"YOU'RE NOT SLUMMING in action," George Miller said last month, during a Q&A after a screening of Mad Max: Fury Road. "You're using a language that's impossible in any other medium."
That's what the best movies are: stories that can't be told any other way. And, coming three decades after his last Mad Max, Fury Road is one of Miller's best—a full-bore, balls-out maelstrom that finds Max Rockatansky (Tom Hardy) once again stumbling around in the post-apocalypse, where he teams up with Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) and tries to survive a days-long car chase from warlord Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne). They race and punch and explode through a lurid, eye-searing palette of oranges and blues; what results is a brutal, beautiful, two-hour action overdose that's injected with a surprising, if welcome, feminist bent. Not only does the action in Fury Road stack up to the best recent action movies, like John Wick and The Raid: Redemption, but one has to go back to Miller's last good Mad Max movie—1981's The Road Warrior—to find anything even remotely comparable.
Miller gives a thudding sense of violence—both automotive and visceral—to these sequences, but more precious is the fluidity, rhythm, and grace he imbues in the carnage, all but unheard of in today's CGI-laden, committee-directed cataclysms. Speaking of CGI: Given that this is the first Mad Max since the advent of computers, a lesser director might've gone all-out with hollow digital spectacle. Not Miller, who keeps as tight a rein on the digital effects as he does with the film's angry tone and breakneck editing—he uses CGI to establish a grander scale, then zooms in to focus on the practical stunt work, the gritty impact of each steel-ripping crash and tooth-loosening kick.
In the brief respites Miller gives the audience, Fury Road offers all the trappings that Mad Max's discerning disciples demand: grimy midgets and wild-eyed mutants, radiation-scarred losers and vengeful leather daddies, hermits and victims and warmongers with names like "Cheedo the Fragile" and "Rictus Erectus" and "The People Eater." Maybe the best surprise about Fury Road is that in an age when big-budget films get their edges dulled and their runtimes bloated in order to appeal to the broadest audience, Fury Road feels as gloriously weird as Miller's other Mad Maxes, with a relentless pace that means not a single bizarre scene is wasted.
If there's any disappointment here, it's actually Max himself: Perhaps aware that he doesn't stand a chance of replicating young Mel Gibson's goofy, cock-eyed charm, Hardy plays Max as a deadpan, marble-mouthed weirdo who, in all this dusty chaos, can't help but fade into the background. Sure, I get why the movie's still called "Mad Max"—that's the brand Warner Bros. wants to exploit. But fuck that: Given both Fury Road's feminist overtones and how amazing Theron is, a better title would've been Imperator Furiosa. I take back that headline. Furiosa in 2016.