Hi. I'm probably going to deviate from the main start point of this topic. Also, bear with me, because this is so multi-pronged it's making my brain ache and I've been going round in circles on it even before I've tried to write it down. And there are so many rabbit tunnels.
For me, the film had everything to do with power, strength and beauty and what those things are. And that is both why it was taken as such a threatening thing by anti-feminists, and why film itself is such a strong medium for communication that it actually is very important what is being said on every level within it. How we interpret those things (power, strength, beauty) or how we are guided to interpret them might lead us to making masculine or feminine attributions. That's where the feminists have a case too.
My read on this call out about women taking up the screen time and "pretending" they can do everything men can in an action movie, is that it is a fear reaction. The fact that that reaction has been strong enough to provoke debate and discussion (the fact that this threat exists, that I am even typing this...) means that actually, this is a live topic that hasn't got a single answer. In countries or parts of countries, or families, where men experience a need to be dominant over women be that sexually, economically, socially, or physically, a film showing women taking over every aspect that they consider men's territory is something to be afraid of. And to get angry about. This is Hollywood giving permission for everything to get out of their control and for women to claim back power over their own bodies. It's a very strong message, which for some people will be taken as a subversive call to action, or a gigantic snub.
Both Furiosa and Max showed a fairly level spread of strengths and weaknesses. They were fairly gender neutral as characters go. I think you could have swapped them over quite easily. Although as I write that, I realise I've stumbled across the point the anti-feminists were making.
So, thought experiment time....
If Furiosa was the one chained up in a cage and tied to the front of a car like the woman on the front of a pirate ship, and made an attempt to gain control over a perceived hostile party who turn out to be her rescuers, by holding them up with a gun with no bullets (animal reaction - fear provoked), and inevitably failing, we would have been looking at your standard damsel in distress with a bit more bite. That's where again, the film, and the choices the director and writer have made, become very powerful.
We as an audience, I do not believe, would credit Furiosa with the same strength we credit Max with, if the only things that changed in that film were flipping her and Max's situations around. If he was the rescuer. So is it just that we have such embedded ideas of masculine and feminine that we overwrite our perceptions onto what is actually happening?
Did Max need rescuing? No, he got himself out of it - forced them to help him, right? And anyway, he would have got himself out of it somehow.
Would Furiosa in that same position have needed saving? Hell yes, no way could she get that face mask off unless Max took pity...Right?
I think I'm guilty of internalised misogyny here, but it's interesting to me to see that the circumstances make (my) perceptions skew in different ways.
That is, I guess, the complaint. The film casts Max, who is, according to the title, meant to be the hero, as the woman from the black and white movie tied to the rail tracks. Max is at the bottom of the power balance. But that only makes him more feminine if you think that women having power is something foreign to her gender.
The War Boys again are a really fascinating point of that power balance. They are afraid because they're going to die. Maybe this is masculine, because men aren't allowed to show fear, but mainly, I think it's very human. So they wrap it up in bravado and wilfully believe the myth of finding a good death. They want to go out in a blaze of glory, which is very historically accurate behaviour. Young men don't want to be cowards and it is vitally important that their shows of bravery are witnessed. But it's love, not femininity that allows the letting go of that fear. Maybe there's an argument to say that "woman is love". But I don't buy into that. Anyone can be afraid. Furiosa refuses to commit as much as Max does. He's the one who tries to stop her dying. She makes no attempt to stop him from leaving. She just accepts. They both do.
But... and this is where I wander truly off topic... I don't thing gender was the main bit of the film to get wound up about. For me, what left me distinctly uncomfortable almost from the get-go, was the way the good/bad split was demonstrated. Physical perfection was set up as the thing to achieve. The wives are young and beautiful and slender, and they glow like angels. Pure and white. The War Boys, as someone has already mentioned, were similarly in white, which shows their innocence - it's not their fault, but the evil things the truly ugly people have done, have meant that their bodies are not viable. Genetic disability was cast as synonymous with evil, over indulgence and impurity, just to maintain that helpful face of villainy that Hollywood perpetuates so well.
The film would have attracted much more outrage, I think, if they hadn't marred their heroes. But, if you note, this was with what appeared to be acquired disability through interacting with the now unnatural world. Max's madness was used like a superpower or a haunting and was entirely symbolic of what he had been through, as was Furiosa's arm. It worked very successfully as an allegory, but it still makes me uncomfortable. And there's that point about the power of film again. The women worth saving were the perfect ones, and the fatter, uglier ones were left behind.
Do we think of a female character as truly strong when she's not borrowing ideas of masculine strength (does she have to shoot people, and know how to fight - in this context, yes, but are they really masculine traits?) or do we think it's boring and weak for her to do anything but? Furiosa is tough and admirable because she's de-feminized to some degree. I like that they didn't sexualise or fetishise her Amazonian style character - she was a person first, and a woman second. But can you have a strong female character who maintains sexuality, and doesn't shave her head, or does that immediately put her back into a context where she can only be considered in relation to men? Could she have been a woman first?
Maybe it's that issue of audience. As soon as a woman is brought away from neutral it's ingrained that she's something good to look primarily, a decent character only secondarily. Lara Croft, case in point. Men are allowed to be more 'feminine' these days, as long as they do it with enough macho bullshit and musculature to pare it off against. Or at least with a sports car. So maybe they're stuck in the same boat. We've already been too influenced by the other films we've seen.