Mad Max: Fury Road was a great movie, and I (like pretty much every other human on the planet) saw Charlize Theron’s Imperator Furiosa character as the real star of the film. And like pretty much every other human on the planet, my thoughts went also to Sigourney Weaver’s Ellen Ripley, the action heroine who in 1979 starred in Alien, the same year that the original Mad Max helped launch Mel Gibson’s career.
Ever since Alien clamped itself upon our culture like a facehugger, we’ve been waiting for a heroine as amazingly fierce as Ripley. Many have come close: Jennifer Lawrence in The Hunger Games, Linda Hamilton in Terminator, Uma Thurman in Kill Bill, and Scarlett Johansson as the Black Widow. Yet we’ve still had to patiently wait for Ripley to be fully upstaged.
So in a nerd showdown, who wins between Mad Max‘s Furiosa vs. Alien‘s Ripley?
I don’t want to tease you, so I’m going to go ahead and call this up front: I think Furiosa wins this. But I don’t want to gloss over what Ellen Ripley of the Alien franchise has meant in the history of sci-fi action heroines.
It’s important to respect your history, nerds, so let’s talk some high praise for Ripley.[divider]Furiosa versus Ripley: Team Ripley[/divider]
First, Ripley’s motivation is simple survival. While in the 2nd and 3rd films, Ripley exhibited a broader heroism in rescuing colonizers and taking out the Alien Queen (while carrying an alien embryo, no less), the first time we saw Ripley it was with a face stricken by fear.
However, despite clashes with the male officers, Ripley asserts her dominance by citing quarantine regulations, a move that bought time for everyone. In fact, Ripley frequently butts heads with her male cohorts, questioning their decisions, and quickly positioning herself as the lone dissenter (while doubling as a parable of workplace sexism). Of course, anyone familiar with storytelling knows that the lone dissenter is usually the character we should trust, and by the end of the film, it is Ripley that is the sole survivor who must face off with the Alien.
In later Alien films, Ripley remains at the heart of the story and goes on to become an iconic character.[divider]Furiosa versus Ripley: Team Furiosa[/divider]
With her weakened state and the themes of quarantine, Ripley’s shaved head connotes an almost sickly image. In contrast, Furiosa being shorn of her locks isolates her from the “young, pretty girls.” As the silent lone survivor, Ripley spends the final scene stripped down to her undies, while Furiosa has a mechanical arm, is smeared with war paint, drives a War Rig, and also brings to life an iconic character with very limited dialogue.
Furiosa is masked in androgyny and commands a squad of War Boys. But under the brutal and hedonistic rule of Immortan Joe, women and children are exploited commodities. Furiosa, kidnapped as a child and discovered to be barren, is overlooked in Joe’s harem of fertile breeders.
Furiosa turned off her femininity in order to scrape her way up the ranks to Imperator status, and now has her shot at finding a way home. But like Ripley before her, Furiosa is a character whose heroism and womanhood are intertwined, each part fueling the other. Furiosa is a combination of ferocity and soul-baring humanity, vulnerable, yet invincible.
Furiosa is in the driver’s seat and won’t let anyone stand in her way. Romantically, Furiosa and Max haven’t got time for such nonsense. Max knows he’s met his match in Furiosa, and then some. Their first meeting turns into an evenly matched brawl, a viewers can just imagine how things might’ve gone differently if she had two arms. At one point, Max – down to one bullet – wordlessly defers to Furiosa, who rests the barrel on his shoulder and fires expertly into the darkness.[divider]Furiosa versus Ripley: Final Thoughts[/divider]
Both Ripley and Furiosa are examples of a kick-butt female action hero at the center of her own story. Each is also very much a product of a particular moment in movie history. While Furiosa feels like the perfect action heroine for our times, that’s not to gloss over the influence of Ripley.
Winner, Furiosa! But we’re all winners for having two great films in Alien and Mad Max: Fury Road. Pay attention, Hollywood, we need less Michael Bay movies and more with stars like Ripley and Furiosa.
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