(George Miller, 2015)
One viewing of Mad Max: Fury Road won't be enough. There is too much detail, too much crammed into some of George Miller's frames for anybody to take in on first viewing.
This is what action cinema can do, Miller seems to be saying to the many hacks and charlatans who have come to dominate the genre since he made his last Mad Max film in 1985. This is what it can be. And what it can be is a relentless, absurdly beautiful steam train of narrative momentum, with no body fat, moments of incredible spectacle unlike anything in recent cinema, a minimum of exposition or dialogue, character who are defined by their actions, a streak of jet-black wit straight through the middle, and a grotesque edge which makes it almost queasily unforgettable.
Very loosely a sequel, the film picks up Max (Tom Hardy) wandering the post-apocalyptic wasteland, still traumatised by past losses, as he is chased down and captured by a band of white-painted War Boys (whose chant does recall the Duran Duran song "Wild Boys", the video of which was a straight Russell Mulcahy-helmed Mad Max: The Road Warrior rip-off). They take him back to the Citadel, run by Megaton Joe (Hugh Keys-Byrne), a tumorous old warlord kept alive by a breathing apparatus attached to his face, who maintains order by rationing the water he has drilled for underground, keeps a farm of wet nurses to supply mothers milk, grows crops and guarantees obedience from his legions of soldiers through the mythology he has concocted, a mix of suicide bomber Paradise talk and Viking beliefs ("Valhalla" crops up repeatedly) with modern notions and chrome spray-paint.
Max is used as a "blood-bag", reviving ailing War Boy Nux (Nicholas Hoult). Soon he is chained to the hood of a car and hunting down the rogue Furiosa (Charleze Theron) through the wastes as she makes a run for it in her War Rig (a huge, customised lorry) with Megaton Joe's entire stable of young wives in tow. Soon enough she and Max have made an uneasy truce, both intent on survival, as hordes of Joe's warriors chase them on an armada of vehicles.
Perhaps 15-20 minutes of this film are made up of dialogue, spoken by characters who are not otherwise engaged in violence of one kind or another. The rest is all action. And Miller is a master of action, orchestrating immensely complex sequences featuring dozens of vehicles which are never remotely confusing or incoherent. The audience always knows what is at stake and who is where. Cars flip and explode, ram and jump, actors are flung and shot and catapulted, and you can feel it all, understand why it is happening and how it relates to everything else. This is a terribly rare quality in modern cinema, unfortunately, and it gives every action scene huge impact.
Even the relatively sparing use of cgi is effective - a dust storm early in the pursuit made me wince as it buffeted Max. A three-way fistfight is brilliantly done, reflecting character and personality just as much as it does the preferences of the fight co-ordinator.
Miraculously, none of these action scenes feel remotely pointless or ostentatious. They all advance the story or illustrate character. Just like every one of the thousands of details here, everything feels thought-out and organic.
The cast vanish into these roles. Hardy and Theron share first billing, and if he lacks something of Mel Gibson's raw and volatile star power in the role of Max, he is still magnetic and convincingly desperate and resourceful, and his physicality makes him believable in the action scenes. When he vanishes into the cobalt at night and returns with a blood-splattered face and a bag full of guns, you believe he's been capable of some awful violence. Theron has more of an arc and makes the most of it, making Furiosa a commanding warrior who craves escape. Hoult is almost as good as the War Boy who loses his faith, and the rest of the cast all fit beautifully into this bizarre, somewhat unhinged world, bringing its corners and edges to vivid life.
It looks and sounds amazing, too: cinematographer John Seale came out of retirement for this, and his work is exceptionally vibrant. This is probably the most beautiful action film ever made. Junkie XL's score is thunderous and exciting too.
But really, this is all about George Miller. Always a meter storyteller, at the age of 70 he has surpassed everybody else currently working at this sort of material with what may be the greatest film of his career. This is a glorious film.