[Screen It]


(2015) (Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron) (R)

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Action: A former cop turned nomadic widower joins forces with a rogue warrior who's trying to free a group of enslaved women from a tyrant who uses them as breeders in a post-apocalyptic world.
In the not-too-distant future, humankind has laid waste to much of Earth and civilization as we know it. Gangs of marauders now rule the wastelands and deserts, and one of the most powerful is King Immortan Joe (HUGH KEAYS-BYRNE) who lords over a desert complex known as the Citadel. Keeping the parched masses in check via his occasional release of water, he rules with an iron fist and the use of plenty of muscle, including his adult son, Rictus Erectus (NATHAN JONES), and an army of so-called War Boys, such as Nux (NICHOLAS HOULT) and Slit (JOSH HELMAN), who are eager to do his bidding.

While some of the women -- including The Splendid Angharad (ROSIE HUNTINGTON-WHITELEY), Capable (RILEY KEOUGH), Toast the Knowing (ZOE KRAVITZ), The Dag (ABBEY LEE) and Cheedo the Fragile (COURTNEY EATON) -- are held captive as Joe's breeders, he does employ one, Furiosa (CHARLIZE THERON), as his lead female warrior. Her current task is to lead a convoy to another outpost for fuel, but she has other plans. Unknown to the rest of her convoy and especially Joe, Furiosa has those five ladies hidden in the hold of her rig and is planning on driving them to a promised land.

Unfortunately, once Joe learns of this treachery, he and his forces -- including Slit and Nux -- give chase, while outside groups also decide to attack Furiosa and her convoy. Thrown into the mix is "Mad" Max Rockatansky (TOM HARDY), a former cop turned nomad who's still haunted by the past murder of his wife and their daughter. Having recently been captured by Joe's forces, he's now chained to the front of Nux's car to give the terminally ill War Boy an infusion of his blood to keep him going.

Following the initial chase and attack, Max and Furiosa come to blows as they don't trust each other. But they eventually forge an initially uneasy alliance as they need to get away from Joe, his forces, and others who'd like to kill all of them.

OUR TAKE: 7 out of 10
When it comes to reviewing movies, I have different sorts of litmus tests for the various genres. Most are exceedingly simple but often hard to pass. For comedies, do they make me laugh? Sports films should make me feel like I'm watching a real such event and cheer when the athlete or team is victorious. And horror pics better make me nervously question every sound, shadow or pretty much any other external stimuli that might occur in the hours, days or weeks after experiencing the scares up on the screen.

For action films, it's also quite similar, but two-fold. Does the on-screen action have me on the edge of my seat while watching it unfold? And does said cinematic stimuli have me so revved up on the drive home that my insurance agent should be worried? Of course, the latter is more applicable to movies involving car chases, and movie fans obviously have their choice among lots of entries for best in that category.

There are the old standards, such as "Bullitt," "The French Connection," "Duel," and, to a lesser extent, films such as "The Cannonball Run," "The Blues Brothers," "Smokey and the Bandit" and others of that particular ilk. More recent offerings obviously include the now increasingly popular "Fast & the Furious" series (and its most recent incarnation, "Furious 7").

For yours truly, though, the film that set the bar higher than the rest was "The Road Warrior." That 1981 post-apocalyptic flick, also known as "Mad Max 2," was the bigger budgeted sequel to 1979's original "Mad Max" that turned lead actor Mel Gibson into an international star by playing a former widowed cop turned octane-fueled nomad dealing with gangs of punk-dressed marauders. With everyone scavenging for increasingly scarce fuel, the film was filled with incredibly staged and shot action scenes that mesmerized viewers back then at a point when such vehicular mayhem have never been displayed with such ferocious and busy audacity.

Director George Miller followed that up with the somewhat less thrilling "Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome" four years later (most notable for the presence of Tina Turner and her signature "We Don't Need Another Hero" song), and reportedly wanted to make a fourth entry with Gibson. For a variety of reasons and setbacks, however, that never happened and the project set in limbo for decades. And Miller went on to direct a varied assortment of flicks including "The Witches of Eastwick," "Lorenzo's Oil," "Babe: Pig in the City" and the two recent "Happy Feet" movies.

Now, thirty years later after Max was last mad, the filmmaker has come full circle and returns to the octane-fueled series that kick-started his career with "Mad Max: Fury Road." With Tom Hardy taking over the Gibson role (in a younger, incarnation of the character, natch) and Charlize Theron surprisingly stealing the show as its true main character, the film is perfectly situated and set to be the action litmus test for today's younger generation of moviegoers. So, you may wonder, will it leave viewers on the edge of their seats, sweaty and ready to drive like maniacs upon leaving the theater?

Well, if my response -- after finally escaping from an excruciatingly slow construction zone -- is any indication, that would be a resounding yes. While the actual storyline might be as threadbare as they come, character development is next to nil, and the villains aren't remotely fleshed out, Miller's fourth installment in this series is a pedal to the metal cinematic excursion unrivaled by most any action flick -- especially in the car chase action subgenre -- of the past decade.

Is it a great film by usual movie reviewing standards? Not particularly, especially with not much in the way of deep storytelling (courtesy or lack thereof by Miller and co-scribes Brendan McCarthy and Nick Lathouris), while the slightly sped up footage (or removed frames to create the same look -- a bit of homage to a similar tactic in at least the first two films) gives off sort of a cheap vibe that slightly cheats the otherwise terrific cinematography, stunt work and limited visual effects. And then there's the fact that Hardy -- while serviceable in the title role -- is no Gibson as the actor was all those years ago and thus cedes the most interesting character status over to Theron's one-armed heroine (not that there's anything wrong with that as it's refreshing to see the ladies take center stage in such a pic for a change).

But for pure, high octane, anything goes mayhem and far-out cinematic zaniness (a guy strapped to a speaker-laden vehicle with a flamethrower shooting electric guitar, anyone?), you'd be hard-pressed to experience this level and degree of slam-bam action anywhere else. In short, it's like an amusement park thrill ride that has you holding on while it slams you around your seat. You might be exhausted after the "ride," but you'll probably come back wanting more.

While it won't appeal to all viewers, those looking for an action film staged, shot and edited like they used to make them will likely enjoy what's offered and be entertained from start to finish. "Mad Max: Fury Road" rates as a 7 out of 10.

Reviewed May 13, 2015 / Posted May 15, 2015

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