MAD MAX: FURY ROAD (NC16)
120 minutes/Opens today
A few decades from now, nuclear war has reduced lands to desert and bands of people fight to the death for resources such as water and fuel. The drifter Max (Tom Hardy) is a prisoner of the brutal War Boys clan. A high-ranking War Boys leader, Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron), flees the camp after committing treason and Max is dragged along for the chase across the burning sands.
Those who come seeking metal-on-metal smashes, wildly dangerous stunts and a circus sideshow of human curiosities will leave with a mile-wide smile.
But what they will also get is a cracking good story and a sincere effort by leads Hardy and Theron, elevating this from B-movie junk food to that rarest of treats, an action movie for adults.
In 1979, director George Miller made his feature debut with Mad Max, a cheap and violent revenge fantasy that became one of the highest-grossing films in his native Australia.
But it was the sequel, Mad Max 2 (1981, also known as The Road Warrior in the United States), that broke Miller and the star of both films, Mel Gibson, into America.
It was then that Mad Max motifs were set down: the loner anti-hero, vehicular ultraviolence, scrapyard-sourced Franken-cars and a cast comprised of villainous giants and dwarves, some sporting interesting radiation-afflicted skin conditions.
This would be overlaid on a story that borrows the best elements of classic westerns and samurai movies.
All these classic ingredients are here - it is as if the sci-fi blockbuster bloat of the last 30 years never happened and thank goodness for that.
Miller's fourth instalment has a story that could have taken place before or after the events of the third film (Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, 1985).
The film-maker, as is his practice, has a sociologist's fascination with the culture of his imagined tribes (he trained as a medical doctor before film beckoned).
Here, he spends time filling out the language, religion and even sexual practices of the War Boys and a few others, and the effort makes the action all the more immersive.
The road stunts, done with real cars and a real stunt crew, with no visible computer graphics, are bonkers in the most thrilling sense of the word.
Miller shoots the mayhem with a clear, steady eye, plus a fair amount of cheeky humour.
Gibson's comic timing and expressiveness contributed hugely to the success of the films. Hardy not only measures up, but he also adds a dimension of introspectiveness.
Ten minutes into the film, it would be hard to think of anyone else playing the part of the desert drifter.