Thirty years after Mel Gibson's stoic savior Max Rockatansky walked off into the sunset and Tina Turner crooned "We Don't Need Another Hero" at the end of 1985's "Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome," mainstay director George Miller (2006's "Happy Feet
") has brought the post-apocalyptic franchise trucking back to life with the innovative, sensationally mounted "Mad Max: Fury Road." Decidedly more reboot than sequel to 1980's low-budget, comparatively quaint "Mad Max
" and 1981's zanier, stunt-heavy "Mad Max 2" (a.k.a. "The Road Warrior"), this sizzling $150-million extravaganza picks up in a futuristic desert wasteland where water has replaced gas as the hottest commodity of all. With dialogue kept to a nitty-gritty minimum, Miller and co-writers Brendan McCarthy and Nick Lathouris cut very quickly to the literal chase, a roaring, full-throttle, 120-minute action set-piece that threatens to lose a little of its captivating hold whenever time is taken out to let the hard-scrabble, no-nonsense characters breathe.
In the bowels of Machiavellian oasis the Citadel, Max (Tom Hardy) has been violently branded the property of ruthless tyrant Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne), used as a "blood bag" to transfuse one of Joe's brainwashed minions, Nux (Nicholas Hoult). A man haunted by the loss of his daughter, he now has only one goal: survival. As it turns out, Max's dire situation coincides with Imperator Furiosa's (Charlize Theron) high-stakes bid for freedom and redemption. Having just rescued five young womenSplendid (Rosie Huntington-Whiteley), Toast (Zoë Kravitz), Capable (Riley Keough), Cheedo (Courtney Eaton) and The Dag (Abbey Lee)from a life of servitude and sexual enslavement at the hands of the lascivious Joe, Furiosa has gone rogue. Taking a sharp left turn toward the east in her giant war rig, she barrels across the scorched and barren earth with Joe and his crazed henchmenand another gang in spiky death machines who do not take kindly to trespassershot on their tail. When Max manages to escape and joins forces with Furiosa and the girls (some of them pregnant with their master's babies), their only hope is to make it to salvation in a location known as "The Green Place" before their unforgiving pursuers catch up to them.
"Mad Max: Fury Road" pares down the chatter and ramps up the visceral onslaught. Confronted with an unimaginable reality that leaves the lead characters battling for their lives, there is little time for them to dig too deeply into each other's backstories beyond what is necessary in order to understand their motivations. This minimalistic script is a double-edged sword; on the one hand, the lack of development keeps the viewer somewhat at an emotional distance from the heroes' battle, but on the upside, it wastes little time paying off because virtually the whole movie is a parade of money shots. If intimacy isn't exactly at the top of the film's list of traits, director George Miller makes up for it with a vision of the future so gnarled and alive with creative inspiration that it very much feels like what it is: a movie that has been gesticulating in the filmmaker's mind for the better part of two decades.
The finished outcome has arrived lean yet fully formed, an anything-goes phantasmagoria of starkly indelible sights and explosive, bone- and metal-crunching carnage. Cinematographer John Seale (2006's "Poseidon
") has outdone himself, crafting an aesthetic masterclass out of what could have just been another dreary, dime-a-dozen dystopian world. Seale's burnt color scheme, full of radiating reds, browns, golds and moonlight blues, is so vivid it consistently looks like one could reach out and singe his or her hand on the images, while his choreography in handling the bombastic havoc on display is daunting to imagine and impressive to behold. Save for a few isolated occasions where his camera cannot seem to catch up with all that is happening in front of it, Miller and Seale know how to cohesively capture action in a way that is genuinely inventive and brimming with urgency.
As has always been the case, Max is a man of few words who more often than not speaks with his actions. In a role originated by Mel Gibson, Tom Hardy (2014's "Locke
") proves a superb replacement with the straight-faced seriousness and toughened physicality of a self-made warrior. As the determined, buzz-shaven Imperator Furiosa, who shares a personal shameful past with Immortan Joe, Charlize Theron (2014's "A Million Ways to Die in the West
") has just as little to say as Max, but her rebel cause to transport five victimized women to a safe place and a hopefully better life is arrestingly written all over her laser-focused eyes. As Nux, one of Joe's manipulated and abused war boys, Nicholas Hoult (2014's "X-Men: Days of Future Past
") is virtually unrecognizable. Nux has been so physically battered and mentally beaten down he no longer knows what side he should be fighting on, or why, and Hoult pulls off quite the disappearing act as he embodies this shadow of a young man in need of liberating.
The women Furiosa is trying to save work better as a symbolic representation of the objectified and repressed female than as individuals with many individual defining characteristics. The actresses, chief among them Rosie Huntington-Whiteley (2011's "Transformers: Dark of the Moon
") and Zoë Kravitz (2015's "Insurgent
"), are wholly believable in undernourished roles. Having portrayed crazed cult leader Toecutter in the original "Mad Max
," Hugh Keays-Byrne is the one major returning cast member, this time playing the even more unforgettable Immortan Joe. Wearing a metal oxygen mask emblazoned with vicious chompers that transform him into a harrowing, monstrous figure who no longer appears quite human, Keays-Byrne is the arguable standout of the cast, a chilling villain driven by power and madness.
"Mad Max: Fury Road" isn't a deep movie, but it is a technically spectacular one. From the rocky lair of Immortan Joe, where all manner of depravity is occurring just out of sight, to the awesome vehicles of death and steel powering through the rough, arid, dirt-cracked terrain, to the sight of a raving heavy-metal guitarist swooping on the front of a truck while shredding his blinged-out, fire-breathing instrument, to a perilous drive through a lightning storm of sand and tornadoes, there are live-action illustrations within unlike anything glimpsed before. The figures onscreen aren't exactly the warmest of individuals to get to know and care about, but they are the understandable product of tough circumstances, each one faced with a key decision: either roll over and give up, or claw for survival. Miller's boundless showmanship and his gift for cinematically actualizing his own feverish imaginings give "Mad Max: Fury Road"the best and most grandiose of all the "Mad Max" installments, by the wayan uncompromising, vitally radical spirit.