“Mad Max: Fury Road” delivers max action and max carnage at max volume. This is summertime entertainment ... to the max!
Oops, sorry about that, but the resurrection of the “Mad Max” franchise is so fun and abundant it’s bound to be blurbed with superlatives. And for a change, the ads won’t be unforgivable fibs. This old-school thrill ride leaves a CGI contraption like “Furious 7” stalled at the starting line.
This is analog filmmaking at its most daring. Director George Miller is as Australian as a boxing kangaroo, and his 1979 debut “Mad Max” was a landmark of low-budget Down Under cinema. No Hollywood studio would have OK’d the crazy pyrotechnics that used humans as cannon balls, but half a world away from the regulators, Australia had a community of stunt drivers who would risk their lives for a laugh and a lager.
A new generation of stunt person steals “Fury Road” from its ostensible star. In the role that made Mel Gibson famous, Tom Hardy plays Max, a mysterious ex-cop who roams the Outback after a global catastrophe has turned the remaining humans into predators. Max is captured by a tribe of desert-sand pirates and taken to their canyon fortress, where ageless leader Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne) organizes raiding parties to steal vital gasoline.
When Joe dispatches one-armed lieutenant Furiosa (the mighty Charlize Theron) to Gas Town, she betrays him by smuggling his breeder females in the tanker truck. The whooping war party that pursues the rainbow-hued harem is a spectacle that would give John Ford an inferiority complex, with Max as a human hood ornament on one of the spiked and supercharged death-mobiles.
The whole movie is essentially a post-apocalyptic cowboys-and-Indians chase, with swarms of barrel-chested cut-throats buzzing around, atop and beneath the tanker. Max warily joins the gun-slinging Furiosa on the race to the fertile land of her birth, along with a crazed warrior called Nux (Nicholas Hoult) who falls for one of the five maidens. But there’s no room for sentiment in a landscape where even grandmothers travel as a biker gang.
Catapulting over the previous three installments, Miller’s production crew has fashioned a future as distinctive in its way as “Blade Runner.” The powder-pale minions in the steam-punk citadel are literal cogs in a machinery that squeezes water from the desert. Joe, whose face we never see behind a grill (like Hardy wore in “The Dark Knight Rises”), goes into battle sheathed in a plastic muscle suit festooned with old medallions. The war wagons are hybrids of hot rods and heavy-metal tour buses.
Maybe there’s a warning sign buried in the sand about a species that’s speeding out of control, but the chaos is such a gas that “Mad Max: Fury Road” keeps the message to a minimum.
What “Mad Max: Fury Road” • Three and a half stars out of four • Run time 2:00 • Rating R • Content Intense sequences of violence throughout and disturbing images