Max Max: Fury Road is widely considered one of the best movies of 2015 and one of the best action movies, period. Critics have praised it for its feminist ideals and applauded it for not shoehorning in a romance between its two haunted, redemption-driven leads, Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) and Max Rockatansky (Tom Hardy).
I fully agree with all of that. I’d just add one little thing: Above and beyond taking audiences on a rip-roaring ride, telling a damn good story, and prioritizing organic character development, Mad Max: Fury Road lays the foundation for an epic Furiosa/Max romance.
If that sounds contradictory, I can explain.
Most of us shippers don’t enjoy forced, inauthentic love stories any more than the next fan. And in the case of Mad Max: Fury Road, a nonstop action piece that spans only a few days, any overt romance subplot between the guarded Max and Furiosa would absolutely have been exactly that: forced and inauthentic. After all, they start off as strangers and spend 99% of the movie fighting for their lives.
During the course of the film, however, this concern becomes less and less applicable as the pair grow closer. So close, in fact, a viewer might be forgiven for thinking that even if romance doesn’t make sense for them in these 120 minutes, it just might down the road (pardon the pun). As in, post-movie. And this is where fandom and shipping come into play, should you dare to continue on this lesser-traveled-but-absolutely-worthwhile road.
No canon love story? No problem. Shippers can take it from here…
See, I’d make the argument that while Mad Max does not feature a beginning-middle-and-end romance subplot for Max and Furiosa like it does for Capable/Nux (RIP), the movie does establish an escalating bond between the two. And given their story’s resolution (or lack thereof), it could just as easily turn romantic as remain platonic. I mean, they’re both still alive at the end of the film, and that’s all any fandom needs, if that, to imagine what could happen next.
I won’t suggest romance is a foregone conclusion (learned my lesson there), or that director George Miller is even receptive to the idea if/when Mad Max: The Wasteland happens. I’m just saying that the duo’s wicked chemistry and the movie’s open-ended closing scene allow for the possibility. And honestly? I wouldn’t have asked for more.
Still not sure how I came away from the theater convinced these two could be an incredible couple, rather than just great friends? Don my spare pair of shipper goggles and join me for…
A Shippy Interpretation of the Furiosa/Max Storyline
The first time Imperator Furiosa and road warrior Max Rockatansky clap eyes on each other, they’re in mortal danger. Furiosa’s on the run from Immortan Joe’s war party, which has orders to shred her and drag his escaping “wives” back home. Max, meanwhile, is strapped to the hood of a car as a “blood bag” for a War Boy in the aforementioned war party. Not exactly a meet-cute, here. And yet, you can’t deny that even their eye contact is powerful stuff, and that it sets a tone. (In fact, a French critic at the Cannes press conference for Mad Max said their intense gazing reminded him of Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman in the last scenes of Cassablanca (!!!!), so. It is definitely not just me.)
Enemies to Lovers 101
Max and Furiosa don’t get off on the right foot when they actually meet for the first time either. They’re each convinced the other means to do them harm, and the result is a knock-down, drag-out fight. Real romantic, eh? No, of course not. Yet as a shipper I do adore this scene. ‘Cause right away we establish that these guys are equally physical and wily and fearless (or maybe just desperate). They’re perfectly matched in skills and bravery. You just know they’re gonna challenge each other at every turn and come away the better for it. (Spoiler: They don’t disappoint.)
Sure enough, Max takes the first opportunity to steal Furiosa’s rig. Or he tries to, at any rate; Furiosa, always one step ahead, had engaged failsafes to lock up the rig without the proper ignition sequence.
Slowly, grudgingly, these two clever individuals come to accept that they have a better chance of staying alive as a team. They first bond over mechanical trouble that Max volunteers to fix, and then they further cement their alliance after a bad experience with some decidedly un-reliable Rock Riders who’d promised safe passage. When Max declines to divulge his name (“Does it matter?”), Furiosa dubs him “Fool.” The beginning of a beautiful friendship, right?
