The movie of the summer thunders in on 22 armor-spiked wheels, because an 18-wheeler just wouldn't do on "Fury Road."
Grim, gruesome and glorious, "Mad Max: Fury Road" should send every post-apocalyptic sci-fi hack back to the word processor and every other would-be car picture producer in search of testosterone supplements.
George Miller revisits his most famous franchise in a breathless blast of prophecy that may lack the grace notes and serio-comic humanity of "The Road Warrior." But his warnings of a social collapse into Jungian archetypes brought on by oil, greed and the Bomb sneaks in during two hours of almost constant battle, torture and chase.
Tom Hardy is Mad Max here, his past sketched in through flashbacks of those he could not save. Now he wanders the wastelands, fending off marauding tribes who covet water, fuel, firearms and food.
Only this Road Warrior is quickly captured, a human "blood bank" for a society whose elite literally transfuse their mutated selves back to life with blood and mass-pumped mother's milk. It's a grisly parable of the oligarchs of today, dwarves and skinheads and goiter-ridden freaks preserving themselves and their bloodline at all costs.
The Citadel is ruled by Immortan Joe, who needs oxygen just to carry on his mass breeding experiment in creating healthy offspring even as he enslaves the waterless masses below his mountain fortress.
Charlize Theron is Furiosa, the one-armed War Machine driver who goes rogue, taking Joe's harem of supermodels (Zoe Kravitz and Rosie Huntington-Whiteley among them) with her. They are fleeing in a gigantic tanker truck to "The Green Place."
Max is lashed to the hood of one of a fleet of ancient re-purposed Caddys, Corvettes, Barracudas and Mercs, the desert warcraft Joe leads after the women.
That's one clever switch that Miller makes in this updating, 34 years after "The Road Warrior." Women are enslaved for the future they hold, but the toughest of them -- Furiosa -- is their last, best hope.
"Out here, everything hurts," she growls. She gets the Road Warrior/Terminator tough-guy lines. You want to live? Stick with me.
The dialogue is as apocalyptic as the desert settings. "I am the SCALES of justice," one venomous villain bellows, "CONDUCTOR of the chorus of death!"
Hardy is more a physical presence than a soulful one. His Max is haunted, like Furiosa, in search of "redemption." He is a simple man of action, visceral, blood-spattered action.
Nux (Nicholas Hoult) is the true believer disciple of Immortan Joe, spray-painting his grin with chromium paint, a religious fanatic ready to go out in glory and secure his place in Valhalla.
It's exhausting and exhilarating, with only a couple of emotional deaths amidst the mayhem and gore. But from its first frame to its last, "Fury Road" lets Miller -- whose "Babe" and "Happy Feet" were just as prophetic -- puts the Mad back into Max and the madness back into our headlong rush to doom.
'MAD MAX: FURY ROAD'
3.5 stars (Grade A)
MPAA Rating: R for intense sequences of violence throughout, and for disturbing images
Cast: Charlize Theron, Tom Hardy, Nicholas Hoult, Zoe Kravitz, Riley Keough
Credits: Directed by George Miller, script by George Miller, Brendan McCarthy and Nick Lathouris. A Warner Brothers release.
Running time: 2:00