Sunday, June 7, 2015

Mad Max: Fury Road - I spoil all the things.

(content note: slavery, lack of bodily autonomy, post apocalyptic stuff,)

[Added after I finished writing] I, uh, think I had a point.  Not sure what it was.  This ended up being just a play by play reaction dump.[/added]

The movie, in my opinion, started off too slow.  Other than that, I loved the thing.  I do have complaints and world building questions and things I would have liked to see more of, but it's officially the best Mad Max movie yet and a really good action movie in general.

People who are assholes say that the movie is trying to sneak feminism into movies using explosions as cover.  Two things.  First off, as Lonespark pointed out to me, "Feminism and Explosions" (or was it "Feminism with Explosions") sounds like a movie well worth watching.  Second, it's not.

It looks feminist because everything else is so crap in comparison but years from now, if we've made decent progress in the world, people will watch it (I think it'll hold up over time) and won't think feminism.  What makes it attractive to feminists is that there should be loads of fucking movies like it.  The things that are feminist are things that shouldn't have to have an "-ist" attached to them at all.

It takes bodily autonomy seriously.  It takes female person-hood seriously.  It understands that it's ok for a movie to have a bunch of women in the cast.  It understands that women should talk to each other about things that it makes sense for them to talk to each other about which is a category not limited to men (or shopping, or feminine coded activity, or other stereotypes.)

None of these things are supposed to be feminist.  In a perfectly egalitarian world there would still be feminist movies (just like there would still be civil rights movies of all kinds), but this wouldn't be one of them.  It would just be a movie.


Ok, so, to start off, Max isn't quite sane, he's haunted by the ghosts of his wife and, especially, daughter.  He failed to protect them, they're dead, and he's constantly trying to get away from audio and visual hallucinations of them.

This gets to something where it's good to look check things because I remembered the order of the original films wrong, I thought the first one wasn't first and was a prequel, but it turns out they came out in chronological order.

The first movie covers him becoming a broken man with nothing to live for.  His wife and, in the original, son are murdered partway through and he goes on a revenge spree that, once over, leaves him with nothing.  He drives off.

Then the apocalypse happens (previously it was a mere dystopia) and the movies worthy of one's time takes place.  The thing is, by the time the movies start Max has completely moved on from the death of his wife and child.  Revenge apparently allowed him to put it behind him.

I'm not particularly a fan of people haunted by the ghost of their creepy dead child, but at least this new Max has a response to their deaths beyond, "I'm gonna kill everyone responsible and then forget about them."

Anyway, he gets captured.  He's useful for his blood.  Healthy people are hard to come by, and apparently blood transfusions help the not-healthy enforcers of the big bad warlord.  (Joe.)

Enter Furiosa.  The citadel, where the Joe rules, is tapped into an aquifer.  He controls the only major water source seen in the movie, uses it to grow plants, and additionally has human slaves that he milks.  It does not produce oil (thus can't produce gas.)  It does not produce bullets.  Thus it has trade with places that do produce those things.  Thus Furiosa.

Furiosa is a high ranking member of Joe's society and is taking a shipment to those places to bring back a shipment of gas and bullets.  She's got a heavily armored eighteen wheeler and escort vehicles.

Also, she has a prosthetic left forearm.  No one talks about this in the movie because there is no reason to.  When, for whatever reason, she doesn't have the prosthesis, she is not magically made useless.  (It is a painfully and repeatedly bad thing in fiction that has people who use assistive devices are completely unable to function without them.  See: "I'm slightly nearsighted... I dropped my glasses, I CAN'T SEE ANYTHING," for a very common example.)  She obviously isn't just as capable without her prosthesis because if she were there would be no reason to use it, but she's still pretty damn capable (which matches my extremely limited real world observation.)

All of which is to say that the movie portrays a character with a non-standard body well and doesn't ruin it by patting itself on the back for doing so.  That is so fucking rare.  Well, rare in a movie that's not about someone having a disability.  There are some good biographies out there.  But off the top of my head when it comes to non-biopics only three movies I like come to mind that do that.  this is one of them.  And that is bullshit, there should be so many more.

