Mad Max: Fury Road is one of those rare action films where the main cast features more women than men. In this sort-of-sequel to George Miller's original Mad Max movie, Max Rockatansky (Tom Hardy) is taken prisoner by the powerful warlord Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne), who rules over a mighty war tribe in the post-apocalyptic future.
The harsh conditions of a world largely stripped of civilization have led to the resurgence of a fiercely patriarchal society, where women are kept as slaves by Immortan Joe's tribe for breeding purposes and the leader himself has a harem of healthy young 'wives.' A one-armed fighter called Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) rescues these women in the hope of taking them to her homeland, and in doing so sparks a brutal war - and a very elaborate car chase.
Eve Ensler, the playwright and feminist known best for writing the 1996 play The Vagina Monologues, was brought onto the film as a consultant by Miller in order to avoid creating the usual stock versions of abused characters and to help the female stars better understand their roles. Together with Ensler, who has worked with women living in some of the harshest conditions, the female cast members did extensive research into the experiences of women who had gone through severe trauma.
The feminist overtones of Mad Max: Fury Road have been mentioned in many of the reviews, which so far have been overwhelmingly positive. Ahead of the film's general release later this week, a new featurette focusing on the wives has been released, and in an interview with Time Ensler described Mad Max: Fury Road as a "feminist action film."
"I read the script and was blown away. One out of three women on the planet will be raped or beaten in her lifetime—it’s a central issue of our time, and that violence against women relates to racial and economic injustice. This movie takes those issues head-on. I think George Miller is a feminist, and he made a feminist action film. It was really amazing of him to know that he needed a woman to come in who had experience with this."
It's common for consultants to be brought in as part of the filmmaking process, to offer expertise on subjects that the director might not be familiar with. Miller's previous Mad Max movies have presented some powerful female characters - including The Road Warrior's Warrior Woman and Beyond Thunderdome's Aunty Entity - so perhaps it's not surprising that he would continue that trend in Mad Max: Fury Road.
The wives include Rosie Huntington-Whiteley as the heavily pregnant Splendid Angharad, Abbey Lee as The Dag, Zoë Kravitz as Toast the Knowing, Courtney Eaton as Cheedo the Fragile, and Riley Keough as Capable. In the trailers for the movie, these 'commodities' were shown to leave behind graffiti in Immortan Joe's quarters proclaiming, "We are not things."
One of the benefits of having a large cast of female characters is the ability to portray a broader spectrum of personalities, rather than having one woman representing her entire gender. One of the reasons that the portrayal of Black Widow in the Avengers movies has come under so much scrutiny, for example, is that she is the only female member of the team.
One of the few criticisms that has been levied at Mad Max: Fury Road in reviews is that the story isn't really about Max, and as such he becomes something of a supporting character in a movie that carries his name in the title (he and Godzilla can start a club and wear matching jackets). Then again, this isn't new in the series; both The Road Warrior and Beyond Thunderdome were also about Max coming into communities and helping them to solve their problems.
It's refreshingly bold for a summer blockbuster to blend hardcore action with an overt sociopolitical message, and the early reactions indicate that Mad Max: Fury Road is one of this year's must-see films. Be sure to check out the Screen Rant review later this week and the editors' discussion of the movie on the Screen Rant Underground podcast.
Mad Max: Fury Road arrives in theaters on May 15th, 2015.