Lawrence Toppman

‘Mad Max: Fury Road’ whips up a desert storm

Tom Hardy stars in “Mad Max: Fury Road.”
Tom Hardy stars in “Mad Max: Fury Road.” Warner Bros. Pictures

“My name is Max. My world is fire and blood.” That’s all ye know and all ye need to know about “Mad Max: Fury Road.” After that opening mumble, Tom Hardy’s title character slides like a grim shadow through two hours of colossal battles and one of the longest cumulative chase scenes in film history – in essence, almost the entire movie.

Director George Miller, whose 1979 picture of the same name was the first worldwide hit in the Australian film revival of the ’70s, has topped himself with a version that has maybe half the emotion but twice the visual impact.

Once again, loner Max wanders a post-apocalyptic world, haunted by memories of his dead wife and child. (This time, we don’t know how they died, but he couldn’t protect them.)

In this re-telling, he has a sidekick, relentless one-armed warrior Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron). Actually, he’s her sidekick, as she has the bulk of the dialogue and provides almost of all the movie’s heart.

Immortan Joe, dictator of a desert city-state, decides to use Max as a portable blood bank for his army. Furiosa frees five of Joe’s “breeders,” women kept to produce genetically advanced kids, and decides to return with them to the green homeland from which she herself was kidnapped long ago. Max helps her as a means of escape, and renegade warrior Nux (Nicholas Hoult) gets caught in the crossfire. (His name in Latin refers figuratively to a thing of no value.)

Miller’s not interested in character development, plot twists or social commentary, with one possible exception. (See below.) He wanted spectacular stunts, which he achieves with tremendous skill, and a bad-guys-vs.-less-bad-guys pursuit that goes through countless exciting permutations. The action requires no thought: They go out into the desert and come back through the same desert. (Maybe that’s why it’s called the outback.)

Oscar-winner John Seale (“The English Patient,” speaking of desert movies) shoots scenes beautifully when the action slows for a moment and vividly when it’s in full cry. Dutch music producer Junkie XL adds a snarling score, especially when the guitarist strapped to one of Joe’s war vehicles blazes away on a double-necked instrument. (My college roommate was apparently right: Heavy metal will never die.)

Hardy’s wasted in his part, Theron stands out, and Keays-Byrne – who played the child-killing Toecutter in the 1979 movie – makes a solid madman. Unfortunately, Joe speaks through the kind of Darth Vader mask that rendered Hardy’s Bane unintelligible in “The Dark Knight Rises.”

Critics like to look for allegories in science fiction and horror scenarios, and Miller’s original may have been one: Ayatollah Khomeini and Saddam Hussein formally took power in Iran and Iraq in 1979, creating dictatorships in a Middle East that has been a powder keg ever since.

But the modern version seems more obviously a warning. Polygamous fanatics set up an autocratic state in the desert, kill people who diverge philosophically and promise suicidal warriors that death in battle will rocket them straight to paradise to “live again.” Does this suggest ISIS to anyone besides me?

Toppman: 704-358-5232

REVIEW

‘Mad Max: Fury Road’

A man who has lost his wife and child and a woman trying to return to her homeland team up to fend off marauders in a post-apocalyptic desert.

B+ STARS: Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron, Nicholas Hoult, Hugh Keays-Byrne.

DIRECTOR: George Miller.

RUNNING TIME: 120 minutes.

RATING: R (intense sequences of violence throughout and disturbing images).

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