Opening with Max Rockatansky (Tom Hardy, “The Dark Knight Rises”) on the run, “Mad Max: Fury Road” hardly slows down in its two-hour runtime. Captured by the followers of the desert warlord, Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Burne, Toecutter from “Mad Max”), Max finds himself shackled, muzzled and serving as a human blood bag for the sick Nux (Nicholas Hoult, “X-Men: Days of Future Past”). Joe’s stronghold is one where people are a commodity, existing as objects to serve the egomaniacal ruler. Obese women are farmed for breast milk and the radically devoted War Boys are battle fodder, raised to believe their death will enter them into Valhalla where they’ll ride eternally next to their ruler.

A+

Mad Max: Fury Road
Warner Bros. Pictures
Rave 20 and Quality 16

People are property to Joe and when his second-in-command, Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron, “Prometheus”) drives off with his most precious of resources, the Five Wives (Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Riley Keough, Zoe Kravitz, Abbey Lee and Courtney Eaton), he follows with his entire army of vehicles in pursuit and, through a twist of fate, Max finds himself in an initially tenuous alliance with Furiosa.

Like the previous Mad Max films, “Fury Road” is driven by action. People don’t speak much and when they do it’s in a shortened staccato rhythm with one character’s lines feeding into the other. Tension hardly subsides, inserting itself into every scene as even quiet moments are endangered by the sight and sound of encroaching war machines on the desert horizon.

Director George Miller (“Mad Max”) captures this frenetic pace in some of the strongest action sequences in recent memory. Supercharged war machines drive to the beat of war drums. Suspense explodes in vehicular combat that never stops moving, but remains consistently comprehensible thanks to the work of cinematographer John Seale (“Cold Mountain”) and editor Margaret Sixel (“Happy Feet”). Characters jump, crawl and run on cars like they’re playground equipment as explosions and gunfire erupt around them in utter brutality to the sound of a flame-spewing electric guitar.

Miller constantly escalates each conflict beginning with a chase inside a gigantic sandstorm and somehow continues to top that scene with even more choreographed madness. The scale of these conflicts is captured in breathtaking wide shots while the director focuses in on his actors in close-ups that depict the exhausting toll of battle cracking through each character’s exterior. Miller’s use of fast and slow motion accentuates these ideas with the former method adding a degree of frantic insanity and the latter pausing to look upon the paradoxical beauty of the film’s battle scenes.

The film would be a triumph based on its action alone, but its story also impresses. At the core of “Fury Road” is survival. Max is haunted by visions of those he couldn’t save and has given up hope, saying, “My world is reduced to a single instinct: survive.” Hardy, who replaces Mel Gibson as Max, imbues his performance in a deep physicality. Max starts the film as a feral shell of a man almost exclusively communicating in grunts and one-word sentences. However, as he spends more time with Furiosa and the wives, Max grows more articulate, becoming human again after finding a reason to survive.

Theron’s Furiosa forms the emotional backbone of the film as she depicts a woman who lost everything and is trying to find home. She and Max are two damaged people finding redemption by helping the hopeless. The wordless chemistry between the film’s leads forms a natural partnership between the two warriors who know the harsh realities of their world, but eventually resolve to try and against all odds bring hope to the wasteland.

The hope of a better place drives the surprisingly strong characters of the wives, who live in relative comfort, but wish to be more than things for the Immortan Joe. It’s this path to find a new life that contrasts with the extreme beliefs of the war boys who seek a second life by serving Joe, personified by Hoult’s ailing Nux who longs for a glorious entrance into Valhalla only to gradually see his outlook challenged and transformed.

It’s been 30 years since Miller last explored the apocalyptic wasteland of Max Rockatansky and it’s been worth the wait. “Mad Max: Fury Road” is a nonstop action thrill ride that leaves almost every recent action film in its dust.

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