'Mad Max: Fury Road' has impressive action but never lightens up

'Max' stars Tom Hardy and Charlize Theron match up well in the movie and the action sequences are mightily impressive, at least as feats of engineering.

Jasin Boland/Warner Bros. Pictures/AP
'Mad Max: Fury Road' stars Tom Hardy.

“Mad Max: Fury Road,” starring Tom Hardy and Charlize Theron, should come with a jokey disclaimer: “No vehicles were harmed during the making of this film.” Probably more autos, trucks, vans, motorcycles, and armored cars were harmed in this movie than in any other I can recall. And these vehicles don’t look computer-generated, either.

George Miller’s fourth installment in the “Mad Max” series, which began with Mel Gibson in 1979, is certainly the loudest – and that’s saying something. In the press notes, Miller describes the film as “somewhere between a wild rock concert and an opera.” The problem with this approach is that Miller ups the amp and floors the pedal for almost the entire movie. Even rock concerts and operas take a breather. “Fury Road” is essentially a series of turbo-charged set pieces, and the sequences don’t really build or top each other. They just pile up.

Miller has the dubious distinction of essentially creating the post-apocalyptic action genre, and in this film, set some 40 years after the fall of the world,  he outdoes himself. Civilization has been reduced to a parched rubble. Water is scarce. So, apparently, are dentists. I’ve never seen so many rotting grimaces in one movie. In The Wasteland, wild packs of War Boys, ruled by Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne, sporting a toothy, death’s-head face mask) scavenge and terrorize. Huddled, starving masses have migrated to The Citadel keening for Aqua Cola (that’s water in Millerspeak). 

The War Boys have captured the itinerant Max (Hardy) and enchained him in various contraptions as they, and Immortan Joe and his minions, hotly pursue Imperator Furiosa (Theron), a renegade warrior who has absconded with the ruler’s bevy of wives, at least one of them visibly pregnant with his child. She is seeking solace for herself and her cargo in the faraway land of her childhood, the Green Place.

Hardy has his smoldering charisma and Theron, often best when she’s playing against her glamorous image, matches up well with him. The action sequences, at least as feats of engineering, are mightily impressive. But Miller is so caught up in all his hardcore allegorical hoo-ha that he never lightens up. Does he think maybe he’s Homer? Grade: B- (Rated R for intense sequences of violence throughout, and for disturbing images.)

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