Warning: The following contains general spoilers for the film Mad Max: Fury Road. While Mad Max: Fury Road has plenty going for it, all its charms of imagination and technical prowesses would be for naught were it lacking a magnificent central hero. Thankfully, by virtue of writer and director George Miller and the performing powerhouse he slapped with the challenge of his renegade protagonist, we’ve got perhaps the most exciting heroic figure that the Mad Max franchise has seen to date: one Imperator Furiosa. To those yet uninitiated with the madcap nomenclature of the Fury Road, that’s Charlize Theron. Standing tall above Tom Hardy's franchise namesake and the race of warlords obsessed with status and legacy, Mad Max's heroine Furiosa represents the kind of across-the-board strengths we don't often see in modern genre heroes of any gender. And the kind we really should be seeing more often.
Since the graduation of his character to “Road Warrior” status, Miller has used Max principally as a vehicle for entry into the lives, worlds, and adventures of the loons, good and evil, surrounding him in the post-apocalyptic nightmare that has become of the planet Earth. In Fury Road, which takes place at some ambiguous point along the series’ admittedly flexible chronology, Max catches up with Imperator Furiosa, a respected war baron bent on liberating a quintet of female prisoners — breeders — from the clutches of her tyrant king.
Upon first glance — ours and Max’s — of Furiosa’s troupe of stowaways, designed to appear delicate and prim by way of silken dress, pregnant stomachs, and the careful casting of such actors as Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, misconceptions are very much intended to abound. Max pulls his pistol on the gang, reading defenselessness in each fugitive’s beautiful wide eyes.
In a movie that moves as quickly as Mad Max does — one that allows for the bare minimum of relieving breaths needed to ensure that all viewers might actually make it to the end — it’s hard to pinpoint exactly where we and our audience surrogate are enlightened to the errors in our judgment, but quickly enough do we begin to see each member of Furiosa’s band spring to life as a character and a warrior. Among the lot we gradually discover indignant rebellion, spiritual faith, fear, hostility, and boundless compassion. And if none of this seems impressively dimensional, remember that we’re discussing a movie in which the eponymous male lead’s collective dialogue might barely fill a single page.
Late in the film, we’re introduced to a second team of women: a group much older and much handier with firearms, and a remarkably generous benefactor of action majesty during the picture’s climax. (Its most climactic climax, anyway.)
But once again, we point to Theron’s Furiosa as the foundation of these many bounties. Virtually drowning in a sea of zealots, cretins, maniacs, war pups, bullet farmers, people eaters, and whatever the fresh hell someone called “Toast the Knowing” might be deemed, Furiosa maintains as this dead world’s earthiest character — one remaining drop of a nearly evaporated humanity.
Although her in-universe celebrity as a military maven might encourage the misconception of a grimacing stoicism, Furiosa exhibits the heaviest heart of just about anyone in the film. She aches for the young women who have never known freedom, keeps the taste of a better life resting readily on the tip of her tongue. She cares deeply for her endangered cargo, the allies she accumulates along the way, the very idea of justice, and, duly, for herself.
Armed with all this humanity and a tenacity for handling both her fire-powered rig and its many secret compartments’ worth of shooters, Furiosa is rich and virile an action-hero as the cinema has been lucky to meet this decade. Mad Max: Fury Road stands Theron and her ragtag team of freedom fighters up quite formidably against a swarm of craven, contorted, and sniveling machismo. We aren't simply granted a look at the pinnacle of strength and character in the Mad Max universe, but of the heights that such concepts can and should truly look like on the big screen.
Images: Warner Bros.