Strong female characters do not make a movie a feminist statement, it just makes it a better movie, so the Manimists need to get over themselves.
Movie: Mad Max: Fury Road
Released: May 13, 2015
Director: George Miller
Stars: Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron, Nicholas Hoult, Hugh Keays-Byrne, Josh Helman, Zoe Kravitz, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Riley Keough, Abby Lee, Courtney Eaton
Really this movie is not about the women conquering or overpowering men so much is it about a group of people trying to escape an oppressive regime to make a better home for themselves and their children. In the beginning it is just the five women attempting to flee from their captor, but eventually two men join in on the escape for other reasons. What makes the female characters interesting is that they actually have five distinct personalities.
Usually in an action movie, only the male characters get something that resembles a personality. In most action based movies the women (if women are even in the movie) are in two different categories, the victim and the villain. The victim is always a tiny shell of a woman that cannot go walking five feet from the hero without needing some kind of rescue, she is also more often than not a love interest for the hero and that is her only defining character trait. See movies like Die Hard, The Terminator, Iron Man, Lethal Weapon 2, The Dark Knight, Speed, The Borne Identity, The Incredible Hulk, Bad Boys, Crank, The Expendables (seriously, I could go on for a while). The only times she is not the love interest is when she is the daughter of the hero. See movies like Live Free or Die Hard, Taken, Lethal Weapon, Commando, or the fourth Transformers movie. The villain is a bitch-on-wheels type that is a master in martial arts and can get in some really badass kicks to the hero, but in the end she is killed by the hero much to the happiness of the men who are angry that a woman might actually beat up a guy. See Beverly Hills Cop 2, again Live Free or Die Hard, Terminator 3, X-Men: Days of Futures Past, G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, Dredd. Most of the villainous women have few if any lines and are usually the girlfriend of the main male villain. Obviously there are (very few) times when women do not fall into these categories, see the Alien quadrilogy, Kill Bill, Buffy The Vampire Slayer, The Matrix trillogy, The Long Kiss Goodnight, The Avengers movies, but 97% of the time, they do.
Our female leads here are Furiosa (leading the charge), Splendid, Toast the Knowing, Capable, The Dagg, and Cheedo the Fragile. Furiosa (Theron) is a war rig driver that was kidnaped as a child along with her mother from The Green Place and is looking for redemption. Much of her backstory is a mystery, but many of the details are left open enough for viewers to want to speculate about her. Does she want redemption for possibly having a hand in kidnapping the wives she is trying to set free? Or did she kill a lot of people and now wants to save some innocents in the hopes that she can try and set a balance in herself? Is she like Max and is trying to find a way to quiet the voices of those whom she could not save? How did she lose her arm? Somehow for me the lack of details doesn’t annoy me, it actually makes her more interesting. She is a tough bird, but she shows a sadness and vulnerability that comes with doing and/or seeing horrible things. Theron plays her haunted sorrow to perfection, she doesn’t have to say much to communicate volumes. The movie is more her vehicle than Hardy’s.
Splendid (Huntington-Whiteley) is the favorite wife of the antagonist and is looking like she will pop out his kid at any moment. She is a strong mother to the other wives and is the one who convinces the others and Furiosa to run away. She is the one who gives hope to the others that there is a place where they can go and raise their children to live peacefully with the world instead of continuing to kill it as her captors have. Splendid on many occasions during the escape throws herself in front of Furiosa to keep Immortal Joe (Keays-Byrne) from killing her. She is smart and brave enough to know how to exploit a weakness of his. Despite her pregnant state, she faces down both Max (Hardy) and Immortal Joe on her quest to The Green Place, she is willing to do what is necessary to save her friends and child. I am ashamed to say that I did see the third Transformers movie Huntington-Whiteley stared in. I honestly do not remember much about the movie or her performance in it. That is not a dig at her, it is just the movie is so forgettable that nothing about it made an impression on me and 98% of the events in it were forgotten a few minutes after watching. In Fury Road, she takes on a motherly role with enthusiasm. It is not an easy role to play, she has to show strength in her conviction, but fear for her child and her other companions. Her death shakes everyone to the core because she was the embodiment of their hope, without her they all have to find a way to keep going.
Toast the Knowing (Kravitz) is closer to Furiosa than Splendid in personality. She is a tough one who steps up quickly to the challenges of being on the run. She knows that to get to freedom, you have to keep a watchful eye out on everyone and everything. My guess about Toast is she was not born at Citadel, she was probably one of the more recently captured wives. She seems less sheltered than the others and is less shocked by the violence surrounding her. Like Furiosa, she holds an air of mystery around her, much of who she is kept beneath the surface. When they all meet the other women, the others are absorbed in the plants or fellow females, Toast is fascinated by the weapons they carry. I totally did not recognize Kravitz when I first saw the movie. She looks so plain compared to her other roles, but at the same time she is beautiful. Karvitz is one of those women that is just as beautiful without makeup as she is when she is all done up. She does a great job playing a woman getting to know just how strong she can be in the face of the shit going down.
