With Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron, Nicholas Hoult, Hugh Keays-Byrne, Josh Helman. Written by George Miller and Brendan McCarthy and Nick Lathouris. Directed by George Miller. Rated R for intense sequences of violence throughout, and for disturbing images. 120 minutes.
This time of the year there are certain kinds of movies that are best appreciated as amusement park rides. You don’t critique a roller coaster for poor character development or a predictable plot. You simply want it to go fast, have lots of turns and rises and drops, and leave you thrilled and exhausted. On that score, MAD MAX: FURY ROAD succeeds. If this is the sort of movie you’re looking for, it’s a good ride.
Beyond that, though, there’s not much there. Director George Miller returns to the scene of his earliest successes–the three “Mad Max” movies (1979-1985) that helped make a star out of Mel Gibson–and… well, it’s not quite clear what he’s doing here. Is this a remake? A reboot? A sequel?
The story, such as it is, involves a post-apocalyptic world where a handful of warlords enslave the remnants of humanity and fight over the remaining resources, like gasoline and ammunition. Max (Tom Hardy) is captured by one faction and treated as a “blood bank” for one of the warriors. When Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) goes off her mission to help several luscious babes who are “wives” of the war lord escape from his clutches, Max is chained to one of the pursuing vehicles. He gets loose and joins forces–after a while–with Furiosa, The rest of the movie is them being chased by vehicles from what appear to be a violent and surreal version of the old cartoon “Wacky Races” back and forth across the desert.
That’s it. Unlike the original film, we get little sense of who Max is. He’s haunted by visions of a child, presumably his, whom he failed to rescue, but played woodenly by Hardy he exhibits less of a range than the tanker he spends part of the film in. Theron fares a little better as the driven Furiosa–complete with crew cut and mechanical arm–but we don’t learn much about her until late in the film. As for the rest, they’re cartoon characters who have been carefully designed with bizarre costumes, make-up, prostheses, and the like, but if you want to know who is who among the largely unknown cast, lots of luck. Reading the closing credits and seeing names like the Splendid Angharad and Cheedo the Fragile you may be surprised that the characters had names. Indeed, Max doesn’t even tell his name until nearly the end of the film.
As for the apocalypse babes, in a world where people are stapled together, deformed, branded, and/or covered with tumors (one character even gives his names), to have a group of women who look like they just came from a photo shoot for a fashion magazine comes across as something devised by the marketing department. (“Sure the boys will like the chases and shooting, but they need some hot women as well.”)
“Mad Max: Fury Road” is the work of a director trying to recapture his early success after a decade where his only films were the two “Happy Feet” cartoons. It’s got the action and explosions of a “Transformers” movie, but makes those films look like complex dramas in comparison.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His most recent book is “Shh! It’s a Secret: a novel about Aliens, Hollywood and the Bartender’s Guide.” He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.