The Accidental Battle Couple
Deadly run-ins with various Citadel war parties (including the Gas Town and Bullet Farm boys) require the allies to pour even more trust into their new partnership. Their situation is still do or die, so they do. Moviegoers are treated to all sorts of buddy!cop-esque moves: the two firing in sync from their front seats, Furiosa aiming out of the roof while Max shoots between her legs out the window, Max automatically reloading Furiosa’s rifle for her. Later we see Max acknowledge Furiosa’s superior marksmanship by handing back the rifle with one last bullet for her to then brace on his shoulder to fire. (“Don’t breathe,” she says, and he merely grimaces.) It’s all insanely, insanely cool. Sexy, too. I’m always susceptible to displays of silent communication, preternatural awareness of where the other is at all times, and effortless cooperation.
Something clicks once Max and Furiosa discover this easiness between them in battle. Their relationship shifts irrevocably into something deeper. When the Splendid Angharad tumbles from the speeding rig, Furiosa takes Max’s word for it when he says there’s no point in turning around because Angharad “went under the wheels.” The Imperator simply declares, heartbroken: “We keep moving.”
Trust and respect are apparent too when Furiosa confides in Max. She reveals how she knows about their destination, The Green Place. (She was born there, then kidnapped as a child.) And he falls asleep in her presence, which is rather vulnerable of him. Even more telling is how she soothes him after he wakes up swinging from a PTSD-induced nightmare. She can undoubtedly relate.
From that point on, concern and tenderness regularly slip into their interactions. When Max at one point orders Furiosa to take the rig a click down the road to let its engines cool, she immediately understands he’s planning to retaliate first and may not make it back in time. She rather mournfully asks what happens if he doesn’t. To which he responds by echoing her earlier hard call: “Well, you keep moving.” It’s a lot to take in, guys. A lot, a lot. I was pretty sure Max and Furiosa were soulmates by this point, full disclosure.
Ride or Die
By now we’re at peak levels of shippiness. Their every interaction is loaded with meaning. If you’re not sensing the UST or unresolved sexual tension, I have to wonder if we’re discussing the same movie. They may not be consciously aware of or ready to act on it, but it’s absolutely present.
Watching Max watch Furiosa howl with grief and frustration at the news that The Green Place has become one with the Wasteland is as emotional as anything. So is witnessing Furiosa make herself vulnerable to Max when she offers him a “fully loaded” bike and invites him to make the trek across the salt with them. (“You’d be more than welcome to come with us,” she says, playing it casual. Except her hopeful expression gives away the game.). Seeing her face fall and immediately close up when he grunts “I’ll make my own way” is a gut punch. What it must have cost her to even ask!
Notice, though, how quickly Max has a change of
heart mind. All of a sudden he’s catching up with Furiosa to present a bold plan: They all, as a group, load up the rig once more and go back the way they came. Why? To storm the now-unguarded Citadel, which has all the resources they’d need to start fresh, namely aqua cola and crops.
Notice how quickly Furiosa catches on to his plan and gives it serious thought.
And oh, you can’t miss the significance of the the way they clasp hands after agreeing on the game plan. It’s the first time either has willingly initiated touch, excepting Furiosa’s reunion with her long-lost family. (For a lovely analysis of why touch for them is so noteworthy, I refer you to this illustrated post on tumblr.)
The film’s final chase sequence and its aftermath are what best exemplify the epic nature of the great ship Furiosa/Max. How far they’ve come in so little time!
They guard each other’s six whenever possible in the final battle, saving each other multiple times in various ways. When Max is thrown from the top of the rig after a struggle, only Furiosa’s catlike reflexes save him from falling to his death. She catches his leg with her prosthetic arm, maintaining her grip even as she’s brutally stabbed in the side. Furiosa refuses to let go even with a potentially fatal wound, because of course she does.
Max, for his part, spends much of the final fight trying to get back to Furiosa after learning from the wives that “She’s hurt real bad” and he sees the truth of it in her tear-filled eyes. The naked emotion coursing between them in that brief wordless exchange is almost too intimate to watch, yet you can’t look away.
