(US/Australia - 2015)
Directed by George Miller. Written by George Miller, Brendan McCarthy and Nico Lathouris. Cast: Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron, Nicholas Hoult, Hugh Keays-Byrne, Nathan Jones, Zoe Kravitz, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Riley Keough, Abbey Lee, Courtney Eaton, Josh Helman, John Howard, Richard Carter, Megan Gale, Melissa Jaffer, Angus Sampson, Richard Norton, iOTA. (R, 120 mins)
Australian auteur George Miller has worked only sporadically in the 30 years since 1985's MAD MAX BEYOND THUNDERDOME, but when he does reappear, he makes it count. He produced the beloved BABE in 1995 and directed 1998's BABE: PIG IN THE CITY, a dark and bizarre curveball of a sequel that baffled everyone but has become a major cult film. In the years since, he's become synonymous with the hugely popular HAPPY FEET films, but MAD MAX: FURY ROAD marks his triumphant return to the franchise he started in 1979 with MAD MAX, one that made Mel Gibson a star and spawned an entire subgenre of post-nuke action films after its sequel THE ROAD WARRIOR opened in the US in the legendary summer of 1982. THE ROAD WARRIOR (released a year earlier in its native Australia as MAD MAX 2) remains one of the most influential action films ever made and one that BEYOND THUNDERDOME probably couldn't have topped even if Miller's mind wasn't elsewhere following the 1983 death of his friend and producing partner Byron Kennedy in a helicopter crash while location-scouting (his name remains on their production company Kennedy Miller Mitchell to this day), prompting a grieving Miller to delegate enough of the film to Australian TV vet George Ogilvie that both Georges shared directing credit. For 30 years, the disappointing-but-OK-on-its-own-terms BEYOND THUNDERDOME, despite such memorable characters as Master Blaster and Tina Turner's Aunty Entity, has remained a lesser conclusion to an otherwise exemplary trilogy.
Hugh Keays-Byrne, who played MAD MAX's chief villain Toecutter 36 years ago, is onboard as a different villain this time. Much the way THE ROAD WARRIOR blazed trails in the action genre, so does FURY ROAD, with the now-70-year-old Miller unveiling what's likely the best action movie in a generation, effectively showing an entire demographic weaned on CGI and video games and hyper, incoherent, shaky-cam editing how it should be done. Much was made of FURY ROAD's reliance on practical effects and old-school stunt work, though it obviously utilizes CGI to a certain degree. Yes, a couple of shots look a little on the cartoony side, but the other 98% of the time, Miller uses CGI how it should be used: as an enhancement as opposed to a crutch. Even by the standards he set 34 years ago with THE ROAD WARRIOR, the veteran filmmaker outdoes himself with MAD MAX: FURY ROAD, proof positive that underneath his soft-spoken, milquetoast exterior, George Miller is a fucking madman perpetually straddling the fine line between genius and insanity.
Note: standard, 2D version reviewed