This article contains heavy spoilers for Mad Max the video game.
I fell in love with the film Mad Max: Fury Road this year. I fell in love with video games many, MANY years ago, racing over to my friend’s house to play the Atari 2600. When an incredible cinematic experience is bundled with a prestigious AAA video game release, what’s a lifelong superfan like me to do? Fire up my system put the pedal to the metal with Mad Max, of course!
Enraptured with the photo mode – I’m a filmmaker after all – I took my time with the game. It was my goal to be an official documentarian of the journey. Plus the world of Mad Max, as brought to life by Avalanche Studios, was incredibly and uncommonly beautiful. And this game world seemed to fit snugly with the world of the film. Common characters, common themes, common ideology.
But a disparity emerged. Like one of the lightening storms that raced across the game’s landscape from time to time, this disparity started small, in the distance. Then it swept across the horizon, destroying everything visible, until there was nothing left but desolate emptiness. This desolation is found in how the game treats its female characters.
The first time you meet Hope (otherwise referred to as “The Concubine”) and her daughter Glory (har har), they’re in a prison cell surrounded by dead bodies. Hope helps you… and you replay her kindness by leaving them in their cage. Ostensibly, you could trade for their release – you trade for everything else – but the game doesn’t give you that luxury.
When you return a couple of mindless missions later, they’ve disappeared. No explanation. No conversation.
Later, in another cutscene, you make Hope’s acquaintance again. She’s roped like a dog, handled by a thug you beat to death later in the game. “Roped like a dog” isn’t quite correct in the world of Mad Max. Your ACTUAL doggy pal is allowed to roam freely. It’s the lady that’s leashed.
Still later, Hope saves your life and makes several impassioned pleas for her daughter… and a life the three of you might make together. It’s here that the incredible voice talent of Courtenay Taylor truly shines. She imbues her character with so much life, heart, and loss that I couldn’t believe that the writers of Mad Max weren’t going SOMEWHERE with all her debasement, sadness, and struggle.
Oh, they went somewhere, all right.
After an off-camera betrayal, you see Hope for the last time, dead, hung, and seemingly impaled by metal. And Hope’s daughter, who you’ve recently rescued in yet another inane fetch mission by killing your sixth or seventh hammer-wielding mini-boss? She’s crucified on the ground in front of you, still breathing. A couple scattered lines of dialogue, a recently deceased little dead girl in your arms and you’re finally ready for your last battle. The implication, of course, is that the ladies died for your sins.
We are not things, indeed.
NOW you’re ready to fight. NOW you’re ready to redeem yourself. NOW you’re ready to charge into one of the worst designed boss-battles in the history of games and EXACT RIGHTEOUS REVENGE.
Hope and glory.
Two quick notes.
First, you’re helped by a handy sidekick named Chum for the entirety of the game. In several lines of dialogue, you reveal that you’re going to repay him for all his help by leaving him behind. Once you get your big final upgrade and head out into the waste, he wonders aloud, where’s he going to fit in the car? “Beside me,” you might say, if you had two brain cells to rub together. You say nothing. This sets up the off-camera betrayal. Lazy writing. Lazy plot point. But okay, I get it. Got to move things along.
Second, you’re hearing me espouse some video game design crit. These are acceptable sins. The next-gen is often exactly the same as the LAST next-gen. (Anyone remember Gun? But I digress.) Mad Max. An open-world with almost nothing to distinctive to do. Gorgeous landscapes populated by two types of people: those that talk to you and those that try and kill you. Repetitive – like EXACTLY THE SAME ONLY COLORED DIFFERENTLY – mini-bosses. Mindless quests. And a truncated ending with the worst final boss concept and execution you could BELIEVE. Lazy. But okay, I get it. There’s fun to be had and time to spend, and boy those landscapes are purty to photograph.
What’s NOT OKAY is that Mad Max is set up on the conceit that you rise above the asinine, absurd, and frankly offensive tropes of the past. Each successive Mad Max film has toyed with and ultimately dispatched the narrative garbage that Avalanche Studios built into the very foundation of their AAA, Warner Brothers-backed script. From the script to the screen, did NO ONE stop and consider the implications of the game characters, especially in the context of the film? Did no hand, as it hovered over a piece of paper or glided across the screen with a mouse, stop, as its owner considered the wider implications of the story? Or did no one simply care?
George Miller, writer and director of the Mad Max franchise, has an incredible collaborator. His wife, Margaret Sixel, edits his films. I like the idea of every frame of Fury Road having been touched by her artistry. Like Furiosa and Max, there’s a partnership there, a partnership inherent in the franchise, story, brand, touch points with the audience… whatever the corporate speak is these days.
Instead, in the Avalanche Studios and Warner Bros. Entertainment experience Mad Max, what my character became – what I became – was a betrayal of everything that’s been established for Max Rockatansky, his legacy, his relationships and his world.
I’m disappointed. I’m aghast. I’m furious.
Justin Zimmerman writes comics, directs films and plays video games. You can see his work at www.brickerdown.com.
Writer & In-Game Photography: Justin Zimmerman
© Justin Zimmerman, 2015