In The Best Mad Max Movie, The Hero Is The Least Important Character

By Michileen Martin | Published

My girlfriend wants to see Furiosa, so a few weeks ago I introduced her to George Miller’s 2015 masterpiece Mad Max: Fury Road as a primer. I’ve watched the flick plenty of times, but it was only during this most recent viewing that it occurred to me that Tom Hardy’s eponymous hero is one of the least important and least interesting characters in the thing.

For A Movie That’s One Long Chase Scene, We Get A Lot Of Characterization

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Those few poor souls unable to appreciate the genius of Mad Max: Fury Road will often call it “one long car chase scene,” and in many ways they’re not wrong. The chief difference between them and the rest of us is that they color this as one of the movie’s downsides.

They also fail to acknowledge that it’s not just “one long car chase scene,” but one long car chase scene that includes a dude in a red onesie playing an endless heavy metal solo on a guitar that doubles as a flamethrower.

Regardless of how focused on the hectic action Mad Max: Fury Road proves to be, it introduces more new, richly developed characters than perhaps any other entry in the series.

There’s Nicholas Hoult’s Nux–a throwaway thug in any other Mad Max flick–who goes convincingly from fanatical War Boy to disillusioned but lovesick in the space of two hours. There are Immortan Joe’s runaway wives, many of whom give us wonderful hints about who they were before Joe got their hands on them (e.g. ever notice Zoë Kravitz’s Toast knows a lot more about firearms than you would expect from a woman who we’re led to believe has been Joe’s concubine her entire adult life).

Of course there is Charlize Theron’s Furiosa, the real hero of Mad Max: Fury Road.

Furiosa Is The True Hero Of Fury Road

For better or worse, Furiosa is the real hero of Mad Max: Fury Road. Without her there is no daring escape, no reason for Nux to strap Max to the front of his car as his “blood bag,” and no reason for Immortan Joe and his fleet of monsters to make chase across the wasteland. Without Furiosa, Max is just a prisoner waiting to be drained of the last of his blood in the bowels of Joe’s citadel.

Furiosa is real protagonist of Mad Max: Fury Road, and Max is really just along for the ride.

If Anything, Max Starts Off As Another Obstacle

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At first, the Road Warrior is a legitimate threat to the women–launching a brutal three-way brawl between himself, Furiosa, and Nux. If it weren’t for Furiosa’s starter sequence shutting down the truck before Max can drive away with it, the women would be left to Immortan Joe’s mercy and Mad Max: Fury Road‘s ending would be much darker.

As it is, Max’s antics delay Furiosa and the wives. If it weren’t for him, there’s every possibility Furiosa could have reached the canyon before her pursuers were in full view, thereby doing away with the betrayal of the Rock Riders–the biker bandits she makes a deal with for passage.

For The First Half Of The Movie, Max Is Useless

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It’s surprising when you pay attention to the clock and realize just how much time it takes for Max to be of any use to anyone in Mad Max: Fury Road. The film is two hours long, and it isn’t until around the 52 minute mark that the titular hero is of any help to Furiosa and her wives–when he starts the fuel truck to get away from the Rock Riders.

Watching it for the first time, my girlfriend complained about how strange Tom Hardy sounds in the film. Thinking about it, I suggested maybe he sounds so strange to her because he hardly ever speaks–particularly in the first half of the movie.

Sure, Max has always been the strong, silent type, but for the first half of Mad Max: Fury Road, he grunts more than he talks.

Usually when he says anything, we can’t hear him, like when he’s strapped to the front of Nux’s car as his blood bag and his screams are drowned out by the cars, the flamethrowing guitarists, and the war cries of the War Boys.

It isn’t until about an hour and a half into the movie–when Max tells Furiosa his plan to turn the truck around and capture Immortan Joe’s citadel–that he strings together more than two lines of dialogue at once in a coherent manner.

I’m Not Trashing Max’s Character, I’m Celebrating His Narrative

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It’s important that you understand–none of this is meant as a criticism of Max’s character, Tom Hardy’s performance, or George Miller’s filmmaking. That the eponymous wanderer is the least important part of Mad Max: Fury Road–and yet the film is one of the best things ever seen on a movie screen–is a testament to the rich universe Miller and his collaborators have created.

It means that, among other things, there is hope that as Miller continues to explore Max’s apocalypse–unlike so many other genre franchises out there–he won’t be doing it just for the payday, but because he has good stories left to tell us.