When Tyler and I arrived at a press screening for "Mad Max: Fury Road" on Tuesday, it was immediately clear that we were the only fashion journalists in the crowd, which was otherwise made up of action movie buffs, entertainment writers and folks who'd actually seen the 1979 version of the film starring Mel Gibson. Violent, big-budget summer blockbusters aren't usually my thing, but the promise of seeing some of my favorite models in 3-D (alongside the powerhouses that are Charlize Theron and Tom Hardy) with the Namibian desert as a backdrop was more than enough to lure me to the theater. Not only were my expectations wildly exceeded, it turns out that the female characters I'd shown up for — Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Abbey Lee, Zoë Kravitz, Riley Keough and newcomer Courtney Eaton — were not only among the bravest in the film, they also proved to be the lone beacons of hope in an otherwise abysmal future.
"Mad Max: Fury Road" takes place in a post-apocalyptic civilization where resources are scarce and are only doled out at the mercy of a fascist leader. In order to help repopulate, he held five beautiful woman captive — his "prized breeders," or sex slaves — and in the start of the film, Theron's character Furiosa embarks on a rogue mission to deliver them to a lush, utopian land across the desert, where they could thrive and their children would not have to serve as one of the leader's militant War Boys. Upon hearing this plotline, it would be easy to assume that these delicate women — who are draped in airy white silk with long, braided hair through the entirety of the movie — are not much more than victims, waiting for a hero (in this case, Max) to rescue them. But as it turns out, these ladies take control of their own destinies despite the odds, and instead of a hero, it's Theron's heroine that sets the escape plan in motion.
During the two-hour film, we learn a bit about each woman and what she stands for: Huntington-Whiteley is "The Splendid Angharad," the dictator's favorite wife who's about to give birth to his son. She emerges as a true warrior, and in a scene where she uses her body (her pregnant belly, mostly) to shield another woman from gunfire proves that she'd do anything to give her unborn child a better life than she had. Abbey Lee, or "The Dag," is the feisty one, and her alien-like looks complement her eccentric, possibly psychic character, who prays out loud to whoever will listen and isn't afraid to mouth off to her attackers. Keough, or "Capable," is trusting despite her hardships, and takes a liking to a War Boy (played by Nicholas Hoult) who's initial mission was to bring the captive wives and Furiosa back to the dictator to be punished.
What all of these women have in common — even Furiosa, who is primarily out to seek redemption for past injustices — is that they have enough hope for a promising future to risk their lives on a deadly, fiery quest that's essentially an explosive car chase (albeit a gorgeous one) across an arid wasteland. Despite being held captive and basically serving as breeding machines, they never completely lost faith in humanity. The first time we see the wives up close, they appear bathed in light, as if we were seeing a mirage, and although it's their beauty that the audience is introduced to first, it's their strength that leaves an impression once the movie's over. No damsels in distress, here.
Besides all of the model goodness and standout performances by Theron, Hardy and Hoult, the desert setting is one of the most visually arresting I've ever seen on screen. The action is completely unrelenting, with one explosion/wreck/beheading after another, but even as someone who doesn't normally enjoy suspenseful movies, I couldn't turn away. "Mad Max: Fury Road" hits theaters on May 15 — and we assure you it lives up to the hype.