It’s been three decades since we last followed the high-octane wanderings of Max Rockatansky, and 23 years since director George Miller helmed a fully live-action feature (1992’s “Lorenzo’s Oil”). Great news, though–37-year-old Tom Hardy capably takes over from original “Mad Max” Mel Gibson, plus Mr. Miller hasn’t even lost half a step at the age of 70. In fact, “Mad Max: Fury Road” is so frenetic and addictive, that I fear that there won’t be an action film that can possibly top its thrilling pace and style for the rest of this summer–and there’s still months to go. So, “Tomorrowland”, “Jurassic World”, and “Terminator Genisys”–your work is cut out for you.
You’ll instantly recognize the post-apocalyptic Australian desert that “Mad Max” has made infamous, if you’ve followed this franchise before. Newbies–you’ll be okay too, as director Miller sweeps you full blast into the action…and barely gives you a chance to breathe. We open with Max (Mr. Hardy) in captivity, escaping, and then being pursued by the albino-like War Boys. Soon, he’s tied to the front of a vehicle driven by one named Nux (a terrific Nicholas Hoult), before both join up with the defecting Imperator Furiosa (an absolutely smashing Charlize Theron–recalling the tragic, bald-pated Sigourney Weaver “Ripley” character, from “Alien 3”). Furiosa is breaking from the army of the diseased, yet powerful, tyrant leader Immortan Joe (a creepy 67-year-old Hugh Keays-Byrne, who played “Toecutter” in the original 1979 “Mad Max” feature). And soon Max, Nux, and Furiosa form an unlikely team, that fight, escape, and utilize their muscular, artillery oufitted, battle cars…in search of someplace they can call “home”.
I was firmly planted in a theater seat in the summer of 1985, as soon as “Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome” hit the multiplexes. Initially disappointed, that entry has grown on me since last century–it contains some of the most iconic bits of the “Mad Max” universe. And “Fury Road” knows exactly what to borrow from it, as well as from 1982’s “The Road Warrior”, and 1979’s “Mad Max”. This is a near perfect addition for a new generation, that still pays incisive homage to the earlier trilogy. Did I miss Mel Gibson even a little bit? Truth be told, I did occasionally pine for that antisemitic sonofabitch. He mixed his movie star looks and testosterone-fueled charisma in a way that Tom Hardy couldn’t possibly hope to compete with. But Mr. Hardy’s approach, though different, is keen and adroit. Besides, George Miller allows the Oscar-winning Theron to leap to the forefront for a large portion of “Fury Road”. And her one-armed warrior Furiosa, steals the picture effortlessly. Theron gives, perhaps, her best performance since 2003’s lauded “Monster”. Yeah…she’s that superb. George Miller, and his able cast, deliver a no-holds-barred attack with “Mad Max: Fury Road”. It freaking works. I loved it. And it’s one that I’ll bet works even better, without the 3D glasses. So, don’t feel the need to don those, but don’t miss this movie on the big screen.