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Dennis Perkins

Dennis Perkins is a freelance writer who lives in Auburn with his lovely wife, the writer Emily L. Stephens, and their cat, Cooper. When not watching all the movies ever made or digging up stories about the Maine film scene, he can be found writing for the AV Club and elsewhere. The rest of the time, he's worrying about the Red Sox.

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Posted: June 8, 2017

See ‘Mad Max’ for the fun and the feminism

Written by: Dennis Perkins
Max and Imperator Furiosa, played by Charlize Theron, share the heroic duties in "Mad Max: Fury Road." Photo courtesy of Warner Bros.

Max and Imperator Furiosa, played by Charlize Theron, share the heroic duties in “Mad Max: Fury Road.”
Photo courtesy of Warner Bros.

As part of its Summer Rooftop Film Series, Portland’s Bayside Bowl is showing director George Miller’s 2015 action sequel/instant cult classic “Mad Max: Fury Road” at 8 p.m. on Wednesday, June 14.

Bayside is teaming up with local arts/cool movie venue Space Gallery for a number of its free rooftop films this summer, with this long-gestating fourth “Mad Max” film being the first of those joint efforts.

Sequels are a blight on cinema, of course — except when they aren’t. And “Fury Road” sees Australian action auteur Miller crafting a stellar continuation of the post-apocalyptic trials of “Mad” Max Rockatansky.

A burned-out survivor of global catastrophe, the taciturn Max drives the savage-strewn highways of a blighted Australia until the broken man is invariably and reluctantly drawn into the plight of others. In “Fury Road,” Miller replaced legendary-turned-infamous star Mel Gibson with an ever-superb Tom Hardy as Max, here running afoul of the latest in the string of Outback warlords who’ve turned the lawless wasteland into their own brutal fiefdom.

This time, the baddie is the hulking Immortan Joe, a masked, scarred tyrant who hoards both the area’s entire water supply and a harem of young women as breeding stock, while ensuring his vehicle-happy, slavish minions’ loyalty by crafting a leader-centric pseudo-religion for them to follow. Max, as ever at the start of these films, wishes just to exist in solitude. And, as ever, things don’t go his way, as he finds himself the reluctant helper to the escaped women and their badass turncoat protector, the big-rig-driving Imperator Furiosa (a shaven-headed and rivetingly formidable Charlize Theron).

After that, it’s a chase.

Watch the trailer:

Miller is easily one of the finest action craftsmen in movie history, with a propulsive yet razor-sharp and witty visual style that makes the film’s many sustained action sequences roar with the sheer pleasure of movie-making — and movie-watching. Miller is one of those action directors whose seemingly effortless control of every movement in his frame makes Hollywood’s biggest action names (Michael Bay, I’m looking at you) look like amateurs.

“Fury Road” garnered best picture and best director Oscar nominations. It didn’t win either, but even getting nominated surprised some people. Big, splashy, violent sort-of sci-fi action flicks aren’t usually on the Academy’s prestige-worshipping radar, after all. But the film is such a masterfully executed enterprise from top to bottom, it’s hard to see how it could be ignored. In addition to the film’s pure entertainment value (which is off the charts), Miller has, as usual with these films, layered the mayhem with a distinctly human element that informs the action with surprising depth.

Which is where a lot of guys missed the point.

I’m calling out “guys” here, because, as is the regrettable, braying norm in the internet age, a vocal — not to say profane — minority of male movie “fans” protested that the movie was “too feminist.” Another complaint was that Max wasn’t central enough to the story, as Theron’s Furiosa did at least as much of the heroic derring-do as the titular protagonist.

Okay, boys, a couple of things.

Max has always been the most reluctant hero in his own movies. That’s the point of him, a shattered man who’s surrendered all hope being sparked back to life by those who still retain theirs. Here, it’s Furiosa and these enslaved women who, escaping from their chauvinistic captor, scrawl the message, “We are not things” on the wall of their cell. Max never wants to help anyone — until he does — and, here, the point is that he comes across a group of women whose rebellion against their own commodification rekindles the almost-lost core of humanity he still has within himself.

In the original “Mad Max,” Max was a good cop and a family man, trying to keep the peace in a world increasingly overrun by brutal, self-aggrandizing men who asserted, through violence and macho posturing, that might makes right. Whining about a “Mad Max” movie being feminist means all you ever saw was yahoo spectacle. You missed the point.

The same dynamic has flooded the internet in the form of (again, profanely male) backlash against the all-female “Ghostbusters” remake and, now, the solid-looking “Wonder Woman” movie. Hmm, abusive, sneering men raising a sexist stink about movies that dare to have strong female action leads at their centers and demanding that everything be about them. I wonder why that is? Boycott away, fellas — more fun for those of us who can appreciate things without cultural blinders on. (Oh, and men actually suing because the Alamo Drafthouse is holding a few woman-only screenings of “Wonder Woman?” You know everyone is laughing at your bullying insecurity, right?)

So, come to Bayside, revel in the glorious spectacle, certainly. But recognize that, even in this luridly violent action opera, there’s a lot more to see.

Bayside Bowl’s Summer Rooftop Film Series presents “Mad Max: Fury Road” on Wednesday, June 14. Screenings are free, but seating is limited and on a first-come, first-served basis. The screening starts at sundown and is a 21-plus event. For more details, check out the Space website:


Thursday-Sunday: “Stalker.” Fans of dreamy sci-fi weirdness across the country are flocking to this digitally restored re-release of Andrei Tarkovsky’s legendary 1979 film about a guide taking a client across the mysterious “Zone” in search of a wish-granting room.
Thursday: “Pay It No Mind.” As part of the library’s June Pride movie celebration, this documentary about Marsha P. Jordan, the renowned LGBTQ rights activist and trans woman of color, will be followed by a discussion with Gia Drew of Equality Maine.

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