I’ve been debating whether or not to write this for a while. At first, I thought anything and everything I could’ve said about this movie could be summed up on Twitter. Then I figured that a TwitLonger post would do the trick. Then I figured it wasn’t worth it, but my frustrations wouldn’t leave me alone. And so, almost a year after its theatrical release, I’m laying down the gauntlet once and for all:
I don’t think Mad Max: Fury Road is all that good.
To be clear, I don’t think it’s awful either. A lot of talent went into it, even though I maintain that it’s a sci-fi version of the Fast and the Furious franchise. It’s well-acted, albeit in a hokey and cartoony way. There are plenty of cool ideas, even if most are superficial. And I definitely enjoyed it. But all of that skirts around the issue I have with the film, one I think so many people are forgetting: nuance.
I’m not against dumb, loud, cartoony fun. The Avengers, after all, was a non-stop adrenaline rush comprised of exactly that, and it’s one of my favourite, pure action movies. But part of that’s because it knew what it was trying to be. It wasn’t striving to be greater than the sum of its parts, and it had no real message save “teamwork defeats all evil”. But Mad Max: Fury Road tried to have a message, and while I applaud it for that, at the same time it’s so poorly-executed that I’m still baffled.
For those not in the know, Mad Max: Fury Road is the story of a former police officer named Max Rakatansky. He lives in a post-apocalyptic Australia and suffers from PTSD due to the deaths of his wife and children. During one of his moments of reflection, he’s captured by a group of warlords, taken to their den, shaved from head-to-toe and used as a blood-bag for…reasons. It turns out that their leader, Immortan Joe, enslaves women and controls his government right down to the allocation of water. When he discovers that his slave driver has escaped, taking his slaves for the ride, he sends his army after them. Of course, Max gets caught in the middle of this, a long chase ensues, explosions occur, weird-looking warriors appear, it’s pretty much a live-action hybrid of Trigun, Twisted Metal and a Roadrunner cartoon.
In case you haven’t noticed, the premise of this movie is dumb and confusing. But whatever, it’s a catalyst for the action and thrills, something I’d normally be fine with. But Mad Max: Fury Road isn’t only content with that, oh no! It also tries its hand at a feminist message, which, again, would be fine…if it didn’t come off as the most shoehorned nonsense I’ve seen in a Hollywood action movie. But it is.
Now, I have nothing against feminism. I’m a feminist. I believe that women are too frequently maligned. I believe there’s an underlying patriarchy that favours men over women. And I believe this patriarchy is damaging to men and women-alike.
That said, I also believe that life’s messy and complicated, and that nothing has an easy solution. Acknowledging that there’s a patriarchy is one problem, and recognizing that it’s unfairly disproportionate is another. However, ignoring that the system’s run by people, all of whom are flawed and multi-faceted, won’t fix the problem. Because even they deserve some credit.
This is where, I think, Mad Max: Fury Road fails. It acknowledges there’s a power imbalance, but the details of its execution are shallow and lopsided. The patriarchal component, for example, is one-dimensional. Immortan Joe has no depth or real character outside his physical appearance, and his war-boy henchmen aren’t much better. They all come off as the frequently goofy stereotypes you’d expect from a 12 year-old’s perceptions of feminism. And while it might be amusing to see men portrayed like living cartoons, it’s not clever writing because it lacks nuance.
Conversely, the women in this movie are portrayed as saints. They have no flaws, they’re impossible to tell apart, and while Imperator Furiosa might be an awesome fighter, you never get a sense that she’s much of anything. I never once connected with anyone because I never had reason to, irrespective of how hard the movie tries. And when I can’t connect with the characters that I’m supposed to because they aren’t written interestingly, well…what am I supposed to do?
the stupidity of the premise, as I’ve seen better films with stupider ones. I can even ignore the over-abundance of explosions because of how much effort went into the stunts. But when has over-stereotyping men ever helped the cause of women? If anything, it only makes it worse!
It’s especially bad because the patriarchal system in the film has no motivation for why it does what it does. At least in Avatar there was a semblance of nuance. The humans weren’t taking over Pandora, they were mining a rare mineral to fix the Earth’s economy. There was a reason for what they did, real stakes. You can argue effectiveness, but that much can’t be denied.
Before you say it, yes, it’s totally fair to compare Mad Max: Fury Road to Avatar here. Because both are messy movies that ham-fist their messages. The only difference? Avatar isn’t hiding anything, while Mad Max: Fury Road is. And yet, one is heavily-criticized for being “generic”, while the other is hailed as a “masterpiece”.
I’m not sure people realize how much of an impact film can have as an art form. Not only in its appeal, but also in shining a mirror back at society. And how many people will look at a breakdown of the patriarchy, which is incredibly damaging, in a serious light when it portrays men as one-dimensional warlords and sex slave owners? Wouldn’t it be more beneficial to show a perpetuated system so ingrained in society that even its moderates are following it without even realizing? Wouldn’t that hit home harder than what we actually got?
Thor: The Dark World exists! And please don’t tell me that the movie is using minimalist storytelling so as to not spoon-feed the audience information, because exposition is sometimes an important part of movie storytelling.
Finally, I’m tired of being redirected to internet think-pieces when I ask fans of Mad Max: Fury Road why it’s clever. Isn’t that NOT why I came to you for an answer? What’s so undeniable that you expect me to accept that the movie’s brilliant? If you’re so insistent that Mad Max: Fury Road is so great, then why not explain why yourself? If you’re making the claim, then you have to back yourself up when challenged.
Whatever, film is subjective. I won’t pull a Bill O’Reilly and stop you from enjoying what you enjoy, that’s not my goal. I simply don’t think Mad Max: Fury Road’s anything special because it lacks nuance. That’s far more harmful to its message than if it had nuance. And isn’t that what really matters? Aren’t we better than this?