You know, Max (Tom Hardy) says, in one of his precious few bits of dialogue, Hope is a mistake.
Unless you were hoping Mad Max: Fury Road would be a gonzo, nitro-fueled menagerie of rusted metal and mayhem.
In that case, hope pays off spectacularly.
Faster and furiouser than that other high-octane franchise, the 30-years-in-the-making sequel is the vehicular counterpart to The Raid: Redemption. Stripped of such frivolities as plot and character development, Fury Road is two hours of rolling thunder that will leave your inner 12-year-old giggling with glee.
When we see Max for the first time since 1985s Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome, the one-time highway cop is haunted by the faces and voices of those he couldnt protect since he wandered off into the Wasteland.
Max crushes a two-headed lizard under his boot and snacks on the remains, then hes chased down by a band of hairless, scarred, skeletal War Boys. They drag him to the Citadel, a canyon fortress ruled by the grotesque Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne, Mad Maxs Toecutter), who controls the regions water supply, giving the subjugated masses a taste of it here and there while warning them not to become addicted.
At the Citadel, Max is to be used as a blood bag to replenish the depleted War Boys, the young marauders the godlike Joe has promised will ride forever on the highways of Valhalla in exchange for serving him.
But when Joes trusted lieutenant, Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron), makes off with his most valued possessions his War Rig and his five brides, the beautiful, scantily clad young women referred to as prized breeders Max is tethered to War Boy Nux (Nicholas Hoult) by an IV and a chain, Hannibal Lecter-ed to the front of Nuxs car, and the chase is on.
Visually, Fury Road is equal parts George Miller, the franchises visionary writer-director, and Cirque du Soleil. Joes heavily armored fleet is led into battle by a truck with four taiko drummers pounding away on the back, and in front, theres a wall of amplifiers to which a riff-thrashing guitarist is bungee corded. Birdlike scavengers men with stilts attached to their hands and feet pick their way through the muck. War Boys swing about atop a speeding tanker truck, and warriors with spears and chain saws sway atop 20-foot poles attached to some of the souped-up jalopies.
The latter, at least, has a direct Cirque connection as Las Vegan Steve Bland, an original cast member of O, helped assemble the pole performers.
As for the more Miller-esque touches, Joe is kept alive by an intimidating scowl of a respirator and, apparently, breast milk. Furiosa has a metal arm. And Nux has drawn smiley faces on the neck tumors that are slowly killing him, naming them Larry and Barry.
Speaking of names, the monikers in Fury Road continue to be a hoot. Joes wives are known as The Splendid Angharad, Capable, Toast the Knowing, The Dag and Cheedo the Fragile, while his hulking son goes by Rictus Erectus.
Hardy, who can so easily access the requisite broken, crazy-eyed emotions, is the perfect actor to introduce Max to a new generation. Here, the iconic character finally, truly seems mad, as evidenced by the way he claws at the steel cage, locked on his face by the War Boys, like a dog with one of those medical cones.
Theron is fierce and forlorn, as she delivers swift death to countless numbers of Joes army while reminiscing about the homeland from which she was taken and hasnt seen in 7,000 days, plus the ones I dont remember.
As talented as Hardy and Theron are, theyre terrifically overqualified for a Mad Max movie. Especially Fury Road, which is little more than one fantastic chase across the Wasteland. Of its 120 minutes, maybe 15 travel at less than 100 mph.
Working with a budget conservatively estimated at 300 times that of the original Mad Max, Miller has delivered a film thats stunningly beautiful a wonderful contrast to its often hideous characters.
Theres so much going on in Fury Road, though, its impossible to appreciate it all in one viewing.
And with the Citadels sister enclaves, Gas Town and the Bullet Farm, mentioned but not explored, theres plenty more of the Wasteland on which Max can unleash his particular brand of reluctant havoc.
Hopefully it wont take another 30 years for him to get the chance.
Review: Mad Max: Fury Road, 120 min. Rated R; intense sequences of violence throughout, and for disturbing images. Grade: A-.