I can’t say that I’m in love with Fury Road, the latest chapter in George Miller’s Mad Max saga, but I respect it. The film has (somewhat improbably) taken much of the critics’ community by storm: after it premiered out of competition at Cannes last month it became the most talked-about film of the festival, and critics like Anne Thompson are predicting it will be an Oscar contender. I’d be surprised if a film this abrasive and loud is able to win over Academy voters, though. It’s a bruiser of a movie, a two-hour-long chase scene fitted out with bravura stunt work and touches of the bizarre. What it lacks in subtlety or intelligence it makes up for—almost—in sheer balls-out insanity.
Miller makes little effort to link Fury Road to the other films in the series, the most recent of which is now thirty years old. It’s set in another of Miller’s blighted, post-apocalyptic wastelands, a place so nightmarish and alien that it may as well be another planet. The film opens with the road warrior Max, here played by Tom Hardy, being taken prisoner by the capitalistic warlords who rule over masses of half-starved slaves in a desert city hewn out of rock known as the Citadel. While Max may be the movie’s official hero, it really belongs to Furiosa (Charlize Theron), another of the Citadel’s prisoners, who liberates a bevy of sex slaves and heads for the hills in a pimped-out eighteen-wheeler. After Max manages to escape his captors—who, having set out in pursuit of Furiosa, tie him to the prow of one of their cars like a human masthead—he and Furiosa join forces and proceed to kick ass together. What follows is another ninety minutes of frenetic action, much of which moves at a jittery warp speed.
This is essentially a roided up Stagecoach, with Tom Hardy playing the John Wayne role (it even has a pregnant character who goes into labor in the middle of an ambush). As such its pleasures are not particularly deep or refined. Nor is it really any less grating than any number of this century’s other action movies--but it is less ponderous and weighty than, say, Christopher Nolan's Batman films, and for that I'm grateful. Fury Road feels unpretentious, lean, and confidently styled. It earns the headache that it gives you.