Capable (Keough) doesn’t say much in the beginning, but when Splendid is killed, she quickly takes up the motherly torch to the others and even takes the lost War Boy, Nux (Hoult), under her wing. She is wants to forgive him for his crimes because she knows he has not known any other life than one of a War Boy. Capable has a big heart and peaceful soul that the others can take comfort in when Splendid is gone. She is shocked by the violence around her in the beginning, but you can see the awareness of what it takes to have freedom forming around her. She gets that you have to fight, but sometimes a little compassion can go a long way as well. I don’t remember Keough in anything else. I know she has been in other movies (even a couple I have seen), but I don’t think she was a main character, or someone we were supposed to remember after seeing the movie.
The Dagg (Lee) is a bit more on the feral side and it is easy to assume she did not grow up in the Citadel. Lee plays her a bit on the wild side with a connection to nature. Having to possibly fend for herself for some time, she understands how to cultivate plants and properly harvest them. While Splendid and Capable are more of the motherly spirits, she is the earthly spirit of the group. She is pregnant like Splendid, but she is in the earlier stages, and she wants to raise her child in a more earthly way. You can tell she is not too thrilled about her pregnancy, she doesn’t even talk about the child until late in the movie, but she does talk to it and wants the child to be okay. Lee is another Victoria Secret model turned actress just like Huntington-Whiteley, but she does not play an over the top beauty like her co-star/model buddy. She looks very child-like and untamed which adds a nice layer to her performance.
Cheeto the Fragile (Eaton) was most likely born in the walls of the Citadel and was raised to be a wife for Immortal Joe. She follows the others, partly out of loyalty to Splendid, but partly out of fear of being left behind to deal with Immortal Joe without the others. Splendid’s death hit her the hardest because Splendid was the one who convinced her to leave the only life she knew. Her hope for a better life is wrapped around Splendid’s. When Immortal Joe’s fighters look to be catching up to them, she wants to surrender in hopes to gaining forgiveness for leaving in the first place. When she realizes that she would most likely get killed trying to surrender, or might be punished for returning, or maybe she realizes that she would be alone if she chooses to go back, she decides to stay and fight. She even uses the weakness of Immortal Joe and his henchmen against them to help Furiosa in the final fight. Eaton is brand spankin’ new to the world of movies so here is hoping for a bright future for her. She uses her wild-eyed innocence (and probably sheer terror as to what in the hell did she just get herself into) well in her performance.
The antagonist is a man, but he is one driven insane by power and elevates himself as an immortal god to those who live in his kingdom. Immortal Joe is able to get away with this because he has access to water which allows him to grow food for him and his “family” of wives and War Boys. Every so often he will shower those who live below his tower with water while telling them the need for water is an addiction they should purge themselves of. That is a lot like the uber 1% telling the supremely poor that money does not matter, they can easily feed, cloth, and shelter themselves without it. Immortal Joe makes all those who surround him his victims in his need to feel god like. But the fact that he is a man is irrelevant. He is the warning that it does not matter if the person is a man or a woman, absolute power corrupts absolutely. A big argument can be made that most of his victims are guys, or specifically, the War Boys.
Even Max falls victim in the beginning to Immortal Joe and his War Boys. He is captured by them and used as a blood donor (or blood bag as they call him) to Nux who is on his last legs. Through all of the car chasing and explosions, Max eventually ends up with our main ladies and they convince him to help by helping him get free of Nux and remove his face mask. He continues to help even when he doesn’t have to because he knows their voices will be added to the ones that already haunt him. Nux eventually joins in on the run after watching Splendid die and realizing Immortal Joe will blame him (it was his blood bag driving the rig), thus depriving him of his chance to live forever in Valhalla (the place Immortal Joe tells the War Boys they will go if they sacrifice themselves for him).
This movie is a beautiful and chaotic two hour car chase and I loved every second of it. I went and saw this movie at Alamo Drafthouse and I couldn’t eat my meal (off of a custom menu just for the movie by the way), the movie was just too intense and I couldn’t look away. I’m hoping George Miller takes that as a complement. In reality, the movie is not about men vs. women or the rise of feminism, it is about the fight against the super powerful that places themselves above everyone else much to the detriment of the populace. In the end, the powerless few realize that if they band together, they can fight the powerful one.
What did you think of Mad Max: Fury Road? Were you completely awed by the use to practical effects for the majority of the stunts instead of CGI? Do you think that Hardy was totally doing his Bane voice?
More Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. character/arc breakdowns coming, I promise. Till next time check out my photos from Dallas Comic Con 2015 on my Facebook page. I will add more as soon as I can get them from the rest of the group who went with me.