While its been several months since the latest Mad Max movie came out, I was only just recently able to slip in a chance to see before it left the big screen.
I’m generally a fan of action movies, but I was particularly intrigued when early reviews praised Mad Max as a feminist dystopic. That’s not what I expected based on my recollections of post-apocalyptic barbarian men fighting each other from tricked out, dilapidated vehicles from earlier films.
By the time I started seeing reviews that, perhaps, the film wasn’t as feminist as some might hope (or fear), my interest was already too piqued to miss it.
Now, before I get into a feminist critique of the film, let me start with this: I enjoyed it. It was a fun movie. There were lots of explosions, and I like explosions. There were some decent fight sequences with good choreography. Nothing of the caliber of, say, the first Transporter movie or even of the new Daredevil tv series, but it was better than the CGI nonsense some films try to pass off as action these days.
It was as enjoyable as any other action movie I might go see in theaters.
But. Mad Max: Fury Road is not a feminist movie.
Put another way, if Mad Max meets our standards for feminism, our standards are terribly low.
It surely does a better job of representing women than most Hollywood films, but “better than completely sexist” is not my definition of feminism.
The film stars a woman – not the titular character, but arguably the main protagonist nonetheless – who is a tough, competent, fighter. She is even a better shot than the male protagonist; a trait which, I suppose, brought some men close to fainting.
But the idea that a woman can defend herself – and that she might even be tougher than men – should not be radical. We should expect strong women in all our movies.
And the fact that Furiousa is the only truly tough woman in the movie should give us pause.
Similarly, Mad Max passes the famous Bechdel test – indicating that the film includes at least two women who talk to each other about something other than a man.
It is great that Mad Max passes this test which is failed by Terminator Genisys, Amazing Spider-Man 2, The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, and many other movies.
But, again, women talking to each other is a pretty low bar. I expect more than that.
Perhaps what struck me most about Mad Max was the tenderness of the women. All the female characters – even bad ass Furiousa – had a certain softness to them. A warmth and a love.
The message of the movie seemed to be: the hardness of men destroyed the world; the softness of women can repair it.
There were some excellent scenes emphasizing the injustice of male dominance and boldly advocating for women’s sexual freedom, but the pervasiveness of stereotypes seemed to balance them out.
It wasn’t a terribly sexist movie, but it wasn’t feminist either.
At least no one tried running from dinosaurs in heels.