It’s too bad most audiences won’t fully appreciate “Mad Max: Fury Road” for at least five or 10 years, because George Miller’s return to the franchise – his first live-action movie in 17 years – is not only a master class in pure visual cinema, it’s also one of the best films of this or any year.
It’s ironic that such an inventive and unique world as “Fury Road” is a summer release, as it aggressively over-commits to being an “eff you” to the sameness of what passes for entertainment at this time of year. And that’s a good thing.
This almost two-hour car chase starts with Tom Hardy’s Max crashing his Interceptor after failing to evade the bad guys hunting him across this sun-scorched wasteland. Plagued by visions of a little girl he couldn’t save, Max is taken to the lair ruled by Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne), a monument to the filmmakers’ detail-oriented sense of world-building.
There, post-apocalyptic steampunk mixes with desert rocks and the lush greens of Joe’s gardens. Max, forced to donate his universal donor blood type to the War Boys -- Joe’s pasty-white, paint-huffing cannon fodder -- tries to escape, only to be turned into a human hood ornament for War Boy Nux (Nicholas Hoult).
The two join dozens more, led by the one-armed Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron), for a trip on Fury Road to pick up gas and bullets. But Furiosa and her black War Rig take a detour: She’s smuggling Joe’s “brides” to a mythical promised land, braving lightning-powered sand tornadoes and a gauntlet of exploding cars and marauders. Her redemptive motives for this journey align with Max’s, and the two forge an unlikely – but surprisingly heartfelt – alliance to save these human incubators from a life under Joe’s tyranny.
Nearly every big set piece in the film is done in-camera; CG is used either sparingly or for enhancement, the way it’s supposed to be. Out of 120 shooting days, every one of them involved one big stunt, according to Miller. It’s as if the 70-year-old director braved the demanding production to show the Michael Bays of the world what a real action movie is supposed to be.
If only this great film provided Hardy’s Max with more to do than largely play the silent, reactive type. “Fury Road’s” star is arguably Theron, as her character drives the plot and gets some of the best non-action scenes. The two actors achieve the bare minimum of chemistry to make their characters worth investment. Their best moments come when, after barely surviving the outbound trip, they must go back from where they came and brave even worse obstacles in order to survive.
From the studio logos, fading in and out with the chug of a coughing diesel engine coming to life, “Fury Road” announces (with no apologies) the type of movie it is. You’re either with all of the craziness or you’re not, and it doesn’t care in which camp you fall.
Its only concerns is effectively delivering a simple and clean, A-to-B car chase with the bare minimum of character development to make it all worth the ride. Along the way, it subverts expectations with some truly dark and affecting moments that you won’t believe this is a major studio release. Especially during a key sequence involving the fate of X’s favorite (and very pregnant) bride and her unborn child, after the expectant mother gets dragged under the wheels of a scary truck.
“Fury Road” effortlessly achieves all of the above and more.
”Mad Max: Fury Road” opens Friday nationwide.