Mad Max: Fury Road
Three and a half stars (out of four)
R (intense sequences of violence, disturbing images)
The film is playing in 3-D, but due to a terrible conversion, it’s best to opt for crisp, clear 2-D.
The mad vision of “Mad Max: Fury Road” is so insane-intense-inventive, it demands to be seen. If you only take in one action movie this summer, this has to be it.
Fans of the original trilogy, which starred a young, crazy-eyed up-and-comer named Mel Gibson, will be pleased to note that “Fury Road” maintains the grotesquely mutated genetic material of its predecessors: parched post-apocalyptic setting, weirdly descriptive slang, colorful, carnie-like characters, hurtling camera angles, a certain Ford Falcon Interceptor and a villainous warlord, played with deranged relish by “Mad Max” villain Hugh Keays-Byrne.
The film functions handily as either a sequel or reboot and boldly announces the return of director George Miller, who conjured up the phantasmagorical world introduced in 1979’s “Mad Max” as only an Australian medical doctor turned film student could.
Miller was 69 during the making of “Fury Road” and his singular perspective comes to the screen undiminished, even enhanced. The movie is part environmental fable, part feminist fever dream and 150% high-octane action extravaganza.
“Fury Road” was intended to be realized a decade ago with Gibson reprising his role as dystopian cop Max Rockatansky. Middle Eastern wars, freak rains in the Australian desert and Gibson’s eventual public meltdown scuttled those plans, paving the way for Tom Hardy to inherit the Road Warrior’s extremely distressed leather jacket.
Hardy dons this mantle as comfortably as if he’d been born to play it. Miller introduces the always fascinating actor’s even wilder-eyed, more desperate, more silent Max on the run.
He never really stops running.
“Fury Road” is essentially one long, ingenious action sequence. In the film’s first hour alone, Max is pursued, captured, tattooed, caged and strapped to the front of a moving car as a human “blood bag” to an ailing “War Boy.”
And that’s before he meets Charlize Theron’s Furiosa, the bad-ass, bald driver of a massive custom truck, aka War Rig, belonging to Immortan Joe (Keays-Byrne) the theatrical, oxygen-mask-wearing dictator of Miller’s toxic wasteland.
Joe presides over The Citadel, pacifying the half-dead survivors who reluctantly serve as his subjects with the prospect of clean, cool, gushing water. He sends Furiosa on a mission to Gas Town to load up on the Earth’s second most critical remaining resource, but she has other ideas.
As she and Max are chased by Joe’s entourage, a freak-show caravan of Valhalla-obsessed, albino War Boys and jury-rigged junkyard cars that’s at once terrifying and hilarious (watch out for Electric Guitar Guy), they become unwitting allies in delivering the “treasures” hidden in the hold of Furiosa’s rig to a mythical paradise known as the “Green Place.”
Filmed in the eerily unspoiled deserts of Namibia, “Fury Road” feels remarkably real — tactile, scruffy, dirty — as surreal and strange as its world may be. Miller opted for physical props and old-fashioned, practical stunt work instead of computer-generated imagery. It’s a difference that sets the film above the sometimes soulless CGI of this summer’s blockbuster fare, movies like “Avengers: Age of Ultron,” “San Andreas” and “Jurassic World.”
The tribal-punk-rock-scrapyard-demolition derby aesthetic of “Fury Road” is amplified by the film’s minimalist dialogue. The audiences pieces together just what it needs to and infers the rest with an efficiency that imbues the movie with a primitive, streamlined power.
“Fury Road” is ferociously bleak and violent and, yet, it has these small, unexpected human moments that make it almost … lovely?
To say that Miller has done something groundbreaking with the sheer number of strong women included in its bizarre menagerie of characters isn’t an exaggeration. There’s not a useless damsel in distress to be found among the resourceful female fighters who occupy virtually every frame of the film.
Theron’s angry, hopeful Furiosa is an action heroine for the ages — psst, don’t tell anyone, but she’s more the star of the film than Max is — right up there with Ripley and Sarah Connor.
Miller, who conceived the story with comic book artist Brendan McCarthy and actor Nick Lathouris, clearly has serious issues on the brain: the environment, religious fanaticism, oil wars, poverty, the enslavement of women. And, yes, it’s true that playwright and feminist activist Eve Ensler consulted on the film.
If any of this makes “Fury Road” sound like a drag, don’t believe it for a minute.
Mostly, the movie is a mad, mad, mad, mad rush.