Mad Max: Fury Road ✮✮✮✮
by Glenn Lovell
George Miller’s “Mad Max: Fury Road” delivers on its muscular title: it’s a furious, insanely entertaining post-apocalyptic road picture, a three-decades-later franchise reboot that kicks the crap out of the summer’s inert-in-comparison Avengers and F&F installments.
Miller, who just turned 70, puts on a clinic for aspiring action directors young enough to be his grandchildren. Returning to his Outback hero, played by Mel Gibson in “Mad Max” and its increasingly elaborate sequels, “Mad Max 2: Road Warrior” and “Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome,” the Aussie writer-director applies his signature style (retro art design, manically over-the-top violence) to a brawny, yet surprisingly feminist, narrative that channels H. Rider Haggard, Conan the Barbarian and, for the starving throng cutaways, Cecil B. DeMille’s “The 10 Commandments.”
And if that’s not enough for you, Miller also throws in Cirque du Soleil acrobatics — performed atop 20-foot poles that allow the bad guys to vault, mid-chase, from one speeding vehicle to another.
Now that’s entertainment!
Tom Hardy takes over for Gibson as the former cop who vows vengeance towards the roving psychos who killed his wife and son. By “Thunderdome” Max has put personal feelings aside to lead a band of children out of the wasteland, like a New Age Pied Piper. Hardy is a good choice for the role; he’s brutish and belligerent enough to have crawled out from under a rock. Unfortunately, in the opening scene, he doesn’t crawl fast enough. He is snared by a rasping, white-haired warlord/deity (Hugh Keays-Byrne) whose rheumy eyes stare from behind a grotesque oxygen mask. Max is taken to a fortress city, where he’s branded and bled, to transfuse the leader’s “war boys.”
The Citadel, as it’s called, is part slave camp, part Stone Age Motor City. Water is hoarded but gas ‒ or “guzzle-line” ‒ is prized above all else because with fuel comes power. That is, until one-armed driver Furiosa (Charlize Theron) does a runner and, instead of taking her umpteen-wheel “war rig” to Gastown for a refill, heads to the mythical, matriarchal Green Place. Hiding in the tanker are five of the warlord’s child brides, one of whom is very pregnant.
In hot pursuit, through sandstorm, quagmire and canyon ambush, are the ruler and his mob. So much for story. Still, you’d be amazed by all the narrative twists and turns (including a budding romance) that Miller manages to pack into what is essentially an exhilarating two-hour chase. In terms of pure kinetic energy, you’d have to go back to Spielberg’s “Raiders of the Lost Ark” and, before that, maybe Buster Keaton’s “The General” to find its equal.
This being a George Miller film the violence is at once horrifying, anarchic and funny, like a Roadrunner cartoon. We get hand-to-hand combat in, under and on top of the escaping truck; we get exploding spears and arrows, harpoon plows, flamethrower guitar, porcupine pursuit vehicles, bodies collecting like moths on grilles … even a supercharger gas-spitting contest.
And the amazing thing is, it’s done with such style and attention to detail that it doesn’t seem monotonous. (The blaring, cacophonous score by Junkie XL certainly helps here.) Just when you think Miller has used up his bag of tricks, he pulls out something new ‒ like a just-blinded scavenger sounding a war whoop, then continuing to blast away in the dark. How can you not appreciate such commitment to old-fashioned Saturday matinee villainy?
MAD MAX: FURY ROAD ✮✮✮✮ With Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron, Nicholas Hoult, Hugh Keays-Byrne. Written, directed by George Miller. 120 min. Rated R (for farcical violence, nauseating makeup effects, disturbing images)