Review: 'Mad Max: Fury Road'

The titular character, (Tom Hardy) takes a back seat to Imperator Furiosa
(Charlize Theron) in 'Mad Max: Fury Road.'
MINIMAL MAX: The titular character, (Tom Hardy) takes a back seat to Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) in 'Mad Max: Fury Road.'

The title characterseems along for the ride in George Miller's very good looking reimagining of the post-apocalyptic fantasy world he first delivered in 1979. Synthesia has set in, with the help of CGI; the trucks no longer have weight and can practically dance on their back wheels. No longer are we among the heat and flies of the real Australia, but an imaginary world of various deserts—soft sand, Canyonlands arches, and a terrain of blue-lit muck with crows and weird burlap-clad stilt-people.

The film's actual protagonist is Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron). She's escaping with a group of slave chicks who had been doomed to become the brood sows of the horrible old ruler of that fortified oasis—The Citadel. He (Hugh Keanes-Byrne) is Immorten Joe, a leprous beast in a form-fitting plastic shell and a snarling gorilla-tooth mask. He lives on fresh mother's milk, like the dying John D. Rockefeller.

Furiosa's truck encounters a captive, who is used as a hood ornament for a significant part of the movie. This would be Max. Where Mel Gibson externalized Catholic suffering, Tom Hardy's Max is more introverted: he has to fight off an armada of road-raging maniacs through a layer of PTSD-thickened disbelief. He's not angry, he really is mad—he has hallucinations, malign ones of the people he failed to save. He practically has tics.

But in the most satisfying last half hour, Max comes into his own: crawling over the hoods of rigs roaring through the vast flatness (glittering in John Seales' photography) he spits mouthfuls of nitro into the truck's intakes to give them an extra charge. What looks a little too much like Cirque de Soleil in the previews turns out to have a purpose—the sticks attached to the armored dune buggies aren't balancing poles for acrobats, but something like bowsprits on a whaling ship, to get harpooners up close to their target.

The last third wakes up as a rival civilization to The Citadel emerges: a small group of matriarchs called, I'm sorry to say, "the Vulvalini." The only analogue to Bruce Spence's grinning gyro pilot in the other Maxes is "The Seed Carrier," played by Melinda Jaffer, a pleasing cross of Vanessa Redgrave and Walter Brennan. Good faces help; conversation gets lost among the roaring engines. What's audible is Tarzan versions of inspirational ideas: "They're looking for hope. What about you?" "Redemption."

Mad Max: Fury Road

R; 120 Min.

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