On the road-rage again

Escaping Development Hell.

Escaping Development Hell.

Rated 3.0

Give George Miller credit for optimism. The last movie in his Mad Max franchise was released 30 years ago, approximately five years before today’s typical moviegoer was born. Not to mention the fact that Mel Gibson, who starred in the first three pictures as the roving cop-turned-vigilante-loner Max Rockatansky, lost interest in a fourth outing while the project languished in Development Hell.

And so it is that in Mad Max: Fury Road it falls to Tom Hardy to be the title character roaming the savage post-apocalyptic landscape dreamed up—or rather, nightmared up—by director Miller and his co-writers, Brendan McCarthy and Nico Lathouris. As Max stumbles through the desert wastes haunted by visions of the dead daughter he couldn’t save (in the original Mad Max it was a son, but even Miller himself may not remember that), he is taken prisoner by the War Boys, the army of Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne), a masked tyrant who keeps his subjects in line by doling out water to them only in fitful streams. Max, deemed a universal donor, is designated a “blood bag” for one Nux (Nicholas Hoult), an ailing War Boy.

Immortan Joe dispatches his trusted commander Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) in a “war rig”—one of those bizarre Rube Goldberg vehicles that are a trademark of the series—to fetch fuel, but when she veers off course, Joe becomes suspicious. Investigating, he finds that Furiosa has liberated Joe’s five wives and is making a break for freedom, heading to “the green place” she remembers from her childhood, before she and her mother were kidnapped into slavery in Joe’s citadel.

Joe roars off in pursuit with his War Boys, including Nux, who drives with his blood bag Max strapped on the front of his vehicle like a hood ornament (presumably, the back seat, while safer, would be less picturesque).

In the running battle between Joe and the fleeing Furiosa, Max gets free of his restraints (exactly how that happens remains a hazy blur, but it seemed to make sense at the time). In a brief respite before Joe resumes his pursuit, Max and Furiosa form a wary alliance, each agreeing, in a trust-but-verify way, to help the other out of Joe’s clutches for good. Over time, the mutual trust and respect between them grows.

Not that Mad Max: Fury Road lingers long over such things. The whole movie is essentially one long running battle—literally running, shot among and alongside vehicles thundering across the desert (the picture was filmed in Namibia) at what seems something near the speed of sound. Dialogue is sparse and chiefly delivered in one of two modes: raspy mumble and wild bellow, both delivered in varying degrees of unintelligibility. Even names are given short shrift. We know Max’s name because it’s on the poster. Furiosa is identified fairly clearly, and I suppose Immortan Joe and Nux must have been mentioned somewhere along the line. Otherwise, you may have to read the credit crawl at the end or resort to IMDb to learn that there are characters with names like Rictus Erectus, Slit and Toast the Knowing.

None of which matters a damn. Immortan Joe’s the bad guy, Max and Furiosa are the good guys, and they’re trying to get away; that’s all you really need to know. (Also, at some point, Nux switches from bad guy to good, but exactly how is, like Max’s escape from hood-ornamentdom, a little hazy; I think maybe Nux gets a crush on one of Joe’s fugitive wives). Director Miller knows how to throw these chase scenes together and to up the stakes from one scene to the next. Fury Road uses CGI, but it’s not to insult our intelligence with the blatantly impossible. The wild R-rated stunts here could actually happen in real life—if you could find stuntmen crazy-stupid enough to undertake them.

And one last thing: Fury Road’s editing is so, well, fast and furious that the 3-D doesn’t really register and becomes a needless frippery. Save the extra bucks and see it in 2-D.