Anyway: Furiosa.  The plot starts when she makes a hard left turn for unexplained reasons.

The warlord panics and runs through his place (which is when we get a look at his plant growing and milking operations) and realizes that his "breeders" are gone.  They're slaves; they're breeding stock.  Five beautiful and, perhaps more importantly, healthy women with whom Joe has sex to produce heirs.

Even the reasonably healthy people we'll meet later in the movie are amazed at how healthy these five women are, so presumably they were taken specifically because of their health in this post-nuclear-apocalypse world, chosen from the entire population he controls.  Even Joe the warlord isn't free from being damaged by the carcinogenic nature of the world, but they are.  He wants healthy heirs.

These slaves are running away because they believe that no one should be owned, not them, not the children they may one day have.  Their leader is estimated to be a month or so from giving birth.  There is a second reason which is exclusively about the children that may have: they don't want them to be warlords.

By their own accounts they seem to have lived pretty well if you ignore the glaring fact that they lacked bodily autonomy.  They don't ignore that fact, as well they should not.  I'm not going to talk about rape, because the movie doesn't, but because of their status as breeders their lack of bodily autonomy by definition included that.  Like I said, I'm not going to talk about it, but I wanted to have an acknowledgement that that is what must have happened, because otherwise it might seem like I'm discounting it because they weren't injured or some such.

So, Furiosa has gone AWOL with the breeders, her crew doesn't know that.  They just know that the boss has made an unexpected turn.  I think that there was a missed opportunity here.  The people who are working for her owe their ultimate loyalty to Joe, but their boss is Furiosa.  Granted a high speed chase while various people try to kill you isn't the ideal time to try to convince people to join you in treason, but I wonder if someone of them might have sided with her if they'd known that she was going to "the green place" with slaves she's freed.

(The green place is where Furiosa is originally from.)

Anyway, I said that her making the left turn set off the plot, and so it does.  Joe the warlord musters his entire army to chase after his stolen slaves.  He doesn't just see it as someone having stolen his property (the slaves themselves) he sees it as his children having been stolen.

He calls for aid from the city state that produces gas and the city state that produces bullets.

Worth pausing for world building points here.  Most of America is water rich.  We have severe problems because we're people-heavy, we grow crops that can't be sustained with local water, we move water all over the place, and so forth, but come apocalypse most of America isn't going to be screwed over for water.  A lot of it will, there is no doubt, but much of it not so much.  We in many parts of America can therefore forget that water is the most valuable resource there is.  Fertile land is an important second, but it's useless without water.

Mad Max is an Australian apocalypse.  It remembers that water matters.

The people who have the oil and the people who have the weapons have to bow to the people who have the water.  Part of this is because the citadel is not at ground level so they can't just drive in and take the place.  The rest of it is because siege is impossible,  Even if the water-having people run out of gas and weapons, so what?  They've got water and food, the people on the outside wouldn't.

So now there are three armies converging on Furiosa, and she's heading through enemy territory anyway which means that she's already picked up other adversaries.

At this point I said to Lonespark that it seemed like the three places were ripe for conquest if anyone was watching.  With the armies out, there are presumably only skeleton crews defending home turf.

So where is Max in all this?  A prisoner.  Joe the warlord has appropriated Norse Myth.  His soldiers live and die by his command in hopes of being reborn in Valhalla.  Now in the biggest conflict that's shown up, a war-boy named Nux looks like he'll have to sit it out because he needs blood.  Max is his donor.

He refuses to sit it out and goes to die in glorious battle.  But he needs the blood.  He brings Max with him strapped to the front of his vehicle.

A couple of notes.  One, there are no electronics.  Signals are done via mirrors reflecting sunlight (for fixed positions) and colored flares.  This is why no one on Furiosa's rig or in her escort knows that she's gone AWOL and is committing treason.

Two, warlord Joe wants his slaves back alive and untouched.  That means that when the pursuit eventually catches up they end up helping her by fighting off the enemies who were attacking her because that's the immediate threat.

