In Defense of Max Rockatansky
Mad Max: Fury Road is a good film, and a great action flick. Now, you may have heard about the film's feminist undertones and perhaps you asked yourself how much will Max be in a movie called Mad Max? He's only in about half the film in a way that means something, but his presence is no less imperative. His arc is important to the structure and thematic significance of the film.
When we first see Max and Furiousa on screen together, they're at odds. Max wants to get that bloody Bane mask off of his face and Furiousa is attempting to escape a psychopath whilst in possession of his precious cargo. Max has no reason to help them, but Furiousa promises to "help get that thing off his face." That's how their relationship builds. The viewer is never explicitly told what convinces Max that Furiousa and those girls are worth helping, but we see his thought process progress over time.
What is it that Furiousa sees in Max? Does she see his proficiency in combat and use him out of necessity? I believe otherwise. I think Furiousa sees Max as a man unlike the men she's seen at the citadel. She sees Max as a man from a foregone era, a man who would lend his services to anybody who needs them. Furiousa sees this, and opts to work to help keep Max alive.
Which leads me to my favorite scene in FURY ROAD, where Max is dangling from the war rig. One wrong move and he's meat, Furiousa is clinging to him, desperate to keep him alive. She was stabbed earlier, and is clearly pained, but she wants to save her friend. And then Max returns the favor later in the movie by allowing Furiousa to draw from his blood. This relationship isn't technically a bromance but it totally is.
So how is Max as a portrait of men in pop culture in the 21st century? How is his character compared to that of Mel Gibson's? The Gibson trilogy was a great series of movies, but in all three of those he was just a guy stuck in a bad situation, constantly looking for ways out. The supporting cast, the costume design, and the set pieces were the stars. This is still very much the case in FURY ROAD, but Max himself is different. He has much more of an arc. He bonds with Furiousa, he fights for a cause. He comes to believe in this cause.
But he does it while steering clear of the spotlight, which is where the hidden brilliance of FURY ROAD truly shines. Max has no problems stepping in to help save the day, but he lets the women have their turn to shine. For their turn has come, and Miller realizes this. He doesn't need the ego, he has the benefit of his actions behind him. To say FURY ROAD is anti-masculine is accurate to an extent, but it ignores some of the most beautiful aspects of the movie.