George Miller is an ecology minded director with an eye on the concerns of the future of mankind, its treatment of animals and lastly but most importantly, the value of women not just for decoration but for everything that matters. That must be why he gave over his Mad Max reboot to Charlize Theron who, with Fury Road, becomes one of the screen’s great icons — male or female — to inhabit the entire film, leaving her co-stars mostly in the dust. Literally. Theron’s Imperator Furiosa is not ass-kicking eye candy meant to aid the hero in his quest to save the world. This film is her quest to change the messed up the world and fix what’s wrong. Who killed the world? Well, Fury Road makes that quite clear.
With one arm cgi-d off, Theron cuts a tall, lean, mean figure — part Ripley in the Alien series, part Mad Max in the Mel Gibson incarnations. For once she knows the weaponry better than any dude, is a better shot, and will fight the thing to the death not to delight the fancy of male viewers but she is, at last, a human being beyond even her sex.
To that end, I personally don’t see Mad Max: Fury Road as a “feminist” film because I see the women as human beings fighting for the salvation of the planet and the right to be free. They are all oppressed but it’s the women, led by Theron, who ultimately take a righteous and bloody stand. A feminist argument could easily made, one that talks about sex trafficking, Hollywood sexism, but the brilliant thing about this film and why it’s such a giant step forward is that the women are treated equally — they are fighters, they are eye candy, they are nurturers, they are making decisions. Fury Road would have been a great movie without the women playing an equal part but it is an exceptional one with them. Leave it to George Miller to wipe clean the recent trend of “move over honey I’ll drive” casting. Those who make the decisions in Hollywood that led to this sorry-ass state of affairs should get schooled from the wise and experienced Miller.
Fury Road is loud, all up in your grill, non-stop, blaring, jarring action for most of it. It does calm down eventually as it sets itself up for its unforgettably thrilling, applause-inducing finale. The theater here in Cannes burst into spontaneous applause many times but especially after that sequence. Half of it seems cinematically impossible, let alone physically. But Miller’s camera just doesn’t want to stop and breathe. It flies about, following hands reaching for guns, feet jamming on pedals, nails ramming into foreheads, people climbing underneath speeding vehicles and then there’s that barren landscape, the end of the world where everything turned to dust.
Fury Road is so much spectacle. Theron gives the film its beating heart. That might sound like the role women are often given but in this case, she has no love interest but is on a mission to save the “breeders,” a group of the prettiest, freshest, youngest women being held as sex slaves. This group includes a surprisingly talented Rose Huntington Whitely. Surprising because she’s a model, like the rest of them, who can act. She’s mostly known as Jason Statham’s girlfriend but in this film she shows that she’s got something beyond her very pretty face.
Miller casts women of all types and varieties but I was particularly thrilled seeing older women as warriors. Of course, they have all types of men playing fighters and warriors too but it’s not often you get to see any woman over the age of sixty lobbing spears and bullets in the name of righteousness.
Tom Hardy makes for a marvelous Mad Max, though he does take a slight backseat to Theron. This is her story mostly and he reluctantly helps. Still, the moments he does prove why he’s one of the best of his generation. What a versatile actor he’s proving to be, with the help of many opportunities available to him. Not so with Ms. Theron, who once seemed to have peaked with Monster. Too many actresses show us what they can really do, win an Oscar, then disappear. She’s turned up a few times but nothing on this scale. Theron has sweetened with age and might go on to have a much richer career because of this shaved head, road warrior moment she’s been given.
Some men seem to feel resentment at the use of the word feminist. All it really means is equal rights for women. Yet the word has become so loaded it almost seems to lug around a parenthetical that also says (man-hater). Fury Road shows us a world where women are given equal opportunities to defend themselves and fight for justice. In rescuing the “breeders” Theron is changing the way men in power view women. That counts as fighting for equal rights so you would be well within the realm of reality to call her a feminist. That isn’t how I saw the movie, though, I must admit. We’ve become so dry in how women are portrayed anymore that any leading role a woman gets automatically seems to make it fodder for feminist writers or critics.
But I grew up in a different time where women did star in movies. Just as Theron and her crew were searching for green things, fresh water and life to return to, Miller has returned the role of women to the big screen as people. Fury Road is a cinematic experience like no other — not just because 80% of the effects are practical — non-cgi — and not just because he treats women as people, but because it is a thrill a minute, one of the most breathtaking action films I’ve ever seen. It’s a work of art on a grand scale. The only thing left is the bottom line.
As far as the Oscar race goes, could Charlize Theron sneak in? Stranger thing have happened, but my initial thoughts on that are there will be more Oscar-y kinds of performances that will be introduced. Follow the money.