Mad Max Fury Road – or why it is a damn shame that England is tiny.

I’m not sure where I’m going with this, so this may end up being Spoilerriffic. So here is the Spoiler space…
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I went to the Cinema Sunday as did Archive, and we went to watch Mad Max Fury Road. Now if you have in any way been paying attention to the hype you will notice that the film has drawn the ire of Men’s Rights Activists (MRA’s, not to be confused with MRE’s) and the usual troll’s gallery of Gamergaters.

Why you ask?

Well its naysayers point out that the film is not so much about the titular character Max, and is more about Furiosa, Charlize Theron’s character and her attempt to escape the clutches of the Immortan Joe. Which is not entirely incorrect (although their reading of it is simplistic), but the failure point is that while I see no problem with that, they are up in arms about it.

I will admit, I’m not good at putting strong female characters in my games, hell I’ve even discussed this on a talky episode. In my case it’s more that I’m worried that I’d either play such a character as a man with boobs, or fall into one of the other stereotypes. Given the Cult is a pretty much 50/50 split amongst men and women I know I’d get pulled up on it and being intensely British I don’t want to upset anyone. Of course this means I pretty much always fail the Bechdel test and could even be accused of Female-erasure, which is just as bad as portraying women wrong really! I’m working on it though and certainly if I get my planned Shadowrun campaign running I’m intending to try and have some strong female characters in there. Incidentally I’d like to take this moment to say “Damn you Fandible David” (@Distractionista on twitter) by making a game I’d avoided up until now sound SO VERY COOL.

I seem to have sidetracked myself.

Mad Max is an awesome film, but not just because of the storyline and so on, for me one of the major things was the World-building that went on in the background. I’m somewhat of a no-prep GM at the moment, I don’t really have the time to sit down and plan like I used to. However when I go all out to design a setting (Black City and Babbage’s Eden for example) I really get into the details. Mad Max pretty much went the same way, tiny things that you don’t always notice that makes the world feel like a fully realised one. For example the religion of the War-Boys was consistent and more importantly did feel like the sort of thing a post-apocalyptic gas-gang in a radiation filled wasteland might come up with. “I will ride the roads of Valhalla Shiny and Chrome” and the business of having your great deeds witnessed felt like it belonged. Although one of the actors has come out and said he thought the silver spray the Warboys sprayed on their teeth when they thought they would die gloriously was an actual drug, I actually prefer it if it was just spray paint. These sort of small touches make worlds feel more realistic, and it’s what I always strive for in my games, little things that don’t add to the story but build verisimilitude.

The film definitely has two main characters. I wouldn’t follow the claims that this is Furiosa’s film. True she gets more lines than Max (or at least more important lines) but that pretty much holds true for the previous Mad Max films as well. Let’s face it, Max was never a talker, from the moment his family dies in the first film he stops having conversations and only talks when he needs to. Think back to Thunderdome, Tina Turner was chewing the scenery, but Mel Gibson for the most part let her get on with it and stood silent in a corner. Hell I think even the lost kids had more to say than Max ever did! That doesn’t mean he’s a side character, he’s just a main character who doesn’t say much. He gets his moments of awesome, but so does Furiosa, and unlike some Male Action leads he isn’t portrayed as being the ever-winning invulnerable juggernaut.

This is a good thing. By showing him not always having the upper hand keeps him human, keeps him relatable. He’s a badass, but he’s a badass people could realistically be. There is one fight where yes the ladies get the upper hand on him, I fail to see why this is an issue however, it’s five on one and with those odds they absolutely SHOULD get the upper hand. Similarly when he lets himself be used as a shooting rest, he knows Furiosa is a better shot, so why would he NOT give her the gun. Max is all about surviving the wilderness, and giving her the gun improves his odds, if the MRA’s cannot do that maths Max at least can.

Furiosa meanwhile doesn’t fall into the other potential trap. She’s a badass woman, but she is a woman as opposed to being a male character played by a woman. You don’t get the feeling that you could have replaced her actor with a man and it would have worked just as well. She gets her badass moments just like Max does, and spends a lot of her time in charge of the most powerful vehicle in the entire film. She shoots well, she fights well, but her mission is very much predicated on the fact that she has been in that position herself and wants to make sure the others don’t have to. If Furiosa had been played by a man the whole “Saving Immortan Joe’s Wives” subplot would have taken on a different feel and I can almost bet that there would have been a romance between the character and one of the wives. It’s important to note however, that while Furiosa is a strong character she doesn’t detract from Max, sometimes she shines, sometimes Max shines, they share the limelight. THIS IS A GOOD THING, and fuck you if you don’t think so, I will gladly drink your frustrated tears.

In fact about the only time I feel Max got shortchanged in the film was when he goes to deal with the Bulletfarmer, disappears into the fog, and then returns having done so. Yes it has a bit of suspense, but just as I want to see Furiosa doing awesome things, I want to see Max doing awesome things as well. The Bulletfarmer was an interesting enemy, Max heads off with a can of Petrol to kill him in his Tank-Car, I want to see that stuff guys! That’s it though, that’s the only moment when I thought “the camera is pointing at the wrong character here”, everything else worked.

Another good character is actually the WarBoy Nux, from the very beginning he feels like a product of the society he comes from. It makes sense that in a ruined world that the “religion” ends up being a nihilistic one, where dying is something to be sought out but only if you “die well”. He starts out despite suffering from what is probably a harsh leukemia caused lack of blood arguing and fighting for his right to take part in the chase. This keeps up all through the film, everything he does is in some way connected to proving himself worthy by his own incredibly warped and insane values. At one point he disappoints his “god” and you totally buy his disappointment in himself for doing so. Eventually he redeems himself in his own eyes and the way he chooses to do so makes sense. He has by this point seen his own god die, seen the pillars of his existence pulled down, and despite trying to die well repeatedly, survived and survived. When he finally reaches his fate he does so by his own choice and for a cause he has switched his allegiance to.

Mad Max in its entirety can be used as the seeds of a Cyberpunk/road trip style game or campaign but herein is where I run into a problem. The UK is just plain too small and overpopulated to run something with the sort of scale that this film has. If I steal some psychopaths War Rig he only has to chase me for a day maximum before I run into the coastline, and that’s assuming I learn to drive. There’s a limited amount of space here to run to. Don’t get me wrong, we will totally be able to do the feral tribes in a ruined cityscape, but flame belching buggies are probably beyond us.

Although…

It depends on the disaster.

If the seas dry up? Then Doggerland which used to connect us to Europe would reappear (thank you Scandinavia and the World web comic http://satwcomic.com) and then we TOTALLY could do this scale. Similarly if the seas rise by enough you totally could see speedboat gangs amongst the frankly hundreds of islands that the UK would become. There would be plenty of high ground in Wales and Scotland, but the rest of the country would be shattered into lots of different islands.

Even better.

Cult headquarters would still be above the water, and I swim REALLY well.

I believe I’ve gone off topic again.

So in summation:

Mad Max Fury Road, Excellent film.
Strong Female Characters, Excellent.
Mawdrigen, buying a Jet ski and calling himself the Waterlord.

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