Words of warning and welcome:

This is very much my blog, so don't be surprised if this doesn't follow accepted patterns and norms. It is a place where I can be anonymous and honest, and I appreciate that.

It will deal with many things and new readers would do well to check out the "Story So Far" Page above this and the "New Readers" tag down there on the right. Although there's nothing too bad in here there will be adult language, so be careful. If you think this needs a greater control, please let me know. Thank you!

Saturday, 13 June 2015

Mad Max: Fury Road

The internet is awash with reviews and thoughts about this film from many people better qualified and more thoughtful than I, but it is a film that I have seen and so I felt that I had to at least show willing and offer a review of it. After all, this is the sort of film that I usually avoid - I have seen The Road Warrior and enjoyed it (it used to form part of a unit I taught on the Cold War, of all things) but was never one to recommend it to others and, despite the humour of Lord Humongous, it was never something that touched me the same way as, say, Star Wars.

However, reading some of the reviews online and some of the thoughts about this film made me reassess my thoughts and convinced me that it was worth seeing. I refer, of course, to the oddity that is Mad Max: Fury Road. I was not disappointed. It was, not to put too fine a point on it, far from "MEDIOCRE!" and very likely to ride into Valhalla, shiny and chrome.

 I have now seen it twice, once on my own and once with friends where I even blew off work to do so, which is so unlike me it actually hurts.

So, what can I say that you haven't already seen and read elsewhere? Answer: probably nothing. However, I went to our local cinema to see it and I have to say I didn't really know what to expect. Before I went I knew all about the potential issues with Feminism and disabilities and how this film was apparently being boycotted by MRAs. I have to be honest here, up until that point I wasn't going to see it. On hearing the arguments levelled against the film by various people online, and the rebuttals, I decided to watch the trailers a little and listen to some of the music. Over the course of a week I became hooked on the music and began to wonder about actually going to see the film as well. Then, once I decided that seeing the film was a possibility, I read everything I could find on it.

And yet, on sitting down in the local cinema having paid the sort of prices that even in my youth I would have been happy paying, I just settled and waited for it to begin. I knew, academically, that the style would be intensely visual and that the main character was disabled and that the director would trust the audience. I knew about the use of real stunts and less CGI than most blockbusters use. I knew about the soundtrack. I knew about the themes being played on. I'd spoken to people at length about The Road Warrior and remembered sections that I had thought long forgotten.

And for the next two hours I did not check my watch, lose interest or do more than blink. The film was very well edited so that there was never a dull moment. Plenty of pace, plenty of breaks in which to breathe and plenty of wide shots so that the whole thing never became overwhelming. The soundtrack sounded, well, natural and despite having a repeating theme it never got old. The plot hammered away, being much simpler than I thought it was going to be, but at the same time it was a decent plot. The characters were well drawn, the feeling of dread and pursuit felt real and, throughout it all, it felt like the film I remembered using to teach students about the Cold War and the ever-present paranoia about nuclear Armageddon. It felt right.

None of the pundits were lying because, after I'd finished watching the film (and checking the credits to see where to buy the soundtrack), I suddenly remembered that the main character was missing an arm for the entire film. Oh yeah, I'd forgotten that. This means we had a disabled character whose disability was not a character arc or plot point and whose inclusion seemed perfectly natural. Indeed, there were scenes with the arm both on and off and at no point did that feel forced or preachy. We'd had a female character take over from a male without it being a plot point or particularly notable besides having differing skill-sets in combat. I'd missed it, but noted it after the fact. Hell, we passed the Bechdel test so many times I lost count and there wasn't even a great deal of dialogue in the film. We'd had three bad-guys, all with their own well-choreographed fight and death scenes, that had been introduced, given stories and killed without ever feeling that it was rushed. Max himself was set up, played out and wrapped up as much as he ever was as well as seven other major characters. It was a film that really went to town on the characters and it was only two hours long and most of that was spent in a car chase or shooting things or big explosions.

And the action... I remembered being slightly repulsed by the rawness of the death and the wounds in Road Warrior and that was what had given me pause initially about seeing this film. I needn't have worried. Miller was able to put most of the truly awful stuff off-screen while maintaining just enough that you knew it was happening and didn't feel like you were being talked down to or spared something terrible. It was very cleverly done. The fight scenes were carefully staged so that you never lost track of the characters or the reason for the fights happening. At the same time, the fights felt real and raw and messy - the moves made by characters went wrong, they meshed and nobody got what they wanted ("eugh, MEDIOCRE!") and yet it all flowed beautifully.

And the issues: climate change, nuclear disarmament, social commentary - poverty, objectification, toxic masculinity, Feminism, water wars... they were all there. All of them. And during the film I didn't notice them at all. It was only afterward, thinking about the film, that any of it came out. It was done so well that I'm still thinking about it now, almost two weeks later, and I want to watch Road Warrior again to see what I missed all that time ago.

But that isn't the end, oh no, and the main reason I loved this film is probably down to the following comment that put it better than I ever could:

"Here is why I have lost all sense of proportion over this film and am fully obsessed. I sit here in a 'We Are Not Things' tshirt having given my understanding husband a lecture on fire stunts involving The Gigahorse over breakfast this morning.

"I do love Joss Whedon, but the lack of Strong Female Characters™ was just wonderful. I really like the Lego Movie, for example, but the choice of female characters I can be is Wyldstyle or UniKitty, one of whom isn't even a human, and the other gets to be cool until she is Exceptionally-Yellow-Duded out of the picture and has her narrative explanations 'blah blah blah blahed' out because she has the temerity to have #distractinglysexy hair. 

"I was lost to MM:FR where, right at the beginning, Furiosa turns East and one of the warboys turns up at the window and says something like 'What are we doing?'. She responds 'We're going East', to which he replies "I'll relay the orders down the line" as if this is completely normal. There's no 'what for? Why are we doing this? What are the orders?' he just gets on with it like this is his job, like this is what they do every day, and I suddenly realised how little this happens in mass media. Compare that with things like, say, Disney's Hercules (watched recently with The Chap) in which a young lady is asked if she needs help, she says no and then a male character wades in anyway. Hercules, mate, she said she doesn't need any help - relay the fucking orders down the line and go about your business. To have a woman be an actual leader and not be questioned was just... wonderful.

"Considering last year the character I most wanted to identify with was a male, computer generated raccoon, to have an actual CHOICE of grown human females that I might want to be at different stages of my life is both fantastic and depressing at how little these opportunities arise for me, how excluded I do feel by the representation of my gender in mass media. No one has to bang anyone to express their gratitude, Furiosa doesn't have to die in punishment for being independent."

Well, quite. I did notice, on the second viewing, that bit at the beginning where Furiosa is clearly seen as the one in charge and gets away with not lying simply because she is in charge. And I did notice how it was different to a great deal of stuff in the media about femininity and in contrast to the vision put forth about Ms Jenner recently.