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Review: ‘Mad Max: Fury Road’

'Mad Max: Fury Road' (Warner Bros.)
‘Mad Max: Fury Road’ (Warner Bros.)

Phenomenal. Arriving 33 years after The Road Warrrior, the greatest movie ever made, Mad Max: Fury Road is an entirely satisfying motion picture.

It’s an action thriller down to its core, tense and dramatic and breathtaking, a near-future tale of a small group of people intent on breaking free from society’s constrictions. It’s a chase movie, focused entirely on surviving a life-threatening flight toward somewhere better. It’s a character drama, exploring how people who must constantly fight to stay alive are fundamentally different than those who live in comfort and peace.

After many years in the barren wasteland, Max Rockatansky (Tom Hardy) is a hard-scrabble survivor with a fierce instinct to live, yet still haunted by his personal failings in the past. Taken by surprise, he is captured and imprisoned in a thriving settlement. It’s ruled with an iron fist by Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne), who becomes enraged when Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) escapes with five of his “breeders,” beautiful women who are held against their will solely to give birth to his children.

Immortan Joe scrambles his forces to chase down Furiosa and recapture his breeders, which is how Max is thrown back in the fray. He’s become the property of Nux (Nicholas Hoult), a member of thhe War Boys, a bald-headed cult of male religious fanatics, who intends to recharge himself with the transfusion of all of Max’s blood into his body. But the chase instead prompts Nux to affix Max to the front of his pursuit vehicle, and the action races onward from there, with Max and Nux eventually teaming up with Furiosa and the other women.

For those who have seen the first three installments in the series, Mad Max: Fury Road plays as both a sequel to, and a remake of, Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome (1985), reusing elements from that disappointing film to far better purpose. Max has become, once again, a grunting, single-minded personality, but his experience in life has taught him some much-needed lessons in modesty, as well as the importance of accepting help from others when it’s offered in a selfless and genuine manner.

Even if you haven’t seen any of the previous films, Mad Max: Fury Road plays as the best action movie in years. Director George Miller has a great feel for how to stage and frame rapidly-moving sequences without ever inducing a degree of fatigue. It’s always easy to follow what’s happening, to understand where the main players are located, and to comprehend their relative peril. The color palette has been broadened, though individual sequences tend to be monochromatic; the result is a greater variety in the backdrops that are, after all, intended to represent a post-apocalyptic wasteland.

Hardy carves out his own impression of Max that feels entirely genuine and weighted with memory, loss, and grief. Theron is no less impressive, an indelibly exciting figure who is an outstanding leader, even while carrying around her own bag of loss. The “breeders” (Zoe Kravitz, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Riley Keough, Abbey Lee Kershaw, Courtney Eaton) are most notable initially for their model-esque beauty, which soon gives way to their defiant instincts for survival. Keays-Byrne, who appeared in Mad Max as a different sort of villain, brings great menace to his role as Immortan Joe. Hoult demonstrates impressive range as the maniacal Nux.

Cohesive, corrosive, and completely charged-up, Mad Max: Fury Road is a thrilling ride that features cogent arguments about the future of humanity. It’s easily the best movie of 2015 (so far).

The film opens this evening with screenings at select theaters before expanding wide tomorrow.