Monday Morning Critic – Perspective on the Mad Max Sequels: The “Feminist Problem” of Mad Max: Fury Road And Mythos Of Max Rockatansky – Plus Thoughts on the Mad Men Series Finale (Spoilers)

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There were a handful of interesting stories about Mad Max: Fury Road going into the film’s release. The big to do was a handful of articles about people getting a little upset about the “feminist” angle of the film. Throw in the resultant articles mocking these people from guys desperate to prove that they’re the biggest feminist of them all and it felt like listening to 10 seconds of a song and clicking next. No one could ramble on about the film without mentioning what was a fairly substantial story on the web. It overtook the film in a lot of ways and I think people overrated it to a certain degree because they wanted to be a part of the backlash against the backlash.

I was kind of reminded me of that South Park episode where the boys try to turn into the biggest lesbian of them all to win the affections of Ms. Ellen. That also made me old because that episode aired in 1998, when I was a freshman in college.

It ruined 99% of the reviews I tried to read about the film online. I always read up on a film from other writers and critics, mainly because I want to see what people did or did not like about a film going in. I like to think of it as being an informed movie watcher; it’s like reading a fight preview or a “5 points to watch” for an upcoming game as far as I’m concerned. Other perspectives are always interesting and make you think about a film going into it. And so much of it was little Stans and Kyles trying to what I presume was to earn brownie points for any number of reasons. It was amusing to watch on a handful of levels, of course, but I think it affected the way a lot of people looked at the film in ways that negatively affected a lot of good writers.

What I took most from the film, and what I cut from my review of it because I thought it didn’t fit in as well, is that Fury Road is like Beyond Thunderdome and The Road Warrior in that it’s not really Max’s story. The only film that really was Max’s story was the first film, where Max Rockatansky tries to be an honorable man in times that were proving to be less than that. In the end, when he winds up becoming that sadistic guy to fit in with the barbarism of the world around him, Rockatansky as we know him disappears. It’s a matter of perspective on how to classify the first film and the sequels that followed.

Mad Max is the only film about Max Rockatansky. The sequels are about the myth of Mad Max, The Road Warrior.

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The one thing that’s never stated in the sequels, outside of Max looking for redemption, is that this is never Max’s story. Max stopped being a man the moment Mad Max stopped. What has happened since, on screen, to Max Rockatansky ever since has been stories of his interactions with people told by others.

What’s missing is what happened in the mean time, as we never see what Max did between running into people he’s helped. Max is not a good man, hence why he helps people for a price. It’s always for his car, for gasoline or provisions, and one imagines that the real story of Max is a guy who helped out when it was in his best interests or there was something in it for him. He’s not a hero, not by any stretch of the imagination, and the sequels are the myth making of “Mad Max, The Road Warrior” as opposed to “Max Rockatansky, Guy Who Did Good Things In Between All The Murders, Theft and Degeneracy that everyone else was doing too.”

The real man probably did all sorts of vile stuff to stay alive. The legend walked into horrible situations and wound up being a hero. Thus the legend is retold and the man is slowly forgotten.

Max was an anti-hero from the start, a thing people forget because it was Mel Gibson (when he was likable, before the invasion of his privacy and published Antisemitism) in the lead role, and one imagines to survive in the world he found himself in things like murder are now in his wheel house. He may have punished the guys who killed his family in horrific ways but something like that isn’t something that just turns itself off, either. In a world where murder is kind of a normal thing let’s not act like Max was some sort of hero in any aspect. Why?

Because in between films he probably killed a lot of people for reasons that may not have been justified in the generic Judeo-Christian sense of morality by which modern society governs itself.

It’s why all three of the sequels have different tones. The Road Warrior is told as a hero making story by someone who didn’t know him well. The Feral Kid, who is telling the tale of the Road Warrior, remembers Max from long ago. Beyond Thunderdome is similar, with the film ending with tales from children of the “Road Warrior” who helped them out. Fury Road is the same tale, told from the women who Max saved in the desert. It’s why the narrative of each has its own different perspective. That’s why it’s “feminist” … because it’s a tale told by a woman of the Road Warrior.

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The key is that what’s unraveling on screen in the film universe’s reality is a book of mythic tales. He magically shows up and does good things, though not usually for the most altruistic reasons at first, and then disappears to wander again. These are tales being told by others from many years in the future, which is why his look changes and everything is significantly over the top. Details change based on who’s writing/telling the story, of course, but whomever is telling it alters the story to their perspective.

