by David Robinson, Movie Reviewer
Now available on DVD, “Mad Max: Fury Road” reboots the franchise that director/screenwriter George Miller abandoned in 1985 with “Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome,” the third of the original series starring Mel Gibson. Miller’s long time out included his directing of films as diverse as “The Witches of Eastwick,” “Lorenzo’s Oil,” “Babe: Pig in the City,” and the two “Happy Feet” animated features. So it’s hard to brand him as an action movie maker, but he returns to that role with a vengeance here.
Speaking of branding and vengeance, there’s a lot of that going around in this fourth number in the interrupted series. Max (Tom Hardy), a loner with guilt issues over the death of his wife and child in the Oil Wars, is about to be branded as the film opens. He will become the “property” of the tyrannical Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne) and a “blood bag” for Nux (Nicholas Hoult), who needs transfusions for an unspecified disease. Joe rules over the masses gathered around his Citadel by sporadically releasing his supply of water to the thirsty rabble. But he has to resupply his small army of War Boys by forays to Gas Town and the Bullet Farm, which are ruled over by equally nasty but less formidable rotters.
Joe also keeps a harem of five young women as “breeders” for children. His accomplice/driving rival, the one-armed Furiousa (Charlize Theron), smuggles the women out on one trip, setting out for “the green place of many mothers,” her original tribal land. Doing so involves crossing the barren desert — Miller filmed the action in Namibia — getting through a narrow canyon defended by grenade-throwing bikers, digging her way out of a mud pit, and sundry other adventures. She is pursued by the three warlords, with Max strapped (somewhat inexplicably) onto the front of one monster truck like a masked hood ornament. There are also war drummers and an electric guitar/flame thrower wielding dude to supply a heavy metal accompaniment to the boss and his minions, making up for the apparent absence of radio stations or CD players.
OK, so you get the idea: this is one gonzo flick, not for the faint of heart or the readily offended. Basically, “Fury Road” is one long chase out and (paradoxically enough) back to the Citadel, with a few breaks in the heavily-edited action to supply a bit of back story. The real stars are the folks who created the visuals: cinematographer John Seale, film editor Margaret Sixel, production designer Colin Gibson, and costume designer Jenny Beavan. Action unit director Guy Norris deserves almost as much credit as Miller for orchestrating some of the most outlandish stunts you can imagine — and some you probably can’t. Think “Fast and Furious” at warp speed.
“Mad Max: Fury Road” is properly rated “R” for “intense sequences of violence throughout and some disturbing images.” Even youngsters inured by video games, not to mention their parents, may find this one a bit much. There are odd bits of strange humor here, and even a romance, of sorts. The movie has feminist themes, unusual for this genre, but it’s not really a date flick. How it will play on the small screen is also problematic, since so much of its appeal is sheer, unrelenting spectacle. Rent at your own risk.