*With added afterthought (updated 05/17/15)
To quote my brother after the credits were done rolling: "I don't know what the movie was about, but it was fucking bananas."
Mad Max: Fury Road feels like it's based on a theme park stunt show, book-ended with truly visceral car chases and vehicular stunt work rarely seen in movies the past few decades. The energy levels of the film are at a 10.5 on the 10 scale. The pyrotechnics and destruction permeate the screen, burning up and chewing the scenery with mostly-real physical properties, giving the overt madness on screen a sense of realness that would never have been achieved had the film been riddled and poisoned with lazy CGI.
Director George Miller has continued his "Mad Max" legacy with Fury Road, the fourth film in his series, this time with Tom Hardy in the lead role made famous by Mel Gibson, while keeping the same sense of underscored subtlety that Gibson brought to the table from 1979 to 1985. This time, as with The Road Warrior before it (known as Mad Max 2 down under), there isn't much in the way of story - much of the film is literally setup to get the characters behind the wheel and begin the carnage immediately, with characters being slightly developed while constantly on the move.
The main attraction here was the notion that director Miller, while filming in his homeland of Australia, would film this fourth "Max" film much in the same vein that he shot the previous ones: With real vehicles really being crashed and blown up. This was mostly true, but there were still quite a bit of little CGI touches here and there, mainly with environmental effects and the occasional body being crushed underneath a flipping car-tank. What the film does really well, aside from the truly dangerous-feeling stunt work, was create this manic, post-apocalyptic environment that feels right at home with Road Warrior and Beyond Thunderdome before it. Everything about the world, including many of the little background characters and the climate with which they live in, appear mutated from the nuclear holocaust that caused them.
With this fictional world, Fury Road has a very general sense of mythology that radiates from its scenes and characters, truly enveloping the viewer into the world it has created. You get a sense that a lot of time was spent behind the scenes creating mood and back-story, but with little time actually spent on the story behind the action (one must note that the storyboard artists had to have been driven nuts by the pre-visualization of this film). Once the film gets moving, with Imperator Furiosa's (Cherlize Theron) rescuing/kidnapping of the wife-mothers of the vicious Immortan Joe from a dystopian outland place known as the Citadel, we are thrown headfirst into a near-constant barrage of roaring and exploding, giving a visual feast for fans of a mostly-senseless action extravaganza.
Tom Hardy's Max is given rather little to do at times, but when he acts he is just as effective and anti-heroic as he's ever been. His character actually takes a bit of a back seat (in terms of purpose to the story) to Theron's Furiosa, but that isn't necessarily a bad thing. Behind the wheel is where Max belongs - a man of few words and many bullets, driving in the heat of the moment without a thought for anything outside of the immediate future. Because in this wasteland of a world, full of souped-up and armored vehicles of destruction and violence, there is nothing but what is right in front of you. There is no future for Max, because the future is already burned. He lives in the moment he is in, and that moment just happens to be filled with a giant truck with a mini stage placed on top of it, and a white-skinned inbred monster of a human playing an electric guitar that shoots flames out of it while cars explode around him.
Not quite living up to all my expectations on a narrative level, but the film delivers remarkably well on the promise of real vehicular stunt work and explosions. Tom Hardy is great as Mad Max, but if another film in the series is to be made, I would like to see more emphasis on him that time around. His character acted as more of a supporting role to Cherlize Theron's Furiosa character. If the action is what you came for, there is an abundance of that with which you will receive, though the film lacks any real "moments" that truly stand out. See it in a good auditorium with good sound - there's something truly soothing about the constant bass of a large truck's 2,000 horsepower engine rumbling under your ass in a theater chair.
Whether you liked it or disliked it, the fact that "Mad Max: Fury Road" made approximately $44 million its opening weekend is good for Hollywood and purists of traditional movie-making techniques. The film was a perfect example of late 80s-early 90s methodology in regards to visual effects, where "CGI" is used as a last resort, and not as a crutch.
If you were to put "Furious 7" up against "Mad Max: Fury Road", two films that vie for the same visceral reaction from the human psyche, "Mad Max" will please the eyes more often than the other film due mainly to the use of practical effects, real explosions, real destruction, and real danger versus computer-generated carnage.
The eyes still perceive real things better than things generated by computers. That "uncanny valley" problem still hasn't been overcome, and I hope many new film makers today see the successes of "Fury Road" and attempt to make movies "real" again.