★★★★ (out of ★★★★)
Miller introduced audiences to the titular character of Mad Max back in 1979, and after delivering two sequels he made two movies about a talking pig named Babe, and two animated features about dancing penguins (‘Happy Feet’). Mr. Miller, who is now 70 years old hasn’t been softened by age. Or by the talking pigs. Or by the dancing penguins. His return to the series as director and co-writer is marked by a reinvigorated vision and unabridged vehemence. Gleefully violent and hallucinatory, but in the best possible way, ‘Fury Road’ is a visually astounding experience.
The role of Max has passed from Mel Gibson to Tom Hardy, one of the best actors of his generation. This film is a true original and functions perfectly as a standalone feature. The future is very bleak. King Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne) lords over a desert complex known as the Citadel. He only occasional releases water to the scorched multitudes, and rules with the help of an army known as the War Boys.
He employs Furiosa (Charlize Theron) as a musclewoman and she is tasked with leading a convoy to another outpost for fuel. But she is a rebel with a cause. Though the rest of the convoy doesn’t know it, she has Joe’s five breeders hidden in the rig and is planning on driving them to the Green Place, which she believes is safe. More importantly, she drives the plot.
Mr. Hardy gets top billing as the titular character but the real star of ‘Mad Max: Fury Road’ is Ms. Theron. Her fiery performance coupled with a lean but sharp screenplay makes Furiosa one of the most kick-ass ladies the movies have ever known. Though Max endures greatly and ascends courageously, if unwillingly initially, to further her insurgency, he is more a sidekick than a hero, or within the context of this film, more of a passenger than a driver.
Bad guys on motorcycles fly through the air. Characters are tossed back and forth on flexi-rods annexed to armored vehicles. There’s a heavy metal guitarist fastened to the front of a moving vehicle. Wonderfully crazy art. Fast, frenetic, and ferociously efficient. The roar of those souped-up engines will have you revved up from the get-go, and your insurance agent will have every right to be concerned.
Thanks to production design and director of photography John Seale, we’re scanning the frame admiring all the rich details of this dilapidated world, which are clearly defined by the use of overhead shots. And the details of the muscle cars, tanks, trucks, wagons, trailers, oilrigs, rocket ships, and combinations thereof reformulate the very concept of a hybrid with very little adherence to Newton’s Laws of Motion. Junkie XL’s score is just perfect – grandiloquent when it needs to be, and contemplative when it needs to be.
During the first chase sequence in ‘Mad Max: Fury Road’, I was certain I had witnessed one of the great set pieces in cinematic history. This is what going to the movies is all about. Rarely are big-budget pictures, especially sequels, this rousing. Miller has just left all of our contemporary action filmmakers so far behind in the dust that it may be years before the standards established by this film can be surpassed.