On the last sunny day before Melbourne’s erratic winter settles in, I thought I’d pull together a few stray thoughts I’ve had after recent viewings. It might be a bit spoilery.
Avengers: Age of Ultron felt like a welcome visit from wise-cracking friends with very busy international schedules, a bit of bling, and brittle but brave facades. The time flew. We were introduced to their smart alec metallic nemesis that divided them in order to attempt to conquer, and by the by, off they went into their other separately epic franchised ventures. It was fun, as far as it went. I’m not angry about any of the plot decisions as some have clearly been, but felt each of these characters could’ve have stayed around longer, or have slowed down, somehow.
Mad Max: Fury Road smacked me in the face with an electric guitar and never apologised for not starring Mel Gibson. And frankly, there is enough meat on the bones so it doesn’t have to. If Joss Whedon stories: Buffy, Angel, Firefly, Serenity, Doll House, Avengers – are about ‘found families’ then I do think George Miller might have trumped him in more ways than one regarding his most recent actiony blockbuster.
We are family (I got all my sisters with me)
Fury Road had all the elements of a family myth. Practical and silent dad type – Max. All capable, wise responsible mother type – Furiosa. Together Max and Furiosa work out they are stronger together and form a parent-like alliance responsible for the desperate child-like baby-mama damsels who need rescuing. As parents, they care, not through sentimental speeches but as evidenced by their deeds. There was no more nurturing an act than that of Max’s towards Furiosa when he provides her emergency medical aid. It was the first ‘familiar’ human act. And they both made less caricature-y in that moment.
Eventually, this improvised family reach beyond the (dead) Tree of Knowledge and their (surrogate) grandmothers, who hold not only the literal seeds of renewal but also the truth of their quest. Max and the crones know they can survive and make their Eden flourish if they kick out the corrupted men who rule it with their demonic power over the elements: blood, milk and water. Having restored family to the centre of guarded garden city, Max can’t stay. Just like John Wayne at the end of The Searchers (again) he might have completed his quest, but he chooses to wander the desert with the ghosts of his past. Wayne’s character, like Max is a man dedicated to family and their values, but without one of his own.
If we go back to Tarsem’s The Fall (2006) it is also has a kinda found family thing in hospital. It’s between Alexandria the post-pogrom survivor kid, and Roy, the stunt guy. Through story telling they manage to completely break each other apart in order to properly mend. It is the talking cure made manifest with a whole lot of other psychological transference stuff going on too.
Cool world (your world is a barren place)
It’s the environment in Mad Max and The Fall that offer opportunities for characters to form bonds they normally would not have (although ‘normal’ is moot). Roy, stuck inside the hospital and inside his grief, seeks an escape from his immediate environment and personal tragedies through setting his saga in real but grand locations and Alexandria follows him down the rabbit hole to do the same. The world they create suits their ‘epic’ and they move around it freely – in contrast to their experience of hospital. Fury Road demonstrates while you may escape one type of prison, the vast environment and your mind are other types and are as peopled and mythologised as any place. We suspect the dreamed of ‘green place’ of a woman centric Eden beyond the barren wasteland seems as illusory as Max’s long dead family, unless they create it for themselves. Age of Ultron, meanwhile, is about what our superheroes and their enemies do to the environment. Ultron pledges the world would be better without humans and the Avengers go to a lot of work to prove it. The locales of The Fall are what we get when we dream. Mad Max is what we get if the Avengers lose, but even when they win, the physical and psychological damage is immense.