It's startling to think that “Mad Max: Fury Road,” the fourth movie in the series, comes a full 30 years after the third, “Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome.”
It's even more startling to realize that the director of the previous three, the underrated visionary George Miller, is still at the helm.
Like Buster Keaton's “The General,” the movie basically consists of two long, astounding, impeccably designed chase scenes.
The incredible array of physical objects moving through space in unique ways makes it seem limitlessly inventive, in a way that's far more artistic than the basic button-pushing of something like “Furious 7.”
There are cars shaped like spiked porcupines, cars with bending, steel fishing rods topped with riders, and even a truck whose sole purpose is to provide chase music. In an elevated stronghold, a faceless villain in a sneering skeleton mask, known as Immortan Joe, rules by controlling both water and fuel.
One of his most powerful warriors, Furiosa (Charlize Theron), leaves in a battle-equipped truck for a routine supply run, but suddenly veers east. It turns out she has rescued Joe's harem of young wives (played by Zoë Kravitz, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley and other beauties), whose purpose is to be impregnated, and plans to take them to “The Green Place,” where they can be free.
Our hero, Mad Max (Tom Hardy, taking over for Mel Gibson), starts off captured (and used as a live blood bank), escapes, and winds up helping Furiosa. One of Joe's drivers, Nux (Nicholas Hoult), becomes disillusioned, and joins in as well.
In some ways, this plot recalls Miller's “The Witches of Eastwick,” with its consideration of women and motherhood.
It would be pretty easy to suggest that women create and men destroy, but Miller goes deeper and continually crosses up his imagery, such as a striking moment where Max washes blood from his face with mother's milk. Water, gasoline, blood, and milk constantly clash against the dry desert race track.
The “Mad” in the title comes into play more directly in this movie; with Gibson it meant simply acting loony, but Hardy — hearing voices in his head — seems at one with violence.
For all its orchestrated brilliance, the violence in this movie doesn't just thrill. It has the ability to snap at you, to make you consider its brutal consequences.
Given that Miller is also behind the “Babe” and “Happy Feet” movies, it makes sense that he has an empathy much larger than most action mongers. He seems to understand how madness and violence go hand in hand.
Mad Max: Fury Road
Three and a half stars
Starring: Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron, Nicholas Hoult, Zoë Kravitz
Written by: George Miller, Brendan McCarthy, Nick Lathouris
Directed by: George Miller
Running time: 2 hours