Furiosa's treason is only discovered by those with her when she drives into a sandstorm to lose the pursuit.


The reason that I feel like the movie started too slow is that this is when things really get going.  Max wakes up after the sandstorm.  He had prevented Nux from going out in a literal blaze of glory, and now somewhat more free he is able to pull out the tube transporting his blood.  He is not, however, able to break the chain connecting the two.  His attempt to simply break Nux fails because the only thing to try with is a shotgun that doesn't work.

He hears noise and carries Nux, the chain, the vehicle door the chain went through, and the broken shotgun toward the noise.

There he finds Furiosa and the breeders.  It's time they got names.  They are, The Splendid Angharad, Capable, Toast the Knowing, The Dag, and Cheedo the Fragile.  Honestly, I didn't pick any of that up.  I'm not good with names.

Angharad is the leader.  They're using bolt cutters to remove their chastity belts, also getting water from the tank on the transport.

Max holds them at gunpoint (recall that the gun doesn't work) to force them to share water and cut the chain.  Getting the water works out, the chain leads to a three way fight because Nux wakes up.  Eventually a gun that does work is introduced.  Max ends up with the gun, the only shot fired in a miss.  Nux ends up with the clip.  The two team up to apparently win, Nux is the one to get the chain off Max, and is going on about how they can have whatever they want now that they've captured the breeders alive and unharmed, at which point Max turns on Nux and steals the truck.

Max is kind of an asshole.

Furiosa is smart, she's made her truck so that it can't run for long unless she starts it using a specific sequence, so they get back to the truck and end up all heading off together with Max holding everyone at gunpoint.

Shared fighting and they end up in an uneasy alliance.

More stuff.

Nux misses his second chance for a glorious death.


Max and Furiosa are shown as equals, not in every way because that would be silly, Max is better at some stuff, Furiosa is better at other stuff.  The others have basically nothing in the way of combat to offer.  So they do other things.  One of the first impressive things they do is be human shields because Joe will not let anyone shoot them.  It works out for a while, but then bad things happen and they lose Angharad.

Angharad was the leader of the "breeders", she was Joe's favorite wife.  She was the one who convinced the others that people should never be owned.

There's major fallout for all involved.

Cheedo wants to go back.  Compared to everyone else they lived well and if the alternative is death it seems pretty appealing.  Most movies would treat her as a coward to be dismissed, instead the others argue with her, try to convince her to stay with them (and succeed.)  This is good.  This is good because people get to determine for themselves what they will and won't endure.

Nux is on the rig, he'd be in a great place to strike were he not in utter despair.  He knows that Joe, to him more than a warlord but instead the leader of the cult, the person who would deliver him to Valhalla, saw Nux's decision to bring Max result in the death of Angharad.  he knows that his third attempt at glorious death has failed and thinks the gates are forever shut to him.

Joe is in mourning because what was one month away from being his son died.  He's a lot less broken up about the fact that Angharad is dead.

There is moving on.  Capable finds Nux and comforts him, then the rig gets stuck in the mud.  Mud needs water, but it isn't good water.  The trees are dead.  Other than crows there's no apparent life here.

The others find out about Nux when he offers to help, which he does.

Also, Max managed to admit he's not the most awesome person ever when he takes two of the three shots they have with a long range rife, misses, and gives it to Furiosa in defeat.  She makes the remaining shot count.

At this point Warlord Joe is still in mourning and only one vehicle is following them.  Furiosa took out their light.  Max is able to beat the people left in the car and bring back guns and ammo.

They move though a boggy area with with people on stilts, four stilts each (hands and feet) that we never learn more about.  Who are they?  They appear peaceful.  Who are these people?


When they reach Furiosa's people they find that the green place is gone.  The water went bad and the nasty place they just drove through is what was once the green place.  There aren't many left of her people.  Old women on motorcycles.  One not quite so old one.

I love the fact that when her home died around her one of them preserved seeds.  She's tried, but the seeds haven't taken anywhere, but she keeps the seeds.  She's someone who is looking out for the future by preserving the past.  Once she finds fertile soil she's gonna plant those things.

