Utterly unhinged, magnificently inspired, hugely ambitious, deeply weird, emotionally resonant, and brilliant in every possible way, Mad Max: Fury Road is a mow-you-down masterwork. It’s been a long, dry 30 years since audiences went Beyond Thunderdome but this long-delayed fourth chapter — pretty much a reboot from director George Miller — may be the greatest of them all. So far, anyway.
The dystopian sci-fi adventure/Western is set in an apocalyptic world gone mad, with the earth-killing haves hogging the dying planet’s dwindling resources and the rest left to scramble to just barely survive. That backdrop and political scenario will be all too recognizable to contemporary moviegoers. Co-written by Miller, Nick Lathouris, and Brendan McCarthy, the movie is pretty much a two-hour non-stop chase across the desert wasteland with very few wasted words. Tom Hardy takes over for Mel Gibson as the haunted, brooding, lone scavenger driven to madness and hallucinations by the death of his wife and daughter. Uttering what seems like less than 20 lines of dialogue in the entire movie, our hero is coveted for his universal blood type and gets captured by a rabid cult of painted War Boys, deluded cannon fodder as they go willingly to their doom under the command of an aged, ruthless dictator Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne) who holds an iron grip on water, women, fuel and humans with pristine, non-defective genes.
One of the warlord’s subjects Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron, flat-out sensational) goes off the reservation, rerouting a vehicle filled with the warlord’s harem of brides (Rosie Huntington-Whitely and Zoe Kravitz are standouts) and heads for the wasteland in search of freedom and redemption. With them go Max and an unhinged Immortan Joe-obsessive Nux (Nicholas Hoult, never better) and the whole movie shifts into exhausting, exhilarating, Ritalin-proof overdrive and never relents for a nanosecond.
Visionary writer-director Miller, who already has several more Mad Max scripts written, told this reviewer during a chat for Playboy that he was inspired by the credo of director Alfred Hitchcock, who said he wanted to tell stories so simply and elementally that they could be understood globally without subtitles. Miller has succeeded beyond every expectation. The movie’s stunning end of time aesthetic, biting social commentary, powerful feminism, its crazily inventive makeshift weaponry and vehicles, eye-poppingly shot by John Seale (Rain Man, The Perfect Storm) — all of it is peak level. Everything in the film feels fully imagined, perfectly realized. We doubt there’s going to be a more satisfying or emotionally powerful action film this summer, let alone this year than Mad Max: Fury Road. This thing’s not just good. It’s tear-the-roof-off good. Go now.