Attended by hyperbole nearly as loud as the movie itself, the long-awaited post-apocalyptic chase movie Mad Max: Fury Road finally hit theatres this weekend. Visually dense and moving at a nearly non-stop pace, Fury Road more than honors the trilogy that preceded it, taking title anti-hero Max (played with feral rage and a smouldering humanity by Tom Hardy) into directions both familiar and new, and pairing him with one-armed freedom fighter Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron, equally formidable and shaded).
Peopled with a fantastic array of characters, and sporting several dozen different vehicles throughout its extended chase scenes, the thing delivers all the action advertised. And though this is the aspect that many people are talking about, the action, as impressive as it is, is just one shade of what's going on in Fury Road. It is as loud and explosive as you'd want a summer blockbuster to be, but it lingers long after the dust settles. The complexity of its vision, the artful packing of its details are just staggering, and one realizes that it's got imagination enough for about ten movies. Thinking about everything it accomplishes, the movie feels too damn big to write about.
Much has been made, reasonably, of the movie's overt feminism. Tellingly, Theron and Hardy share billing at the top of the movie, and many have argued that Furiosa, imposing with her metal arm and driving skills, is the movie's real hero. Though the non-stop action, at a glance, marks Fury Road as a guy's movie, there are a high number of speaking parts for women in the movie, and all of them are given agency, motivation, dimension. The slogan WE ARE NOT THINGS is even visible on the wall of a cell from which the villain's multiple wives have been sprung. The movie often feels like a full-tilt assault on The Patriarchy, and yet it mounts its attack without being preachy. And it somehow manages to convince us that horrifying violence is part of the day-to-day life in this ruined world (the violations suffered by Max in the movie's first 20 minutes underscore this powerfully) without sleazily rubbing our faces in it. The movie's feminism is more articulated than the simplistic OMG Strong Woman occasionally managed by other blockbusters, and is more than enough to make it the summer action spectacular that many women have been waiting for.
And yet as remarkable (even ground-breaking) as its feminist parables are, they are just ONE facet of the movie with which to reckon. Never mind that director George Miller balances action and feminism while steering well clear of exploitation and didacticism (which is a difficult enough task for any filmmaker who sets his/her mind to it), but he does so within the context of everything else happening in the movie. The grand action spectacle, including chase scenes many, many minutes long, involving seemingly every stuntperson in Australia. The exquisite and jam-packed production design by comic book artist/co-screenwriter Brendan McCarthy (feeling so much like one of his visually dense comics brought to life that it may well be the most sincere and direct comic book movie ever made). And the movie's stunning articulacy in an action movie language, speaking volumes about characters in short, sharp gestures, Hardy and Theron capturing their characters' growing, almost psychic rapport through the fluidity and grace of an almost entirely physical dialogue.