At 70, George Miller returns to the movie franchise he abandoned 30 years ago, and shows all these whippersnappers how film action is properly done.
With Mel Gibson now aged out of the Max Rockatansky role, a nearly silent Tom Hardy takes over, and the film picks up at an indiscriminate time after events of the previous Mad Max installments. The setup is simple: a masked warlord known as Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne) sends one of his drivers, Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron), off to pick up some fuel. Turns out she's smuggled out Joe's five concubines in a truck known as the War Rig. Max, a prisoner at Joe's citadel, soon finds himself helping Furiosa as Joe and his crazed minions pursue them across the desert in their souped-up monster cars.
Plot, character development, and dialogue are ultra-lean, which allows the film to give you what you came for: tremendous car chases, freaky villains, and an awesomely over-the-top vision of a post-apocalyptic world. Miller doesn't simply rehash his '80s movies, he brings the series thoroughly up to date, with superb use of 3-D.
What really strikes me is that, at a time where every blockbuster has the same endless third act battle, with visual effects galore, Miller alone remembers that, for truly exciting action, you build suspense by spending some time on a character's individual struggles, instead of solving them in 3 seconds flat. (An early scene in the movie, in which Max tries to free himself of a chain while surrounded by mayhem, is a good example of this.)
Other critics have written much about the film's feminist message – Furiosa's no damsel in distress, and Joe's seemingly helpless wives turn out to be dynamic characters who can defend themselves – and for prioritizing stunts and practical effects over CG everything. And I wholeheartedly support both of those aspects. But what really lingers about Fury Road is John Seale's gorgeous cinematography, Tom "Junkie XL" Holkenborg's pounding score, and of course all that action. Some dopey dialogue aside, the film is a wholly satisfying ride. I hope to see it again while it's still in theaters – and still in 3-D.