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'Mad Max: Fury Road' review: Taking the apocalypse to the max

Tom Hardy and Charlize Theron in Warner Bros.

Tom Hardy and Charlize Theron in Warner Bros. Pictures' "Mad Max: Fury Road." Credit: TNS / Jasin Boland

How influential are George Miller's "Mad Max" movies? Here's one example: When disaster struck Bikini Bottom in the recent SpongeBob SquarePants movie, the citizens immediately put on bondage gear and began torching their town. Even viewers who've never seen "Mad Max" (1979) or its iconic sequel "The Road Warrior" (1981) got the joke. Miller's post-nuclear, punk-rock future is still what we think about when we think about the apocalypse.

Nevertheless, it's been 30 years since we last saw Max Rockatansky, the anti-hero originated by Mel Gibson, in 1985's "Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome." Today, dystopian movies feel routine and our expectations of cinematic spectacle have been heightened by the Disney-Marvel machine. Yet here comes "Mad Max: Fury Road," with Tom Hardy in the title role and writer-director Miller, 70, back at the helm.

One thing is clear: "Fury Road" is not your grandfather's action movie. It's a neck-snapping, eye-popping fantasia of violence and destruction, filmed in supersaturated color with the locomotive energy of a Looney Tunes short. It's overstuffed and not entirely coherent, but "Fury Road" is also exhilarating, inventive, hilarious and completely bizarre.

The apocalypse has been updated: Water, not gasoline, is the scarcest resource, and religious fundamentalism abounds. The warlord Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne, of the first "Mad Max") keeps a harem of wives to breed War Boys (one is Nux, played by a maniacal Nicholas Hoult) who dream only of glorious martyrdom. Into this world drops Hardy's Max, but he's only here to provide franchise continuity. The real hero is Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa, who smuggles out Joe's wives (ZoA Kravitz plays the feisty one, Toast) in a massive big rig. Theron's Furiosa, a one-armed warrior who uses motor oil as mascara, might as well be Mad Maxine; Hardy, sullen and taciturn, literally takes the backseat.

What follows is essentially the final car chase of "The Road Warrior" stretched over two nearly nonstop hours. If Miller is repeating himself, he also ups his own ante with outrageous stuntwork (Stephen Bland, a former Cirque du Soleil member, contributed to the choreography), some gory humor and a newfound cinematic style. Miller may not set the standard for another 30 years, but he still does the apocalypse like nobody else.

Tom Hardy follows in the footsteps of Mel Gibson as road warrior Mad Max. Here are four other films with characters named Max that we were mad about.


Taking these characters to the Max

SUNSET BOULEVARD (1950) -- Erich von Stroheim, the controversial director of silent screen classics like "Greed," was ready for his close-up as Max von Mayerling, the mysterious butler of former silent screen star Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson), in Billy Wilder's biting look at Hollywood.

THE PRODUCERS (1968) -- As Max Bialystock, a washed-up theatrical producer determined to make a killing on Broadway by putting on the "flop" musical "Springtime for Hitler," Zero Mostel had his finest hour. Nathan Lane re-created the role in the 2005 musical remake.

MAX DUGAN RETURNS (1983) -- Jason Robards Jr. played the title role of a shady character who pops up on the doorstep of the grown daughter (Marsha Mason) he abandoned when she was 9. Max's arrival -- and his suitcase filled with cash -- arouses her suspicion.

GET SMART (2008) -- Would you believe anyone other than Don Adams as Maxwell Smart? In this big-screen version of the '60s sitcom, Steve Carell was more than capable of filling Adams' shoes -- and working his shoe phone.

-- Daniel Bubbeo

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