Mad Max: Fury Road is really like nothing else out there.
With the soul of an art film locked in the body of a $100 million blockbuster, it’s a surreal, operatic take on the action movie that makes its direct predecessors — Mad Max, Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome and even the mighty Road Warrior — seem almost timid by comparison.
It’s a bold, idiosyncratic vision from Australian director George Miller that may alienate as many people as it entertains — there’s only the shred of a back story to hold on to as you’re plunged headlong into the action — but it’s a visceral, invigorating experience.
Mel Gibson was the original Max, the hero whose life became a nightmare in the first film when his wife and child were run down by a murderous motorcycle gang in an Australia plunged into chaos after the collapse of civilization.
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Though he brought justice and revenge to Outback evildoers, he had become a husk of a man.
That’s how we meet the new Max, played by Tom Hardy, though it’s unclear exactly where in the franchise’s timeline these adventures play out.
He’s a silent loner, barely surviving when he’s captured by the local warlord, Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne), and his tribe of suicidal War Boys, including the ambitious Nux (Nicholas Hoult). Their feverish battle cry is “I live! I die! I live again!”
Immortan Joe controls the local water supply, and that’s the wellspring of his despotic power. Meanwhile, one of his most trusted underlings, the one-armed Imperiator Furiosa (a fierce Charlize Theron), has treachery in mind.
While on what is supposed to be a routine run in a tricked-out truck called the War Rig, she is really freeing Immortan Joe’s enslaved wives, hidden in the bowels of the vehicle.
After some initial reluctance — and a phenomenally choreographed fight scene with chains — Max and Furiosa team up but, unlike what might be expected in a different action film, there’s no flirtation or buddy-movie banter. They’re both too damaged for that.
What follows is fundamentally a two-hour chase movie, but that’s no insult. Miller stages these scenes with the heart of Evel Knievel and the eye of a painter. As the various desert tribes rush into war with their outlandish vehicles and brutally creative weaponry, the film becomes a parade of one astonishing image after another. (Suggestion: see it in 2-D, not the distracting 3-D.)
While it’s commendable that Miller has brought a blast of estrogen into Max’s testosterone-fueled environment with Furiosa, the one nagging criticism is the general lack of racial variety in the director’s sun-bleached futureworld.
It’s mind-boggling that those Australian Aboriginals leading a traditional desert lifestyle seem to have disappeared while their much paler peers — hurtling through the oven that is the Outback in non-airconditioned metal boxes — have yet to be felled by heat stroke and skin cancer. (That’s one thing a couple of other recent Aussie post-apocalyptic flicks, Wyrmwood and The Rover, get right by acknowledging there will be different types of people in the wasteland, even if, like everyone else, they’re mostly evil, crazy or zombies.)
Still, this doesn’t totally detract from what Miller has wrought: a jittery, kinetic, propulsive fever dream that makes every other action movie feel like a still life.
Cary Darling, 817-390-7571
Mad Max: Fury Road
Director: George Miller
Cast: Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron
Rated: R (intense sequences of violence throughout, disturbing images)
Running time: 120 min.