I saw Mad Max: Fury Road today. I won’t be joining in the general indiscriminate acclaim (saving that behaviour for Hou Hsiao-hsien’s The Assassin, whenever I get to see it). Instead, I’m trying to work out what bugs me about the Mad Max franchise. Here’s a stab at it:
Mad Max Fury Road, like its predecessors, takes certain stands, adopts certain poses, without actually committing to them. It’s like the old rap against post-modern architecture. All aesthetic pose, no commitment, no meaning, no ethics. Mad Max 1 was a flagrantly neo-Nazi film (or, at the very least, a crude Nietzschean fable) about the satisfactions of the (super-)hero wielding limitless violence against terrifyingly sub-human others. MM2 went to the other extreme, and played out like a communitarian (anarcho-socialist) fable, in which the individual discovers he’s nothing unless he works for the good of the community. Very sweet, but what kind of ideological jujitsu can get you from MM1 to MM2 without batting an eye? (MM3 was unwatchable, so I don’t know what happens there).
And, in Mad Max: Fury Road, we have a new ideological costume: “feminism”, which Miller plays with, references, winks at, coats the surface of his film with, and redesigns his basic narrative to accommodate.
But all of these are poses: none is essential. At least the first instalment, noxious as its implied fascism was to think about, was visually striking, coherent, and original. MM’s dedication to something like “design” (in the broadest sense) was there, fully formed, in part one, and has persisted through to part four. But fascism, socialism, and feminism aren’t matters of design, really, and can’t be lightly substituted one for the other, even if that’s what MM seems most anxious to try to assert.