The Sneaky Progressivism of 'Mad Max: Fury Road'

By Abby Olcese 5-15-2015
Screenshot from 'Mad Max: Fury Road' trailer.
Screenshot from 'Mad Max: Fury Road' trailer.

No movie has approached the post-apocalyptic genre quite as definitively as George Miller’s Mad Max series. The Australian director’s vision of a desert wasteland where warlords battle for fuel has been so influential that it remains the gold standard for many fans, and with good reason — the Mad Max films rank among the most bizarre imaginings of life after the fall of civilization.

The world of Mad Max is inventive, violent, and straight-up weird. It’s a place where gang leaders have cult followings, the noise of revving engines is ever constant, and characters have names like The Lord Humungus, Toecutter, and Toast the Knowing. No, I am not kidding.

It’s also a world filmgoers haven’t seen since the release of the third film in the series, Beyond Thunderdome, in 1985. Finally, thirty years later, we have a new entry, Mad Max: Fury Road. It was worth the wait. Miller’s latest octane-fueled adventure is a movie with a lot on its mind in addition to the wild costumes, crazy vehicles, and mind-blowing effects.

The new film brings world-weary hero Max Rockatansky (played by Tom Hardy, taking over from Mel Gibson) to the Citadel, an oasis of sorts ruled by the tyrannical Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne). Captured for use as a walking blood transfusion for Joe’s warriors, Max escapes with Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron), the driver of one of Joe’s tanker truck War Rigs. Furiosa is also carrying a dangerous set of fellow escapees: five young women (Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Zoe Kravitz, Riley Keough, Abbey Lee, and Courtney Eaton) whom Joe has been using as his personal sex slaves.

The strongest parts of the Mad Max films have always been effects and production design, and it’s thrilling to see Miller working with a budget that fits the scope of his ambitions. Immortan Joe and his army are pale, cancer-ridden beings, kept alive by complex sets of tubes and tanks. The cars look like the results of a demolition derby in hell. One even serves as a wall of amps for a mutant guitarist whose instrument doubles as a flamethrower. Again, not kidding.

What’s also impressive is Miller’s ability to tell a clear story in the midst of non-stop action. Fury Road is essentially a two-hour-laong car chase, but within it, the characters, their motivations and conflicts remain discernable and compelling. Keeping all of that straight in a world that feels so different from our own isn’t easy to pull off — Avengers: Age of Ultron could barely manage it without the societal breakdown.

But this isn’t just a movie about brooding wanderers and spectacular car crashes. The women of Fury Road are the ones who get most of the attention, and who are undeniably the heroes of the film. They are tough, and know how to take care of themselves, but also represent their world’s best hope for change. The film frequently juxtaposes the difference between their compassionate, renewal-focused instincts, and Immortan Joe’s destructive excess.

Mad Max: Fury Road is a giddily entertaining film that sneaks in a progressive stance on women’s rights. What’s more, it does so in a way that serves the story and doesn’t feel forced. George Miller has told a story that feels authentic to the world he’s created, but that also takes it in a new and fascinating direction. It’s fantastic to have Max Rockatansky back on the road, but it’s even better that his creator has done so with a greater purpose in mind.

That and, you know, mutant guitarists.

Mad Max: Fury Road is in theaters now. WATCH the trailer here

Abby Olcese is the Advertising Assistant for Sojourners.​

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