There is a moment in Mad Max: Fury Road, the fourth George Miller-directed installment in the franchise, that encapsulates the entire experience of viewing the film very succinctly. Two cars rip along a desert wasteland: one with our hero Max and the other with the primary antagonists. Desperate for more power, members of each car crawl along their respective hoods and take turns literally spitting gasoline into their growling engine blocks as flames shoot vigorously from either side. This movie isn’t a matter of loud and louder; it’s a matter of loudest and louderest.
We are re-introduced to Mad Max (Tom Hardy), still inhabiting the post-apocalyptic setting of the previous films, as he is captured by pale creatures called the War Boys and strung up like a human IV to be used as a universal blood donor. When a gasoline collecting cavalcade led by Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) veers off course, the War Boys are instructed by their leader Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne) to pursue the convoy at all costs. With Max in tow, the War Boys and Furiosa engage in long stretches of highway warfare filled with insane antics and limitless explosions.
My chief critique of Mad Max: Fury Road is an admittedly simple one: it’s too much. Good action movies will typically have one or two climactic setpieces that put the main characters in peril for an appropriate amount of time. The extended car chase from last year’s Nightcrawler is a great example: it’s grounded, it’s thrilling and it has a real sense of unpredictability to it. Alternately, Mad Max feels like a ten-minute chase sequence that has been blown out to a two-hour feature. It’s an exhausting proposition, one that eventually lead me to ask myself “do I really need to watch another car crash and explode?”
Thankfully, bits of respite are interspersed throughout the film in the form of moderately interesting backstories and bouts of character development. Even in these moments, the overdone score is pumped up louder than necessary but at least the actors have a chance to show off their chops. The most notable among them is Charlize Theron, who has always been a very reliable actress and she brings forth a unique sense of loss and resiliency to her character. Tom Hardy, taking over for Mel Gibson in the Mad Max role, doesn’t have very much dialogue but provides yet another credible performance of commanding physicality and ferocity.
Indeed, the fight scenes that include Hardy stand as the most well choreographed portions of the movie. From a visual perspective, there’s plenty to admire about the universe that George Miller has created here and I certainly respect his proclivity towards practical stunts over computer generated effects. There are even unexpected moments of dark slapstick humor that crop up from time to time. Unfortunately, Miller has crafted a movie that I found to be bombastic beyond belief and one that left my ears ringing as opposed to my adrenaline pumping.