Mad Max is back in the intense, satisfying ‘Fury Road’

Max power: Hardy nonchalantly escapes an explosion.

Three and a half stars

Max Max Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron, Nicholas Hoult. Directed by George Miller. Rated R. Opens Friday.

Every time Mad Max returns to the screen, his post-apocalyptic world gets a little more post-apocalyptic. From 1979’s Mad Max through 1981’s The Road Warrior and 1985’s Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, Max Rockatansky (played in the original three movies by Mel Gibson) went from dedicated police officer to leather-clad drifter, and his society went from dingy and rough to savage and unforgiving.

Now that Max has returned after 30 years away, and his creators have their biggest budget ever to chronicle his latest adventure, the apocalypse his world endured has once again grown worse. In Mad Max: Fury Road, with Tom Hardy replacing Gibson as Max, there’s not even a memory of any world before the burned-out hellscape where the characters live. Gasoline and water are still in short supply, as are, apparently, fertile women, since they’re the resource that the series’ latest terrifying warlord, Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne), is determined to hoard.

In broad strokes, Fury Road has the same plot as the last two Mad Max movies: Max is captured by a group of survivors, and after convincing them of his inherent goodness, he reluctantly agrees to help them in their vaguely defined quest for salvation. In this case, the group is led by the indomitable Imperator Furiosa (an excellent Charlize Theron), who is determined to rescue five young women from the clutches of Immortan Joe, for whom they are intended as breeders and sex slaves.

Beyond those broad strokes, the plot isn’t particularly important (or coherent). The point of Fury Road, like the other Mad Max movies, is to showcase director and series creator George Miller’s talents for insane stunt work, and in that sense it delivers monumentally. Miller has put every dollar of his budget into staging a series of car chases and action sequences that take up almost the entire running time, and he’s done it primarily with practical effects, including dozens of tricked-out vehicles. Fury Road is a marvel of action choreography, even if the crashes and explosions get a little repetitive after a while.

As a story, it’s not quite as engaging, although Miller and co-writers Brendan McCarthy and Nick Lathouris attempt to add some feminist subtext to the post-apocalyptic posturing. Theron helps carry that off, but ultimately it runs a distant second to the nonstop action. For most fans, though, that action will be enough, proving that even after three decades, Miller can still wow audiences with fast cars and massive explosions.

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