Valar Morghulis

The apocalypse has come, and it’s the work of men. This shouldn’t really come as a surprise, after three Mad Max movies that saw the world getting progressively darker (even as the third movie went to a strangely playful place that felt more Goonies than Road Warrior).

It’s unclear when, exactly, Fury Road takes place in the Mad Max timeline, but it doesn’t matter. The world is in ruins, and Max (Tom Hardy) is (still) just trying to survive in what’s left of it.  

Survival is a slippery beast. Captured by a gang of strange pale men, Max finds himself prisoner in the Citadel, a towering keep from which Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne) rules a broken society. He keeps breeders, fertile young women forced into a life of sexual servitude, and raises warboys, shirtless white specters riddled with tumors. The warboys drive the most ingeniously cobbled together vehicles: souped-up, spiky, loaded with drums and weapons and, in one memorable case, what are probably the last functional guitar amps on earth. One must have a soundtrack when one rides off to war. 

And to war these men go when Joe’s prize driver, Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron), veers off course on a gas run. Her war rig, a jacked-up 18-wheeler so battle-ready it sports a VW bug as a defensive turret, is dotted with hidden weapons — and carrying more than it seems. Out from the belly of the beast crawl Joe’s five precious wives, wrapped in gauze, done with captivity.

The backstory to this liberation comes in snippets throughout the very light-on-dialogue film, but much of it you can fill in yourself; it’s in Theron’s eyes, flinty and sharp, and the way she throws herself into battle. It’s in the willingness of pregnant Angharad the Splendid (Rosie Huntington-Whiteley) to act as a shield and in the bitterness on the face of Toast the Knowing (Zoe Kravitz) as she counts the few bullets left to her team. 

And where is Max? To start, he’s a prisoner strapped to the front of a warboy’s car, a mobile blood donor to sickly but enthusiastic Nux (Nicholas Hoult). As the movie rattles across the desert, both men find themselves on the side of the furies, who seek the mythic “green place” with many mothers. What they find is not what was expected, but it fuels a climactic turnaround, the chase reversed, the goals reshaped.

For two hours, Fury Road shrieks along, a song of exploding metal and flying skulls, part steampunk, part ’80s heavy metal video, occasionally nodding to the movies that came before (what’s with the obsession with other people’s boots?). It puts different kinds of power in the hands of women and depicts, in gloriously ugly detail, a broken society of men living on nothing but destruction and rage.

“Who killed the world?” the film asks, and it is not shy about the answer.

Now playing at Valley River Center, Cinemark 17

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