In a post-apocalyptic wasteland, precious resources such as water and gasoline are controlled by vicious biker gangs. When the eponymous Max Rockatansky is captured by Immortan Joe’s War Boys to become an unwilling blood donor, it looks like the end of the road. At least, until he becomes involved in a rebellion by Joe’s trusted lieutenant, Imperator Furiosa, who has made a break for freedom along with Joe’s wives – a group of fertile women held against their will.
I have to admit, I didn’t actually have much interest in the Mad Max franchise to begin with. I would have been quite content to let this 2015 reboot pass me by, at least until I listened to the Heroines episode of the Imaginary Worlds podcast. The episode discussed strong female characters, and on the back of it I decided to give Fury Road a whirl – even though, these days it’s impossible to engage with anything in the Mad Max franchise without repeatedly thinking “well, at least Brexit won’t be this bad”.
At its heart, Mad Max: Fury Road is one big chase scene. Souped-up cars and bikes pursue Furiosa’s truck across the desert for the best part of two hours, until in a twist finale she turns round and drives back to the base her pursuers left empty. Since I’m not the biggest fan of chase scenes, it might seem surprising that I sat through this, but actually I found myself appreciating what the film had to offer. There is an aesthetically pure minimalism about Fury Road, an elevation of the chase scene from a mere filmic element into a spectacle in its own right. Unfettered by the need to concentrate on anything else, it is a vividly brutal experience.
And then of course there’s the feminist angle, which, via Imaginary Worlds, is what drew me to the film in the first place. The world of Mad Max put me in mind of this quote from James Tiptree Jr’s short story, The Women Men Don’t See:
“Women have no rights, Don, except what men allow us. Men are more aggressive and powerful, and they run the world. When the next real crisis upsets them, our so-called rights will vanish like—like that smoke. We’ll be back where we always were: property.”
Nowhere is this more evident than in the world of Mad Max. The War Boys and the other gangs we meet are testosterone-fuelled sausage fests. Older women are chained up and milked for “Mother’s Milk”, whilst those are who younger and still fertile are forced to become Joe’s wives and bear his children – at least until Furiosa intervenes. This one-armed, shaven headed warrior is as tough-as-nails, and is arguably more of a main character than the eponymous Max. The fact that she pretty much leads her band of unlikely allies to smash the patriarchy of the War Boys and usher in a more positive future is certainly an uplifting ending.
Mad Max: Fury Road may just be an extended chase scene, but it shines in its stark minimalism – and it brings us a kick-ass female protagonist to boot. Although I’m not sure I’d ever want to watch it again, I’m glad I sampled it once.