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Amidst a tired and silent sandscape, a titanic burst of engine roars as a cavalry of tanks and armored vehicles burst through the scene with fire and grit. Accompanied with the acoustics of war drums and an electric guitar (that also functions as a flamethrower) attempts to chase a war rig that has sheltered refugees escaping human slavery. There, we see our protagonist of the film straddled to an armored car like an ornament while the chase continues with growing fervor.
Oh, what a lovely day, indeed.
There has been a lot of dust kicked up over the latest installment of the Mad Max series, ranging from no-punches-held-back action to an underlying feminist moral at the center of one of this year’s hottest action film. Needless to say, all of these topics must be considered when discussing (or nerding out) about any film, but I want to pay close attention to one aspect that future action movies should always take into account: the body.
I have never witnessed an action film this passionate and intense with its story and action sequences that actually handle the aspects of the body well for the characters. There is not one instance in which I looked at a cast’s body or physical identity within this film, tilted my head, and thought, ‘Wow, this looks entirely out of place. What were the producers thinking?’ Every gritty detail, every little aspect of each character fits their personality in all the right places. The perfect exemplar of this is, without a doubt, Imperator Furiosa.
Many will recall that Furiosa’s right arm is actually a mechanical substitution for where her limb use to be, which can be observed during driving montages and several fighting sequences. Beyond that, not much is known how she lost it, how she personally feels about it, or whether her redemption on Immortan Joe is related to this event. And yet, this is absolutely perfect handling of this key feature.
In other films, they often have characters who are physically disabled lament over how they lost their limbs or feel less ‘human.’ Some films, specifically comedy themed, will often create humor or ‘strangeness’ based on these qualities alone, as if their personality was forgotten by the creators in some sort of storage bin. No, in this case, Fuiosa’s motivation is based only on ‘redemption’ and that is all we need to know. No need to objectify this one feature of her body, as her words, her ideas, and her actions are placed on a higher emphasis than her body alone. Mad Max: Fury Road understood that her character relies on her character alone, not on a small aspect that would somehow justify a sense of ‘personality.’ Of course, this is not without acknowledging that most films would often ignore this feature with women of any kind, so accomplishing both of these aspects must be noted.
In contrast to Fuiosa is Nux, whose perspective of the body is far different from her own, for important reasons. Since it is established that he is slowly drifting towards death, he desires to die within the fields of battle alongside his ruler, Immortan Joe. We can see from his pursed lips, his sunken eyes, and frail body that he is indeed growing weaker. But to Nux, he doesn’t seem to care. As a matter of fact, he almost takes it in stride, as if his body’s passing is one last milestone before his ascension to Valhalla.
One particular scene seems to stand out for Nux’s character, as it ties both his relationship of his physical form with the core of his character. When meeting one of the refugee ‘wives,’ he introduces her to his two bumps on his shoulders (with crudely drawn smiley faces) named Larry and Barry. There in that scene alone do we understand how Nux, while violent and adrenaline-inducing, is only a wide-eyed victim who views his body as a literal vehicle. Where most films would just sanctify his body with his mind as a ‘crazy guy,’ Mad Max gives him depth and motivation for the upkeep of his form. He cares little for body, not in a comedic way, but rather passively than most characters within the film. His major intent is to die with valor and pride within his name, so that he may join his fallen heroes within Valhalla and finally deserting a painful, yet exciting existence.
Finally, one must discuss the main villain of this film, Immortan Joe, who actually has an incredibly strange introduction. Like most movies, we observe shots of parts of a character before building tension up before viewing the antagonist in all of its horror. But the first scenes we see are actually seeing how weak his body is, not his strength. With helping hands to place a breathing apparatus in his grinning mask, plastic armor with indented abs and fake medals, and assistance standing, the audience knows that his power comes not from his form, but rather the illusion of form.
His civilians view him as a god, looking at his body at a distance and seeing the virtues of manhood and power, unknowing that this is all a facade. The only reason he is seen as a threat is his ties with neighboring cities and his arsenal of believers who will die based on the pseudo-mythology he has fed to them. While this might be only one perspective, I wouldn’t be surprised that this introduction was setting up a theme of overt masculinity, in which people who appear strong and capable rarely live up once put under duress (or, in this case, Max and Furiosa).
Just by viewing body types and how characters treat them (or don’t) adds plenty of atmosphere and world building that I have rarely seen done with passion, especially with coming to terms in action films. Hell, it is possible to stress that Mad Max: Fury Road is a shining example of how action films should be created, especially since the narrative is action-heavy, not dialogue-heavy. Because of this, producers must be sure that every detail matters and their messages can be seen scrawled across the landscape and characters. The angry and ravaging bodies within this addition also tells a story, but it has a form of subtlety that most viewers can enjoy without being explained to them! As the franchise begins to grow in popularity, I eagerly await to see what new details and ideas these producers will embody and create the new, modern, action film.
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