What It’s About
The mind-blowing adrenaline rush “Mad Max: Fury Road” puts the spectacular in the spectacle. The sci-fi thriller’s spellbinding full-throttle approach and daring cinematic verve displays an oomph not often found in routine summer blockbusters.
Not content to helm a garden-variety action movie, writer-director George Miller masterfully demonstrates what vision and a singular point of view can achieve. The revered 70-year-old Australian behind the three previous “Mad Max” films isn’t complacent to follow a formula, instead making a new work that stands out 30 years later.
We immediately are thrust in a hellish post-apocalyptic world, and it’s a scary but enthralling frenetic ride. In a refreshing move, Miller steered away from heavy reliance on computer-generated graphics, mostly preferring dazzling stunt work and wild, feverish visual effects instead.
Whether you saw Miller’s first “Mad Max” in 1979 or its sequels, the groundbreaking “The Road Warrior” in 1981 and the massive-scale “Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome” in 1985, is immaterial. (Or like me, you can’t remember the last one, except for Tina Turner!). This version can stand alone, and viewers can catch on quickly, as dialogue is minimal.
Former cop Max Rockatansky (Tom Hardy) is now a jaded, reluctant man of action, haunted by the deaths of his wife and daughter. He roams the scorched earth, trying to survive. He is captured in “Fury Road,” prized as a universal blood-type donor. After escaping the Canyon City, he collides with Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron), a tough woman gone rogue, escorting young women called “Breeders” to her childhood homeland.
He joins this treacherous mission to help the bevy of beauties escape their fate as a harem for the repulsive cruel despot, Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne). A fired-up War Boy called Nux (Nicholas Hoult), first intent to thwart the renegades, switches sides, revealing his loneliness.
A fleet of violent goons, on orders from the demonic leader, pursue them in tricked-out, souped-up vehicles, incredible fusions of muscle cars and hulking metal machines. The battles are brutal and the carnage is chaotic on this desolate landscape — grisly heavy-duty clashes (warning to fainter hearts). Meanwhile, throngs of grungy, thirsty survivors await their paltry water rations from the grotesque powerful leaders.
Soon-to-be-bigger Tom Hardy (“Locke”) is a fitting replacement for Mel Gibson as the title character. I’ve been a Hardy fan since “Inception” in 2010, and think he is proving himself to be the next Marlon Brando (case in point “The Drop”). With all great actors, it’s all about the expression in their eyes. You could see it when he played the villain Bane in “The Dark Knight Rises” and you can see Max’s pain, anguish and bravery here — just look past the shackles and look into his eyes.
Oscar winner Theron (“Monster”) gives her best performance in years, exuding strength as the rugged, hardened Furiosa. She has a moment of despair that’s powerfully moving, one of Miller’s exquisitely shot quiet moments. She and Hardy make a formidable team, and as very physical actors, they depict more depth to their characters, too. When he tells her that “hope is a mistake,” you feel his wounded soul.
The versatile Hoult (“X-Men: First Class”) is fascinating as one of the bizarre pale warriors programmed for combat. Zoe Kravitz, daughter of Lenny Kravitz and Lisa Bonet, and Riley Keogh, Elvis Presley’s granddaughter, are among the escapees showing their steely determination, not just supermodel looks.
Miller’s vigorous locked-and-loaded style is to be marveled, particularly when you realize he is the same guy who directed “Babe” and the Oscar-winning animated film “Happy Feet.” The sound and fury he creates is nitro-fueled in a riveting way. But as audacious as the action scenes are, also admirable is the attention paid to quieter moments, such as visually beautiful moonlight glows on these durable yet desperate people.
What Doesn’t Work
Occasionally, the sound mixing makes it difficult to hear some of the dialogue, but because this film has few words, it doesn’t detract.
This is truly the first great epic movie of the year, and makes many others in its genre pale by comparison.
4 stars out of 4
Director: George Miller
Starring: Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron, Nicholas Hoult
Rated: R for intense sequences of violence throughout, and for disturbing images.