This is what happens when the creator of the end-of-the-world car-wars movie decides to reinvent his own genre.
In an apocalyptic wasteland, Max (Tom Hardy) is haunted by the faces of people begging to be saved, presumably because he failed to do so or never tried. Taken down by a gang of gearhead wastelanders, Max is kept in captivity for his healthy blood to allow the dying to live a little longer. An opportunity to escape presents itself when he’s taken for a ride to run down a renegade fuel driver (Charlize Theron), but when he discovers the real cargo she’s carrying, he’ll have to decide if risking his freedom and survival is worth helping others who need it just as badly.
With the latest attempt to make the summer moviegoing experience into a theme park ride, Mad Max returns to theaters to declare the apocalyptic wasteland crazy and fun again (for us to watch, not for the characters). The madness is in our face this time, getting a view of the horror behind Max’s eyeballs; you almost hope the end comes quickly for him, but going down without a fight isn’t his style. One particular change is how much screen time is handed over to Charlize Theron, so much so that it’s hard to see her as a supporting cast member; along with the rest of the re-invention, women holding their own instead of allowing themselves to be merely a commodity is central to the plot. Feminist? Absolutely. Detrimental to the film? Not in the slightest.
Story be damned, the real attraction for Mad Max has always been the vehicles. One way or another, each of the previous films has involved or ended with a desert chase sequence with some of the craziest motorized contraptions imaginable. Fury Road is different only that they’ve figured out a way to make almost the entire film one extended chase sequence, and it’s epic as well as insane. Need a soundtrack? How about a mobile drum corps with a flame-throwing electric guitar player wire-fu-ed up to a front-mounted wall of speakers? In a world where mass manufacturing is dead and every bit of junk can be repurposed, it’s a movie of heavy metal imagination and bone-grinding engineering. Motorheads rejoice!
The thing that makes a movie like this stand out is the sheer will of so many characters, whether fighting to get back what they see as their personal property or just surviving to see another day. These bad guys don’t think what they’re doing is bad any more than the need of the heroes to escape. In addition, everyone manages to find unique ways to use anything they can to keep going, from one character charging in alone to save others to another blocking a shot with their own body because they know how valuable they are. These tiny character moments happen all through the vehicular carnage with very little down time, revealing character strengths and motivations while taking no time away from the danger; that’s a heck of a balancing act for any director to pull off effectively, and George Miller more than proves himself up to the task. Possible prequels? Yes, please!
(a three and a half skull recommendation out of four)