May 28, 2016

Fury Road, Ghostbusters, and Feminist Movies

Mad Max: Fury RoadI used to love watching movies as soon as they were released on Blu-ray. A few years ago, I could be counted on to watch at least one a week. I rarely watch movies at all any more. I'm not sure why. I guess I just don't enjoy it like I used to. In fact, it seems like I am more likely to turn one off in the middle than I am to finish it. It also seems like it has been quite awhile since I saw anything I thought was really good.

A couple weeks ago, I finally got around to watching Mad Max: Fury Road for the first time. I went into this one with high hopes and considerable curiosity. From the couple of spoiler-free reviews I had read when it was first released, I was convinced that it would offer non-stop action if nothing else. Since that was what I was in the mood for this particular night, I figured it was a good bet. But more than that, Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior is one of those films I have watched again and again over the decades and of which I never seem to tire. I saw it in the theater when it was released and have loved it ever since. I liked it so much I was even willing to overlook the disappointing Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome sequel.

My curiosity came from a different source. In the long interval between the release of Fury Road and me finally watching it, I had heard countless people refer to it as "a feminist movie." When it was first released, social media was buzzing with some people saying they were not going to see it because it was a feminist movie and others saying they were going to see it because it was a feminist movie. What the hell is a feminist movie? With little idea what that meant, I was curious and figured this could make Fury Road even more interesting. Maybe I'd even learn something.

My initial reaction as the final credits rolled (I did make it to the end, but barely) was disappointment followed closely by a sense of confusion. The confusion is easy to explain, so I'll start there. I saw nothing whatsoever that would lead me label this as a feminist movie. Was it supposed to be feminist just because it had a strong female character? If that's the case, a fair number of my favorite films of all time are feminist movies. Is the character of Ripley played by Sigourney Weaver in the Alien films sufficient to make them all feminist films? I love that character, but I never considered those to be feminist films. If Fury Road is a feminist movie, I am more confused than ever about what makes a movie a feminist movie.

The disappointment is somewhat harder to explain. Many people enjoyed this film, and I take no issue with their enjoyment of it even though I did not share in it. The bottom line is that I found Fury Road to be incredibly boring. Yes, it was fast-paced and filled with action. I do not deny that. The action, however, largely struck me as pointless eye candy without anything to draw me in. I think that the primary reason for this is that I found the depiction of the villains to be laughably poor, so much so that it kept taking me out of the film and ruining any sense of the protagonists being in legitimate danger.

This was such a contrast to the villains in The Road Warrior which I have always found compelling and screen worthy. During the chase scenes in The Road Warrior, I experienced a sense that the Mad Max character was in real danger, and this made me care about what was happening. In Fury Road, I felt like I was watching something more along the lines of The Cannonball Run at times. Maybe that isn't entirely fair, but I could not find any suspense or sense of danger, and that made it tough to enjoy.

I have liked Charlize Theron in nearly everything I've seen her in. My favorite by far was Monster. She played a strong lead in that too, so now I wonder if it was also a feminist film. I think she's an incredible actress. I even thought she was good in this one - just not good enough to salvage the rest of the film from everything I've mentioned above.

The controversy over "feminist" movies on social media seems to be returning around the upcoming release of the new Ghostbusters film this summer. Again, I have seen some people on social media saying that they will be boycotting the film because of the female cast and others saying that they will make a point of seeing the film because of the female cast. I find both positions to be rather strange. I'm a big fan of the original, and I do not tend to favor remakes. Still, I have to acknowledge that there have been a handful of incredible remakes that managed to improve on the originals. I'll probably see this one because I really enjoy Leslie Jones on Saturday Night Live and I'm eager to see what she can do here.
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