It speaks volumes for the sheer ferocious awesome insane greatness of “Mad Max: Fury Road” that I’m not even ticked off about Tom Hardy getting stuck wearing a face mask for a good chunk of the film.
I mean, come on! This guy’s one of the best actors of his generation, and it’s the Bane of my existence to see him once again get the “Dark Knight” treatment. Let the man be seen and heard.
Then again, we can always hope Hardy and the equally badass Charlize Theron team up again for a dialogue-driven character study. For now let’s be grateful they’re one of the best action duos ever, in one of the best action movies.
“Mad Max: Fury Road” is a stunningly effective post-apocalyptic fable, a chilling and yet exhilarating daytime nightmare pitting blindly loyal and bloodthirsty half-humans against implausibly beautiful people clinging to their sense of morality while doing whatever they can to stay alive.
In an action movie world dominated by cartoonishly over-the-top CGI effects and rapid-fire quick cuts, it’s exhilarating to see so many set pieces and battle sequences filmed in unbroken tracking shots, some breathtaking wide angle views and visceral, gritty close-ups.
“Mad Max” maestro George Miller, returning to the franchise that marked his directorial debut in 1979, says 90 percent of the effects seen onscreen are practical, i.e., sans computer-generated imagery or post-production wizardry, and the result is an action movie so much better than most, it almost qualifies for its own genre.
My best guess is “Fury Road” sits on the timeline somewhere between “The Road Warrior” and “Beyond Thunderdome,” with Hardy picking up the blowtorch from Mel Gibson as Max Rockatansky, who is haunted by terrifying, “Shining”-level visions of the daughter he couldn’t save. Now Max slogs his way through a vicious, blood-spattered desert world, with only one goal: survival. (Even if you haven’t seen any of the original “Mad Max” films, “Fury Road” works as a stand-alone piece.)
After an opening chase sequence more ambitious and visually stunning than the climactic scenes in most big-budget action films, Max is held captive in the Citadel, a canyon city in which the great unwashed masses await commands (and rations of water) from the all-powerful and all-hideous Immortan Joe, a ghoulish sicko with a skeleton face mask and his own personal harem of supermodel-gorgeous “breeders.” (In a nice touch, Hugh Keays-Byrne, who was the infamous Toecutter in the first “Mad Max” movie, plays Joe.)
As for Max, he’s literally a human blood bag — a “universal donor” hooked up to an IV to provide fuel to Nux (Nicholas Hoult), one of the hundreds of young “War Boys” feverishly devoted to the cult of Immortan Joe. The War Boys sound like brainwashed terrorists, spouting verbal garbage about the glories of reaching the gates of Valhalla where they will be born again under the approving eyes of Immortan Joe. They’re half-mad warrior-fools.
Once Max is sprung from the Citadel — what, you thought Mad Max would spend the whole movie bound and gagged and held as a slave? — he forms a partnership-of-necessity with Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron, imposing and beautiful and magnificent with her buzz cut and her black eye makeup), who has gone rogue with her precious cargo: thousands of gallons of “Guzoline,” and Immortan Joe’s harem of beauties, one of whom is pregnant with his child.
About those women. They’re so ridiculous it’s great. Rosie Huntington-Whitley is the Splendid Angharad, Zoe Kravitz is Toast the Knowing, Abbey Lee is the Dag, Riley Keough is Capable and Courtney Eaton is Cheedo the Fragile. So there! They wear strips of white linen fabric and they look as if they’re on their way to a shoot for Vogue, but each has her own special brand of toughness and resilience. And given that Max often takes a passenger seat to Theron’s Imperator Furiosa, this is one female-empowered action vehicle.
Once Max and Furiosa are on the run with Immortan Joe’s fleet giving chase, “Fury Road” is one extended warring sequence after another, punctuated by pauses so Max and Furiosa can learn just a little bit about one another, and we can catch our breath.
What a feast for the eyes and the adrenaline. The war rigs are hybrids of muscle cars, tanks, drag racers and land-speed rocket ships. War Boys spray silver paint on their mouths and cackle madly. Enemy soldiers on motorcycles fly through the air like futuristic X-Gamers on PEDs. Warriors sway back and forth on long poles, swooping in for the kill and then bouncing away like Velcro’d vaulters. Furiosa and Max devise ingenious defense plans on the fly. Immortan Joe’s fleet includes minions literally banging on gigantic drums, and a thrash metal guitarist strapped to the front of a truck, just because.
It’s all perfectly, wonderfully, fantastically crazy.
Amidst all those ingenious, power-packed road warrior sequences, “Fury Road” contains a surprising amount of depth and character development. There’s not a whole lot of dialogue, and yet Max, Furiosa and Nux experience something akin to growth. Fighting like animals against creatures with not a speck of conscience, they tap into their own humanity.
Warner Bros. presents a film directed by George Miller and written by Miller, Brendan McCarthy and Nico Lathouris. Running time: 120 minutes. Rated R (for intense sequences of violence throughout, and for disturbing images). Opens Thursday night at local theaters.