It’s why the feminist anglings of Fury Road make sense to me. This isn’t the tale of Max Rockatansky. These are the tales from years in the future of a hero after the fall of civilization, told from different perspectives. It’s why Fury Road has the slant it does. History is written by those who lived to tell the tale. And the Mad Max franchise is one where it’s about the tales of Max, told by those who had an experience with him.

I think of it like a post-apocalyptic Bible, told of stories about what happened during the fall of man and the heroes (and villains) who cropped up in the years between man’s decline and eventual rise back to normalcy. And Mad Max, the Road Warrior, is one of them and we’re hearing the stories of his time on the fringes of what was left of humanity.

Stuff for General George S. Pimpage, Esq

I wasn’t a huge fan of Mad Max:Fury Road. Read why here.

If you want to pimp anything email it to me with a good reason why. It helps to bribe me with stuff, just saying ….

A Movie A Week – The Challenge

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This week’s TV Show- Mad Men (Series Finale)

When you think of the great TV shows of our era, which might be the strongest creatively of all the entertainment media right now, one of the ones that pops up towards the end of the conversation is Mad Men. It’s not the best show on television but it’s one of those that added to the conversation. And last night it ended after seven seasons, the final one split in half.

Simple premise: the show is about the inner workings of an ad agency in the 1960s, focusing on the “Mad Men” on Madison Avenue. We focus on Don Draper (Jon Hamm), of Sterling Cooper, a mid sized agency with some big clients always looking for more. A family man who’s a good father, Don loves two things almost as much: whiskey and strange tang. Throw in the adventures of the people in his office and Mad Men is a time capsule of how things “really were” in the 1960s as opposed to the glorified version of this Shangri-La that was ruined by Woodstock that a lot of people want to believe.

The show has always been about Don’s grasp of his identity. Formerly the son of a dead whore from a small Kansas town, growing up in a brothel with nothing but abuse, the show has always been about balancing out who he wanted to be as Don Draper against who he was as Dick Whitman. The final season was a sort of vision quest for Don as the remnants of what had been Sterling Cooper & Partners was absorbed into big corporate. Don walked away from millions to find himself en route to what we presume is California, going into the finale, as he wanders the roads of America trying to find something.

In the meantime we’ve seen the final remnants of most of the rest of the main players. Joan walked away from corporate life with her dignity and a big check. Peggy sauntered in, cigarette in hand, to take her place at McCann Erickson. Betty has cancer and going to go out on her own terms. Pete has his wife back and is seemingly leaving New York to become a big shot in a smaller city. Most of the former Sterling Cooper is taking their place underneath the corporate helm with no problems. Going into the finale its a matter and figuring out how things end. How Don Draper winds up in the end us a big to do … and going in I was very curious to see how Matthew Weiner would end it.

This wasn’t a brilliant, all-time level of finale. Mad Men never had that final gear that a show like The Wire had, the one that pushed you into “Oh My GOD” territory. There were haunting moments in the finale, like the brief conversation between Don and Betty, but nothing that was that final gear of brilliance. That final conversation, with Don trying to say that he screwed it all up (but she was the love of his life) and Betty acknowledging it (and his flaws as a person, husband and father) was profound work.

Seeing Don have a final moment of happiness was something … but it just felt underwhelming on the whole. At least he didn’t become a lumberjack, I suppose.

The thing about the show, now that it’s gone, is that it’s one of the few in recent memory that has felt like it’s ending too soon. This past season may have been its last but it left us wanting more. It ended perfunctory, nothing more. The ending felt like it was supposed to allow you to imagine that Don Draper’s happiness at the retreat inspired him to come back and pitch Coca-Cola with their famous “I want to buy the world a Coke” ad. McCann Erickson is the ad company that did pitch it, of course, and it makes sense that Don would have that moment. But it’s implied, nothing more, much like how Tony Soprano may or may not have died in that finale.

Thus I think this will wind up being one that gets analyzed … but not too deep. Mad Men isn’t a pantheon level TV show … but it’s in that tier right below that.

What Looks Good This Weekend, and I Don’t Mean the $2 tall boys of Red Fox and community college co-eds with low standards at the Fox and Hound

Poltergeist (2015) – They’re here? Yep. They’re here.

Skip it – The first one was awful and hasn’t aged well. Can’t imagine that a remake would be anything decent.

Tomorrowland – George Clooney goes to some crazy futuristic place.

See it – Clooney’s usually pretty solid when it comes to projects and I’d think a $200 million blockbuster with his involvement will be at least watchable.

Scott “Kubryk” Sawitz brings his trademarked irreverence and offensive hilarity to Twitter in 140 characters or less. Follow him @ScottSawitz .

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