The initial plan is to take the motorcycles further in the same direction, across seemingly endless salt flats on the hope that, on the other side, they'll find something.  They have enough fuel for a hundred and sixty days.  Max doesn't go.  He sees his daughter's ghost with the others, and heads out to them and gets them to stop.  He points out that they have a green place, they know where it is.  The citadel.

With the army after them it isn't defended, Nux is a war-boy so he can bluff that he captured them to get them up to the protected level, and they can take over with minimum risk.  All they have to do is punch through three armies, block off a narrow pass, and not get dead.

Remember, they just got fully armed, so this is the time for a very long, extended, kinetic, momentum aided, fight scene and is fucking awesome.

When the first of Furiosa's people died, in battle, after being impressive, only taken down by being hit by a war-eighteen-wheeler, I commented that she definitely got into Valhalla.  In fact, all of the good guys who die from this point out definitely earned their entrance.

Angharad I'm not sure about because of technical details, she actually died during a brief halt in combat of non-combat reasons.  She definitely deserved a good afterlife, but Valhalla has specific rules that I'm not completely clear on the technicalities.


One of the final great deciding moments involved Cheedo.  Remember her?  The one who wanted to give up, surrender, and go back.

Things are looking bad.  Furiosa is going to fall to her death, Max is, I think, having trouble getting back into the fight, Nux is occupied driving, and pretty much everyone else who can fight is dead or dying.

Cheedo surrenders.  People are shocked and dismayed at her defection, until, when there are people who might kill her in front and behind, she gives Furiosa the hand up needed.

I like this.  I like this so damned much.  She has no skills whatsoever that apply to the situation, she isn't able to help with the fighting, but she does an incredibly brave, high risk thing because something that she can do is offer someone a hand, and that allows Furiosa to get back into the fight and thus results in their ultimate victory.


Nux died blocking the pass.  The initial plan of deception can't work.

Furiosa needs blood to live, Max provides it.  The movie begins with Max's blood being taken from him against his will, it ends with him giving it up for free.

Showing the warlord's dead body rallies the commoners to their side because he was an asshole.

But getting up is a problem.  And here is another thing that's nice.  The adults in power don't know what to do.  The above ground fortress doesn't just have adults though.  The warboys come from somewhere.  It is the children being indoctrinated into being child soldiers who crave fiery death are the ones who give passage to Furiosa and her crew.

Max separates from the others to go off on his own, but unlike the other Mad Max movies he isn't on his own.  He's in a crowd of the common people.  Common people who will no longer be kept in destitution.

The water is delivered to the masses by the women who were kept as slaves to be milked.


Random other things:

Prayers to whatever gods are listening are prayers that I have prayed myself.  It was nice to see it.

With the Norse references there's a good chance that Furiosa ending up as one eyed and apparently in charge was an Odin reference.  She'd make a good king of the gods.

I wish there had been more of her story.  She's the only female driver, she's the only woman we see with any power.  How did she attain that position?  It presumably involved compromising her morals a lot.  She says she's hoping for redemption.  I think that's why she took the "breeders" even though she'd have a better chance of making it if she hadn't.  She hoped that she could make up for some of what she did to survive.

I wish there had been more of how Angharad convinced Furiosa to take them, and how they even got on to the truck.  They were pretty thoroughly secured.  It had to be part prison break part heist.

Stealing the poor from the rich may well be the most noble form of theft in existence (assuming you give the poor their freedom) and yet I feel like it's underrepresented in our fiction.




  1. I really liked Nux's character arc. The look on his face at the end was so beautiful and sad.

  2. The weird thing to me is that if the film had been about Furiosa, without Max's involvement… it might have been rather more interesting. Max doesn't do much for long periods, and it's not really his story, but he keeps coming back into it because he's the Official Franchise Character.

    1. Yes, agreed, definitely. But he vanishes at the end, leaving room for sequels to be about the other characters Fury Road introduced.