, complete with flamethrowing axeman, the sandstorm that effortlessly picks up vehicles and consigns them to flames–that seem designed to bring smiles to the faces of the viewers with their sheer effrontery. There is a story, no fear, but it could have been stripped down–as I note above–with no serious loss.
Mens Rights Activists are idiots. This is no feminist classic. (Even if it were, they are still idiots.) Women still need help; Furiosa cannot do it on her own; Max is there to help out. The women who help her are Gaia types perhaps; perhaps some Sapphic cult in the desert sands that is into fertility rites. There is still an archaic reliance on images of sexy, underdressed women. But. Furiosa is a serious ass-kicker, as are some of Immortan’s wives. Just for that–though remember Ripley was here before–Fury Road deserves kudos; women are all too often wallflowers in action movies.
There is the usual post-apocalyptic setting: alternative societal forms ruled by vicious tyrants; water and gasoline are scarce and as precious as gold (though many scenes in the movie are rather cavalier in their wastage of the former); life is reduced to its most elemental variant. Form alliances carefully; look for water and fuel; and ride hard.
The Road Warrior is still the best movie of the Mad Max franchise, but with this installment, it has received a visual reboot. I look forward to the sequels.