Sunday, 17 May 2015

film review: Mad Max: Fury Road

I haven't done a film review in a while, mainly because I stopped being able to go to the movies for free and write it up for the student paper. Now I have to pay for my cinema-going like I'm a member of the general public or something. It makes me want to shake my fist and post something in Thumbs Up Thumbs Down, but I'm saving that for something less important that I care more about.

I have this counter-intuitive tendency to want to go see action movies when I'm hungover. The dark cinema thing is good, but sometimes the loud dubstep explosion noises are a bit much. Still, I persevere. Maybe it's that I like to see shit get blown up when I'm feeling plain. Maybe it's the choc tops. Couldn't tell ya.

I took my red wine hangover to the cinema to see "Mad Max: Fury Road" yesterday, and holy shit I am pleased about my life choices. I'm even more pleased than I was when I won/got given the fruit and veg tray at the raffle at the bar earlier in the week, and in that spirit (and to hopefully slightly annoy my friend Paddy) I'm going to tell you all that I won Mad Max at the cinema yesterday. Because I actually did.

I walked into it with mixed expectations, because on one hand action movies are generally gratuitous in a myriad of ways; between the trophy females that need saving and the manly men with no real feelings and the poorly taped-together plotlines there is a desperate need to suspend all disbelief. On the other hand, I'd heard rumours from The Feminists On The Internet that there was a bit more of something going on in this movie. I avoided all the reviews so I could attempt to have my own thoughts about it, and gosh did I think some things. Here are some of them:

I love a good dystopian setting. When it's just so clear to me that we're basically fucking the planet up and wrecking all the things, I get curious about what sort of future we're allowing ourselves to imagine, or, you know, allowing the artists to imagine for us. I am particularly interested in how we re-imagine gender roles, when we could potentially remake everything. I still want to write a thesis on this. Put it in the pile. Mad Max sits in a futuristic world where the planet is all wrecked and there's just a whole lot of sand everywhere all the time, and it made for some amazing scenery and settings for what basically equated to some folks driving somewhere and then turning around and driving back (spoiler alert). The vehicles were all very steampunk-chic and incredible to look at.

The action sequences were great. They nearly all took place while vehicles were moving, the violence was reasonably graphic without feeling gratuitous. I like seeing people's faces split in half as much as the next person, but can appreciate that level of blood is not for everyone. While part of me wanted to see what the bad guys looked like when they got run over, I was satisfied that they had gotten run over, because it was really the only way to make them stop. Those guys were persistent. Because it was an action movie, there was a lot of fighting. Between you and me I'm not sure everyone really got enough sleep, and I didn't see them eat much, besides the occasional two-headed lizard or spider (spoiler alert). Anyhow, they seemed to be ok with just muddling on through as far as the practicalities.

The leads were Tom Hardy as Max Rockatansky and Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa. Given that this is a franchise, of course it was called "Mad Max: something something", but honestly, if you didn't have that background knowledge you'd be hard pressed choosing which of these attractive (albeit rather dusty and sweaty) people was the protagonist. It wasn't Max's story, and it wasn't Furiosa's. Herein lies the reason I'm calling it awesome.

When you're a feminist and you go to the movies you have a few choices about your thought process during and after the movie. A lot of the time, as mentioned above, I can assume a certain level of generic patriarchal crap from an action movie and not get worked up about that (still trying my very best not to notice the complete lack of meaningful roles for women in many action movies movies in general). I can also go to a movie expecting it to please my feminist self and be disappointed enough to rant. I can go not expecting anything and have it go either way. As noted, I had heard that the feminists liked this one, so I was curious.

The reason this movie was so good is because there were two main characters kicking ass and using their mad skills to help people who needed help, and they were both as tough as each other. They were also both allowed to be vulnerable at certain points. They were both driven, complex characters with three-dimensional motivations for their actions (as much as they were allowed to be in a 2 hour action film). They were both beautiful, of course (I mean, Tom Hardy certainly has a face on the front of his head, if you know what I mean; Charlize Theron wore that short hair like she was doing it a favour, right on top of her head and everything) but that wasn't quite the point.

I'm not saying there weren't problematic factors here: the many wives or 'breeders' as they were so charmingly called certainly could have been more practically dressed for the weather. I didn't probably need to see their nipples, unless there was a metaphor there that went over my head. To be fair, as effective sex slaves to the old blistery guy I guess they may not have had much else on offer as wardrobe options. And they got their chance to be more than just helpless baby factories too, they probably killed a more than good handful of bad guys between them (spoiler alert). I want to know if they were meeting the eye candy requirement of action movies, or if we weren't meant to notice their near-nakedness at all (I strongly doubt it). The bloody patriarchy means I'm always noticing the nipples and the nudity. It means I'm often doing my best to ignore the way the nipples and the nudity are used.

Women in this dystopian future got to be so many things. They got to be fierce warriors with traumatic childhoods, full of loyalty and the drive to change the fates of other more vulnerable people. They were prisoners trapped for their childbearing ability; farm animals producing milk and sons. Commodities. They got to be hard and soft, beautiful and grotesque, whole and missing pieces. They got to feel love and fear and pain, they were brave despite the odds being stacked another way. They got to be weak, they betrayed the cause, they were strong and idealistic and realistic and sassy. They rescued and were rescued. You get my point, I think. This is what women actually are, and we deserve to keep being this, even in a desert world of the future.

Men got to be more than one thing, too. They were all geared for battle at every point, but all sick and coming undone underneath the armour (literal and metaphorical, y'all). The better film/real world I dream about allows everyone more dimensions. It's the only way.

I never promised this wouldn't get rant-like. Follow me into a better future.

I wish for and imagine these sorts of directorial choices to be so common and obvious that they are no longer even worthy of comment, more just 'but of course'. As it stands, my feelings are that this movie gets 4.5 stars. Go see it.

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