I am going to be completely honest here and tell you that 1) I haven’t seen the first three Mad Max movies (which were released in the eighties) and 2) my main reason for wanting to see Fury Road is the fact that it has been called “feminist propaganda” more times than I care to count. When a bunch of straight, white men start complaining about too many powerful women in a movie, I will be the first in line to see it.
At a first glance, the plot of the Max Max: Fury Road (George Miller, 2015) seems simple: the entire film is basically one giant chase. Still, there is more to this film than just a bunch of explosions and some cars racing around the desert. In all seriousness, the movie may be called Mad Max, but the true protagonist of this story is Imperator Furiosa. While Max (Tom Hardy) is captured, tortured and used as a human blood bag for the first half of the film, Furiosa (Charlize Theron) spends her first scenes freeing five women from the patriarchal oppression of the tyrant Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne). In fact, there is one shot that I feel sums up the true meaning of the film most accurately, and that is when Furiosa uses Max’s shoulder as a rifle stand.
Furiosa is an army commander in a men’s world, but that does not define her so much as it emphasizes her strength. Furiosa’s womanhood is similar to her physical handicap: she may be a woman, and she may miss half of her left arm, but that does not define her as a person, and she definitely does not let it stop her from beating up anyone (read: all the men) who stands in her way. The same goes for the five women Furiosa goes out of her way to rescue from their prison in the Immortan Joe’s palace. These women (played by Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Abbey Lee, Zoë Kravitz, Riley Keough and Courtney Eaton) might have been used as sex slaves by their oppressor, and they are still trying to deal with the trauma they have been put through, but they all have their own story and personality, and their time with Immortan Joe does not define them as people. “We are not things,” they frequently remind themselves.
The men of the story who don’t side with Immortan Joe play another important role, though they are less prominent than the women, and this is another aspect in which Mad Max: Fury Road excels. Rather than showing all men as the enemy (which, as we all know, is not what feminism is about), Max and Nux (Nicholas Hoult) are there to help the women with their mission and fight alongside them for a society in which men and women are equal. And still, they do not drive the story the way Furiosa and the five other women do. Ultimately, the women in this story show why it is crucial to fight for equality, and that while it is necessary to escape Joe’s rule to do this, the most important thing is not just an escape from but a change in the entire society.
Basically, Mad Max: Fury Road is one giant allegory of the destructive nature of the patriarchal rule. Immortan Joe’s army is an almost comical portrayal of hypermasculinity, with gigantic cars, enormous weapons, and explosions galore. The women escape a world in which they are objectified and patronized (sound familiar?) and flee looking for “redemption” and “hope”. To me personally, there is nothing better than a director who turns his widely popular action franchise (which, arguably, has previously been mainly aimed at men) into a female empowerment movie. And the fact that this ends up with a matriarchal motorcycle gang is even more amazing. Is Fury Road a feminist propaganda movie? I hate the word propaganda, because it has such a negative connotation, but this is definitely a feminist movie. And why should that be such a bad thing?
Mad Max: Fury Road is a thrilling ride that had me jumping up and down in my cinema seat both because of the non-stop action and the way the women were portrayed. Accompanied by stunning scenery and lots of explosions, this fast-paced film shows exactly what action movies should be like: with women not just as less important side characters and sex objects, but as strong, independent human beings who have the power to change the world.