DAVID BIANCULLI, HOST:
This is FRESH AIR. The character Mad Max is an Australian cop whose family is murdered and who wanders the desert after the collapse of civilization, preferring to remain alone. Mel Gibson played Max in three films directed by George Miller, the last in 1985. Max has returned, this time played by Tom Hardy, in the long-awaited fourth installment, "Mad Max: Fury Road," which also stars Charlize Theron. Film critic David Edelstein has this review.
DAVID EDELSTEIN, BYLINE: The majority of sequels have no reason for being apart from sequel money, but watching "Mad Max: Fury Road," I could sense the 70-year-old Australian director George Miller had been revving his engine for decades, itching to explode from behind the starting line and deliver even more spectacular automotive mayhem.
It's been 36 years since the first "Mad Max" and its eye-popping, blacktop-scorching horizontal thrust. Those who saw it back then - I was among them - could scarcely believe the brilliant fusion of so many disreputable, low-budget genre tropes. And its sequel, "The Road Warrior," was even more spectacular - a post-apocalyptic punk biker Western in which most of the characters ended up a mash of tin and innards.
The less said about the bloated "Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome," the better, but Miller redeemed himself with the intense medical drama "Lorenzo's Oil" and "Babe: Pig In The City," a dark, Dickensian masterpiece - I'm not joking; see it if you haven't - that inexplicably bombed. It was eight years before Miller made another movie, the animated penguin musical "Happy Feet."
I dwell on Miller's past because he's a hero of mine. I get happy feet at the thought of "Mad Max: Fury Road" restoring his luster. I only wish it were a better piece of storytelling. The film is well underway before we get our bearings, and Max, who's the same character, only even madder and more haunted and played by Tom Hardy, barely registers for the first half-hour.
At the start, he's captured, branded and chained up by raiders from a towering citadel presided over by a sickeningly disfigured tyrant called Immortan Joe. Actually, everyone's disfigured, starving or sick from radiation. The only prime specimens are Joe's breeders, a pampered harem of willowy model types tasked with bearing him healthy children.
The action kicks off when Joe's top raider, Furiosa, played by Charlize Theron with a shaved head, sets off on a mission in a long ramshackle truck called the war rig before suddenly veering off course. It turns out she's decided to liberate Joe's breeders. They're hidden on board, fleeing across the vast wasteland in search of the matriarchal oasis she calls the green place of many mothers.
"Mad Max: Fury Road" is basically one long chase with ever more insane variables. But at its core is the relationship of two people whose souls seem to have been tanned into leather by all the carnage and tragedy. I said, seems. There wouldn't be much of a movie if Max and Furiosa didn't wind up on the same side here, opening up to each other in the front seat of the rig while the women sleep in the back.
(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "MAD MAX: FURY ROAD")
TOM HARDY: (As Max) How do you know this place even exists?
CHARLIZE THERON: (As Furiosa) I was born there.
HARDY: (As Max) So why'd you leave?
THERON: (As Furiosa) I didn't. I was taken as a child - stolen.
HARDY: (As Max) You done this before?
THERON: (As Furiosa) Many times. Now that I drive a war rig, this is the best shot I'll ever have.
HARDY: And then?
THERON: (As Furiosa) They're looking for hope.
HARDY: (As Max) What about you?
THERON: (As Furiosa) Redemption.
EDELSTEIN: Tom Hardy is one of our most fascinating film actors, but what comes out of those pillowy lips is not always recognizable as English. "Mad Max: Fury Road" belongs to Charlize Theron, whose hardness barely hides the glints of guilt and grief, and Nicholas Hoult as a bald, mortally ill, white-painted war boy who longs to die in battle and enter Valhalla but is so loveably clumsy, he winds up on the side of the women. The move also features a posse of magnificently weather-beaten elderly women on motorcycles holding their own against the marauding citadel hordes.
If you've seen the other "Mad Max" movies, your heart will leap the first time the souped-up vehicles swerve into the foreground and roar into the distance as the camera hurdles alongside them. Under Miller's direction, the desert becomes a mythic stage for a circus of horrors. Immortan Joe's armada travels with drummers and a mast heavy-metal rocker tied to the front of a truck, his guitar shooting flames. Warriors on long poles bend in and out of the frame, throwing bombs and snatching women. See this in 3-D for all the metal flying into the camera, and marvel at how few computer-generated effects Miller uses. These are real stunt people moving really fast, and that makes all the stakes seem higher. In "Mad Max: Fury Road," George Miller puts the emotion in motion.
BIANCULLI: David Edelstein's is film critic for New York magazine. On the next FRESH AIR, Martin Ford says robots are taking our jobs, lots of them.
MARTIN FORD: There's already a hardware store that has a customer service robot that was capable of leading customers to the proper place on the shelves to find an item.
BIANCULLI: Ford says they could replace some fast food workers, lawyers, even journalists. His book is the "Rise Of The Robots." Hope you can join us. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.