Mad Max Fury Road: Brutally carving roadmap to quality sequels

Two films espousing feminist ideas broke through in a big way commercially last week, but it’s the movie franchise you’d least suspect that does the best job of celebrating women in cinema.

In fact, it’s just a better movie all the way around.

Don’t look now, but George Miller, the director behind the Mel Gibson-led “Road Warrior” trilogy, is back with a new installment of “Mad Max” and its “Fury Road” is simply one of the three best films so far in 2015 and by far the year’s most feminist.

It’s not earth-shattering if viewers haven’t seen the trilogy before heading to theaters for “Fury Road.” In fact, seeing the film with fresh eyes offers a richer perspective on this visually brilliant epic adventure.

Tom Hardy — further cementing his status as both leading man and character actor — holds his own as the titular “Mad Max,” taking over where Gibson left off in the mid-1980s.

It’s Charlize Theron, however, that really drives “Fury Road” with the year’s most powerful feminist performance, kicking ass and taking names as the Imperator Furiosa tasked with secreting five young breeding women away from a cult in a post-apocalyptic desert. The film leans heavily on agenda — some political, some ideological — while also putting female characters in places to shine in what would otherwise be male-driven films.

Nicholas Hoult — previously best known as Beast in the latest “X-Men” installments — is unrecognizable as the War Boy Nux, teetering on the brink of insanity while somehow not falling all the way over. It’s by far the best performance by a supporting actor so far in 2015, even surpassing a classic Alan Alda performance in “The Longest Ride.”

While the acting will help carry audiences through scene to scene, what really sets “Fury Road” apart is the work of Miller and cinematographer John Seale to bring the vivid pictures in Miller’s head to life on the big screen.

Rarely is a film more visually dynamic on a shot to shot basis than “Fury Road,” which keeps viewers on sensory overload for a full two hours. The fact that Miller and stunt coordinator Guy Norris were able to achieve 90 percent of the stunts performed in the film without the aid of computer-generated imagery (CGI) is astounding.

Watch “Fury Road” and then try to wrap your mind around the fact that Miller also directed “Babe” and the Academy Award-winning animated film “Happy Feet.”

To be sure, “Fury Road” is a highly demanding, heavy-metal rage inducing, bullet-to-the-head kind of film for mature audiences only. Miller’s post-apocalyptic action horror odyssey insists upon a rational and engaged audience like last year’s sci-fi adventure “Edge of Tomorrow” with Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt.

In a cinematic world of sameness, “Fury Road” is Miller’s giant roadmap paving the way for directors to bring some originality to sequel-making. If Hollywood learns nothing else from “Fury Road,” this will still be a major step in the right direction for cinema.

Audiences who enjoy, or even mildly tolerate, the plot and acting performances in “Fury Road” need to see the film a second time just to fully immerse themselves in the cinematic wasteland Miller creates in the most authentic way possible.

The first time through, audiences can only experience the film through Miller’s broader strokes, scalding reds and soothing blues washed in the raging hormones of guitar-heavy white noise.

It’s on the second viewing where audiences can truly appreciate the method to Miller’s madness.

For a film cooking in Miller’s mind for nearly three decades, the wait is well worth it.

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