Mad Max: Fury Road (4 stars)

Mad Max: Fury Road

Thrilling return for George Miller's antihero, with Tom Hardy and Charlize Theron

The antithesis to dour dystopias, this belated fourth instalment in the Mad Max franchise puts the fun back in fucked-up futures as it delivers precision-executed lunacy, alongside a generous helping of heart. George Miller, director of Happy Feet and Happy Feet Two, leaves the animated penguins on ice to return to his bad-ass baby 30 years after the series' last outing, Beyond Thunderdome. Fury Road doesn't mess about – it's near-continuously on the move, ripping the modern actioner a new one as it tears forward.

A more polished product than its rough 'n' ready predecessors, what this $150 million beast loses in edge it makes up for in scorching spectacle, while the action remains as impactful as ever. Tom Hardy takes over from Mel Gibson as Max Rockatansky: reluctant hero, road warrior, and lone wolf in a post-apocalyptic land, reinventing himself for a new generation.

Max is drawn into the efforts of the courageous Imperator Furiosa (an excellent Charlize Theron), who has liberated a group of sexually enslaved women known as 'breeders' and is being aggressively pursued by the forces and allies of Immortan Joe (played by Hugh Keays-Byrne, aka Toecutter from the original Mad Max), a grotesque, god-like dictator looking to claim back his stolen 'property'. He's accompanied by an army of sickly, brainwashed 'War Boys' – including Nux (Nicholas Hoult) – all too eager to sacrifice themselves for the cause.

Fury Road is pure cinema, a 'western on wheels' as Miller himself puts it; DP John Seale's camera swoops, surges and recoils in an exhilarating, sometimes eccentric fashion, accentuating the thrill of the chase and aping the manic energy of the original films. The dynamically executed smash-ups, and vicious vehicles make films like Fast & Furious 7 look very tame indeed, and that events are powered by a desperately heartrending plight adds a real sense of jeopardy. Junkie XL's thunderous score occasionally gives way to emotive grandeur, which compliments the sincerity and determination of Furiosa and the righteousness of her actions.

Movies on this scale have often been the worst offenders when it comes to failing to put women and the issues they face at the fore. But Fury Road is a brilliantly feminist blockbuster which passes the Bechdel test with flying colours. Beginning with defiant messages scrawled on a floor and wall ('We are not things,' reads one) it kicks into gear when the estimable Furiosa takes her gender's salvation into her own hands. Even Hardy steps aside in the face of the movie's true hero. And as these wonderful women fight back against hoards of brutish male oppressors, they're not simply getting mad, they're getting even.

General release from Thu 14 May.

Mad Max: Fury Road

  • 4 stars
  • 2015
  • US / Australia
  • 2h
  • 15
  • Directed by: George Miller
  • Written by: George Miller, Brendan McCarthy, Nico Lathouris
  • Cast: Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron, Nicholas Hoult, Zoë Kravitz, Abbey Lee, Riley Keough, Hugh Keays-Byrne, Nathan Jones, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley
  • UK release: 15 May 2015

Reluctant hero Max (Hardy) is drawn into helping Imperator Furiosa (Theron, excellent), who's liberated a group of sexually enslaved women and is being pursued for her trouble by the grotesque Immortan Joe (Keays-Byrne). Precision-executed lunacy, a brilliantly feminist 'western on wheels' with a generous helping of heart.