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'Mad Max: Fury Road': Back to the wasteland, louder and better

Steven Rea, Steven Rea, Inquirer Movie Critic

Updated: Friday, May 15, 2015, 3:01 AM

Tom Hardy and Charlie Theron star in "Mad Max: Fury Road." (Warner Bros. Pictures/Jasin Boland)

Never mind Furious 7. Really, never mind.

On the "Fury Road": (from left) Nicholas Hoult , Courtney Eaton, Riley Keough, Charlize Theron, and Abbey Lee Kershaw. Theron, as Furiosa, drives George Miller's film in a whole new direction. Warner Bros. Pictures
Heavy metal thunder: The motorized hordes return in George Miller's reboot of his 1980s franchise, "Mad Max: Fury Road." JASIN BOLAND
Photo Gallery: 'Mad Max: Fury Road': Back to the wasteland, louder and better

Mad Max: Fury Road is Fast and Furious - The Thermonuclear Edition, a turbocharged chase across a toxic wasteland, with Vin Diesel and pals replaced by Tom Hardy and Charlize Theron, who certainly are not pals at all.

A mega-reboot of the 1980s franchise that made a star of Mel Gibson (remember him?), George Miller's Fury Road is a hundred things at once: a biker movie, a spaghetti western, a post-apocalyptic dystopian action pic, a tale of female empowerment (The Vagina Monologues' Eve Ensler was a consultant on set), a Bosch painting made scary 3D real, a Keystone Kops screwball romp, and an auto show from hell.

Rolling caravans of nitro-boosted muscle cars and monster trucks are outfitted with the latest extras, such as stick shifts with retractable bayonets, human skull-embellished radiator grilles, flamethrowers, and flexi-poles (the better to swoop down on your hot-roddin' enemies).

There's also a nifty system of chains and intertwined IV tubing, by which the pasty "war boy" called Nux (Nicholas Hoult) can get his fix of uncontaminated plasma from his "blood bag" - that would be Hardy's Max Rockatansky, shackled to the front of the car like a human hood ornament. As a sign of Nux's corrupted health, he has twin tumors sprouting from his neck.

Later, in a moment of romantic repose with a girl he met while roaring across the red desert, Nux reveals his growths' names: Larry and Barry.

But I'm getting ahead of myself.

At the start of Fury Road, Hardy introduces himself, voice-overing "My name is Max" as he takes a bite of a two-headed lizard that has scuttled his way. "My world is fire and blood," he says, adding that he's been reduced to a single instinct: survival.

He also has been reduced to co-star status, never mind the title. Theron, buzz-cut, blue eyes ablaze, is the literal and figurative driver of this vehicle.

The actress plays Furiosa, one of the elites in the tattooed, scarified society called the Citadel ruled by a masked sloth known as Immortan Joe. She's making a run to load the tanker with that rarest of commodities, gasoline - at least that's what Joe and his legion of schmoes think she's doing, until Furiosa takes a detour.

If there were a road sign, it would read: This way to go rogue.

It's a spoiler to say what Furiosa's real mission is, because the moment her secret cargo is revealed is perhaps the looniest in director George Miller's loony film, with Max right there looking on, mind-boggled.

Suffice to say Fury Road is trying to make some kind of statement about sexual violence, the oppression of women, and it uses a group of actresses, most of whom have sashayed across more than a few fashion runways in their brief lives, to do so. But it doesn't stop there: Fury Road, set in an inferno-future where men rule with piggish thuggery (or thuggish piggery), offers the possibility of full-blown feminist revolt. Long live the matriarchy!

It could be - and has been - argued that Miller, an Australian with a penchant for relentless, rocketing motion and vast scorched-earth tableaus, invented post-apocalyptic cinema with his Mad Max trilogy: a mutated mess of an anarchic world belching fires of fossil fuels, cancerous hordes, cannibalized machines and cannibalistic human beings. Miller and his team, with Mad Mel as their hero, blazed that trail more than 30 years ago.

Maybe that's one of the reasons it has taken so long for Miller - a visual maestro, to be sure - to return to the Mad Max canon. How could the director bring anything new to the game after so many others have cribbed and stolen and homaged, sucking up his exhaust fumes? (For the record, it's the middle entry in the original trilogy, The Road Warrior, that's the classic.)

But Miller has found his heavy metal groove (one of the legion of freaky baddies is strapped to the front of a truck, grinding out a sonic burn of electric guitar licks for the entire movie). And he has found the Vulvalini - a group of warrior women of all ages and stripes - with whom Furiosa bonds, and then joins in battle.

As for the loner Max, he and Furiosa start off glaring at each other, seething with mistrust, but you know they're going to become allies, and they do.

Wherever a sequel might take them, it at least has a ready-made title - Mad Max: Fast and Furiosa.

Mad Max: Fury Road *** (Out of four stars)

Directed by George Miller. With Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron, Nicholas Hoult, Zoë Kravitz. Distributed by Warner Bros.

Running time: 2 hours

Parent's guide: R (extreme violence, intense action, adult themes).

Playing at: Area theaters.

srea@phillynews.com

215-854-5629 @Steven_Rea

Steven Rea, Steven Rea, Inquirer Movie Critic

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'Mad Max' is a turbocharged chase across a toxic wasteland