‘Fury Road’ brings Mad Max back with reckless abandon…and it pays off

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Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)

Directed by George Miller

When we last left Max Rockatansky in the barren wasteland of post-apocalyptic Australia, oil was in short supply. Now, so is water. Food. Ammunition. And, apparently, breast milk. And compared to the disintegrating and chaotic world he lives in, Mad Max (Tom Hardy) is the most reasonable thing around. Nuclear desolation left behind two-headed lizards and bald, tumor-covered slave children known as the War Boys, who answer to one man—Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne), a cult leader/god and ruler of the Citadel, a community lucky enough to be sitting atop a natural water source. The disastrous drought in “Rango” taught us “Whoever controls the water controls everything,” so Joe indiscriminately gives and retains water as he sees fit. Since he alone controls their water supply, he owns the people—some more literally than others. When Imperetor Furiosa (Charlize Theron) smuggles out five of Joe’s “breeders”—young girls he personally uses to repopulate the Citadel—Joe sends the whole brigade to bring back Furiosa and his invaluable property. Furiosa drives the war rig into an all-out dessert race war, with the help of tagalong Max and one War Boy, Nux (Nicholas Hoult), who finally recognizes his love of Joe for what it really is—false idolatry.

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Writer/director George Miller famously helmed the original “Mad Max” movie 35 years ago, but he’s not the only one back for the fun this time around. Writer Nick Lathouris and 67-year-old character actor Keays-Byrne were both vital pieces in 1979’s “Mad Max” (Keays-Byrne played the creep-tastic Toecutter), and their presence helps to legitimize “Fury Road” as a long-awaited sequel worth adding to the canon. It’s fitting to see Miller take the reins again. “Mad Max” is his baby. But I can’t help but notice something of a shift in tone. “Road Warrior” in 1981 (the almost-universally-agreed-upon best of the first trilogy) was kooky at times. Men wore leather, assless chaps and had names like The Humungus and Wez and Feral Kid. But “Fury Road” makes “Road Warrior” look downright childish. Old men covered in giant, repugnant tumors. Small boys with their faces painted like skeletons, speaking in tongues. Women hooked up to machines extracting their breast milk for mass consumption. “Fury Road” is in a league of its own. It’s the most eccentric movie I’ve seen in a while, totally weird and completely unashamed. But utterly unforgettable.

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In “Fury Road,” acting is summed up with poignant one-liners and nervous glances into the distance. And a lot of punching and throwing and shooting. Tom Hardy is the ideal pick to play Max as an enigmatic anti-hero. He’s more than comfortable playing the action star (“The Dark Knight Rises”), but also the quiet, mysterious type (“The Drop”). And this is just the first of two summer movies starring Charlize Theron and Nicholas Hoult. I don’t have high hopes that their other, “Dark Places,” will live up to the monster expectations they set in this one.

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A powerful drumline score by Junkie XL might be the most memorable thing about “Fury Road,” though. The whole time I’ve been writing this, it’s been pounding in my temple. And I love it. “Fury Road” is outrageously fun. For anyone who has seen the original films, “Fury Road” is a must. And for those of you who haven’t seen the first ones…please do. George Miller brings the franchise back with a roaring vengeance. “Fury Road” is a mind-blowing, big-budget extravaganza—a celebration of sorts for a classic franchise rebooted for a new generation. And the timing couldn’t be better (if you’re interested, you can read into the Mad Max-as-global-climate-change-warning argument here). What a lovely day.

8.5/10

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