What kills me is that’s not even the “black moment” we romance novel readers know to anticipate/fear. The delicious despair gets dialed up to 11 after a dying Furiosa effectively ends the war and saves the day by killing Immorten Joe. She then collapses in Max’s arms (!!!) as he pulls her back to safety. Next we see, Max is hovering over a wheezing Furiosa as the other survivors look on, helpless.
Max won’t let her go, though. The former cop’s emergency medic training kicks in. He punctures her chest cavity again (“I am so sorry,” he says, “I know, I know”) to release the excess pressure and allow her lungs to reinflate. (You can surely tell I know nothing about treating a tension pneumothorax/collapsed lung! Here’s more discussion about this scene on reddit.) When Furiosa gasps “Home…get them home” and then loses consciousness, Max—universal donor Max—leaps back into action. He frantically grasps for a needle and tubing. Without hesitation, he once again becomes a blood bag, this time by choice and all for Furiosa.
The best/most painful part of all this, though, the very best and most painful part, is the way Max cradles Furiosa’s head and strokes her face and hair. Does this not scream romance novel behavior? I mean, whoa. While I obviously disagree with critic Allison Willmore’s conclusion that Max/Furiosa are necessarily ultimately platonic, I do agree with her point that the transfusion scene is even better than the kiss you’d normally get at this point in a traditional action flick.
The intimacy and love (whether you think it’s platonic or romantic, I think we can agree this is love) the road warrior demonstrates in front of everyone is out of this world. So is the way he whispers “Max…my name is Max,” in answer to her long-ago question. But look, I can’t even pretend to do this scene justice—watch it again yourself and swoon, because this unquestionably the shippiest scene of the movie. You either get it or you don’t by this point:
The only thing that the final scene of the film has to do, then, is keep us wanting more when it comes to Max and Furiosa. And oh, it succeeds! Upon arrival at the Citadel, Max throws the body of Immorten Joe off the car and helps the recovering Furiosa join him on the hood to much applause. He stays by her side, supporting her, until the War Pups begin to raise the platform up to the living quarters, at which point he jumps down. When Furiosa realizes he’s gone, she seeks him out in the crowd, only to find him already looking back at her. They share small nods and half smiles before Max disappears back into the crowd, ready to head out on his own again… For now.
See what I did there? It ain’t over ’til it’s over when you’re a shipper! In fact, this is where you can take everything that’s been established in the movie (the history, the compatability, the chemistry…) and guide the Max/Furiosa relationship into new territory, where anything’s possible. Especially love and sex and happy-for-nows.
As you might now understand, since the movie came out in May 2015, fellow shippers have created post-canon works that give the two lone rangers time and space to let romance bloom.
Some of my favorite works so far include the fics “Orbit” by primarybufferpanel (multi-chapter, finished), “The Things Men Do” by palimpsestus (multi-chapter, finished), and “I Can Be the Answer” by felonazcorp (one-shot). I could stare at Tumblr gif sets and read meta all day. The fan art is amazing.
Annnnd I’m also obsessed with this fanvid:
Did Max and Furiosa’s chemistry wow you in the movie? Do you see the potential for romance post-movie? Are you happy with how Mad Max: Fury Road left things, or are you hoping to see them reunite in a future film?
Full disclosure, we probably shouldn’t hold our breath. Next up in the Mad Max Cinematic Universe is a prequel movie, Furiosa, starring Anya Taylor-Joy as the young Imperator. It’s currently due to zoom into theaters in 2024. And while this film sounds amazing, odds are that neither Charlize Theron nor Tom Hardy will appear in it. George Miller has also teased Mad Max: The Wasteland as the continuation of Max Rockatansky’s journey, but said Furiosa’s not part of that story. (Shame. Shame!)
Come at me with your thoughts on any of that. Or just come scream with me about how amazingly accidentally shippy the movie is. That’d be shiny and chrome too.
This article was originally published on August 13, 2015, at HeroeandHeartbreakers.com. I have updated and revised it.