(Author’s note: Spencer’s Soapbox is a weekly column here on SHH where yours truly tries to spur a conversation on specific topics. Dive in to the latest installment below and check out the previous ones by clicking here.)
As you’ve no doubt noticed, sometimes we cover things here on SHH that aren’t strictly speaking “about superheroes.” We do this because we know our audience and we know that certain genre stories are still of interest to them. Case in point: Mad Max: Fury Road. We started covering “Fury Road” when the project began coming together, and up until now it seemed like the kind of film that was just another thing that readers were interested in, but in fact it fits well under the banner of “superhero.” There’s also the fact that it totally shames all other superhero movies in both style, action, and its messages.
He might be the title character, and Max certainly maintains the spotlight, but Charlize Theron’s Imperator Furiosa steals the show and saves the day. Furiosa’s power is not only in her physical ability to command an entire war rig and kill people while driving, but in the nature of her character. She cares more about saving the people that need it, and helping those that can’t help themselves instead of doing what she is told. She’s not a puppet or a slave, she’s a person that knows the value of life. It’s an arc as a character that is both fulfilling for the narrative and satisfying for an audience. Max is also given the position of the reluctant participant, the sort of anti-hero path that we see in the darker corners of comics, and folds it into a far more memorable way than other heroes that have followed similar routes. Max knows he has the responsibilities of a guardian in the wasteland. An important part of being a hero is putting the needs of the world ahead of yourself, and both Max and Furiosa basically have this tattoo’d on their faces.
One of the most common complaints levied against a modern superhero movie is that the villain is uninteresting, which couldn’t be less true for “Fury Road.” Hugh Keays-Byrne’s Immortan Joe is perhaps the most vile, malicious, and interesting villains of the decade. The mark of a great villain is one that doesn’t acknowledge his own evil, but thinks he’s justified in his cause, and Joe is an entitled and loathsome beast. Every time he’s on screen, you’re captivated by what he brings to the table in how he deepens the world of the movie and its message. Plus, in a movie with a man playing a flamethrower guitar strapped to a garbage truck with hundreds of speakers, he’s still one of the most visually-memorable characters.
“Fury Road” is a fuel-injected parade of carnage and one of the most mesmerizing movies I’ve ever seen. It’s not until the movie ends that you realize you’ve been holding your breath the entire time, but the film slows down so seldom that there’s no opportunity for you to get off the ride unless you jump. There are a number of things so incredible about this movie, such as the continuous use of practical effects, that director George Miller has managed to make one of the most visually-impressive action movies of recent memory. Don’t get me wrong, I love Avengers: Age of Ultron and Captain America: The Winter Soldier, but Miller chained them both to the front of a supped-up car and dragged them through the desert. That’s not to devalue what is done in those movies, but Mad Max: Fury Road takes it all to a new level.
Here’s what’s important about Mad Max: Fury Road, at its most basic it’s a film about perseverance, hope, fear, doubt, and overall, survival. These themes aren’t exclusive to the superhero genre, but they are the most common, and “Fury Road” puts them in perspective to such an extreme degree that it’s hard to ignore them. You can’t make a superhero movie without hope being at the forefront, and “Fury Road’s” hope is both the furthest away and the most needed. There is also, as our own Silas Lesnick pointed out, the fact that the film does a dance between the edges of hope and fear, and preaches the message that hope is not easily attained because it is so precious. That’s something few other movies would dare to say, but “Fury Road” is willing to go to the edges to deliver a message that isn’t easy to say.
At the surface level it may not seem like a “superhero movie,” especially after the juggernaut that was Avengers: Age of Ultron, but Mad Max: Fury Road is the purest definition of super heroism on film. Characters in peril beyond our own abilities, surviving in life threatening situations, and saving those that can’t overcome the world on their own, that’s exactly what it means to be a superhero. Superheroes aren’t defined by having super powers or wearing tights and a cape, they’re defined by being better than us, helping others in ways they can’t, and pulling things off that a normal person couldn’t even dare. “Fury Road” elevates the genre too, not only because of its unmatchable visual style, but because of its unabashed message which is a grand middle finger to establishments the world over. It’s punk rock on celluloid, a loud and uncompromising screed about what’s wrong with our culture, and it did a better job of instilling hope in me than The Avengers or Superman.