There are no clear roads in Mad Max: Fury Road, but that does not mean that it lacks a sense of direction. The fourth instalment in George Miller's post-apocalyptic car chase series, suited and rebooted for the 21<sup>st century, moves relentlessly forwards; an adrenaline-fuelled action spectacular that charges head-first with unstoppable momentum.
Its goal is clear – to seize the screen, smash other blockbusters to smithereens, and make sure the audience holds on to their seats for dear life as they enjoy the ride.
Miller dazzled audiences when he first brought his highly visceral, remorselessly brutal Aussie exploitation films to the screen in the 1970s and 1980s. Since then a lot has changed. Digital has slain film, video games have transformed entertainment and the multi-million dollar blockbuster reigns supreme.
But don't worry; the much-needed modifications to the franchise have been suitably provided. The Australian outback has been swapped for the Namibian desert, with the filming more frenzied and the stunts even more spectacular.
Max Rockatansky (Tom Hardy) is the same nomadic figure as in previous instalments, the lone desert wanderer who appears to have given up hope of civilisation returning to the lawless wasteland he inhabits. But Max finds himself sucked up into the world of The Citadel, a mesa city where the powerful live in the lush grasslands at the top while the masses squalor on the arid ground below.
Evoking the literal vertical class system of Metropolis, there's a great scene at the start in which the film's main villain, King Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne), decrees to release a meagre amount of water from his lofty granite perch to the thirsty masses on the ground. This is a corrupt and commoditised society, where a select few exploit the precious resources of water, fuel, blood and bodies.
Out of such tyranny comes the rebellion led by Furiosa (Charlize Theron) a battle-veteran determined to rescue Immortan Joe's many wives from this destructive masculine world. And while initially reluctant, Max soon finds himself involved in the vicious power struggle between the two that ensues.
Most blockbusters raise and lower the stakes with predictable ebb and flow. Fury Road is a tsunami from the very start and Miller tries to ride the wave of wanton destruction to the very end.
Frenetic editing, multiple cameras; even the frame rate is ramped up and slowed down accordingly. This is the filmmaker as grand conductor, understanding how to utilise every element of his orchestra to bring the havoc to a heady crescendo.
Miller always seemed a director ahead of his time, but the advances in technology in the last 30 years mean that he can now show things on screen he probably never deemed possible. It's not just how bodies and machines can be flung around during the mayhem, but the multiple angles in which it can all be recorded.
Before you might expect to see tight close-ups and wide aerials, but now every single conceivable area can be shown of this rollercoaster ride, keeping you embedded throughout in a motorised warzone of blood and oil. This works best when the spectacle is grounded and the danger seems real, but a few times the nightmarish rust-coloured world Miller has created lapses into computer simulation.
The film is also a little too eager to race into the action. We are thrown head-first into the pandemonium in a series of adrenaline-fuelled sequences that leave you more disorientated than captivated, as Max remains a passive passenger for the first half of the film and Furiosa's motivations are not properly explained.
Fury Road truly comes into its own once the triumvirate of Hardy's Max, Theron's Furiosa and Nicholas Hoult's wonderful performance as the deranged Nux are allowed to come together. Hardy evolves from the feral beast at the start of the film to an enigmatic hero charged with quiet charisma. Barely uttering more than 10 sentences of dialogue, he has that rare ability to command your attention with what appears minimal effort.
Theron also excels as Furiosa. Battling against the destructive male-dominated world of The Citadel, her character manages to be both a fierce warrior and a caring mother, ready to plunge herself into the maelstrom of violence but always with the protection of her band of women at stake.
Most surprising of all is Hoult as Nux, one of Immortan Joe's alabaster soldiers who believes that if he dies gloriously on the battlefield he will join his leader in Valhalla. The Mad Max series has always been dominated by oddballs and eccentrics, who get to bounce off Max's stoic straight man. Hoult's Nux has all these qualities, but also an unexpected vulnerability and sense of honour that makes his arc the most rewarding in the film.
It all means that when the action is ramped up in the film's final third, your heart strings are seized as well as your eyeballs. This is a film daring in both ideas and imagery, a spectacular carnival of carnage that puts most other blockbusters to shame. I'm already gearing myself up for another ride.