Klavan On The Culture

'Mad Max' -- The Critics Are Lying for Political Reasons

Mad Max: Fury Road is not a good movie and the ecstasy with which the critics received it was dishonest. Tastes differ, of course, but I think in this case the critics are just lying for political reasons.

“It’s enough to renew your faith in the movies,” said Ty Burr of the Boston Globe. Peter Travers at Rolling Stone urged us to overlook the fact the picture doesn’t make sense and “Just go with it.” He praised director George Miller (who also directed the terrific original Mad Max and its sequel) as an “indisputable visionary genius.” A.O. Scott of the New York Times said this: “It’s all great fun, and quite rousing as well — a large-scale genre movie that is at once unpretentious and unafraid to bring home a message…. It’s about revolution.”

I believe they said these untrue things because this not-very-good movie is feminist.

Now, I’m not a feminist. I’m an individualist who believes each person should do what he or she wants to do and is able to do without fear or favor. I believe that, in such a free world, more men will choose to do manly things and more women womanly things but that strikes me as a feature not a bug, since gender differences seem to me among the great beauties of life. Identity politics, on the other hand, is a misery imposed on us by the powerful in order to divide us so they can consolidate their power.

But while I consider feminism a dishonest and oppressive philosophy, I believe good feminist stories can be told. This is because even a philosophy that is a lie in general may be the truth in a specific, individual case and stories are individual and specific. Dishonest outlooks can produce honest stories. The left has been living off this fact for decades.

So while ideologically corrupt critics are going wild over Fury Road because it’s feminist, I’m not criticizing it because I’m anti-feminist. I’m criticizing it because it’s not very good. Its title character is ill-defined. His mission is emotionally muddy. The non-stop car chase action becomes tiresome about 45 minutes in (though I did find myself wondering wistfully if there was a video game to go with it!). The finale is unbelievable even in context. The color palette, I admit, is beautiful but if you’re watching an enormous action sequence and thinking about the color palette…  well, you get the idea.

If at first you don’t succeed…

What Fury Road does have is a female warrior (played by the always-watchable Charlize Theron) who does the work that any good story would have reserved for its central character. She has a back story that matters. She performs the major action tasks. She travels over a personal arc within the plot. Some in Hollywood fear that female action leads bomb. So Fury Road sneaks the female lead in by giving the female sidekick all the good stuff to do. As a result, however, the center of the movie is empty and the story collapses into it.

As readers of this blog know, I hate giving bad reviews. Writing good books and making good movies are very hard things to accomplish and I’d much rather praise the best and let the worst pass by in silence. My point is not to pick on the film, but simply to make myself blue in the face reminding conservatives who complain about the leftist monopoly on the arts that it didn’t happen by accident and it won’t go away by itself. It is kept in place by gray-lists and lies and it needs to be overturned by talented artistic effort, fresh and honest critical voices, smart capitalist investment, grants and awards.

As long as you conservatives stay on the sidelines, the left will win the culture and the culture wars.  As long as you refuse to build a critical and award-giving infrastructure to celebrate great liberty-loving works, as long as you praise only G-rated films while watching the R-rated ones in secret, as long as you dismiss freedom-supporting art because it’s naughty or contains violence and sex or four-letter words or sympathetic gay characters or whatever makes you wrinkle your righteous little nose — as long as you do those things, the left will continue to use the culture to eat away the free earth beneath your feet.

The results are already plain to see. Only a nation in which the left had monopolized the arts for 50 years could have elected a mean-spirited little anti-American incompetent like Barack Obama to the presidency while honestly believing him a messiah bringing Hope and Change. Only a nation that has been taught to believe what Shelby Steele calls “poetic truth” over actual truth could make that stupid a mistake. We learned to believe the Obama mythology at the movies.

But of course, reality does have its revenge from time to time. For all the critics’ furious attempts to make Fury Road a smash, it was trumped at the box office by — wait for it — Pitch Perfect 2, the sequel to a cute little musical about a college girls a cappella singing group. Women showed up in droves for the picture because they preferred a song-fest to slam-bang action.

Because they’re women. Which is a good thing.