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'Mad Max' Reboot Is A 'Gorgeous, Scrap-Metal Demolition Derby'

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

"Mad Max," "Road Warrior," "Beyond Thunderdome." With those three pictures, filmmaker George Miller gave moviegoers in the 1980s a glimpse of a post-apocalyptic future - bone dry, violent and populated by biker gangs gone ballistic. Then he spent 30 years making really sweet movies, like "Babe: Pig In The City" and "Happy Feet." Well, now Miller has returned to his roots with a reboot, "Mad Max: Fury Road." And our critic Bob Mondello sounds like he couldn't be happier about it.

BOB MONDELLO, BYLINE: There's a quiet moment at the very beginning, Max staring at a desolate landscape as his voiceover tells us how we got here - gas wars, nuclear wars, the end of Max's family, pretty much the end of civilization. Savor the quiet while you can. A few seconds later, Max will be pursued by a plague of white painted war boys from a citadel run by Immortan Joe, a gang leader tricked-out in biker drag and a face mask that makes him look like he's half-swallowed a motorcycle.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "MAD MAX: FURY ROAD")

HUGH KEAYS-BYRNE: (As Immortan Joe) It is by my hand you will rise.

MONDELLO: Joe withholds water to keep his followers enslaved, but he needs gasoline, so he dispatches a tanker truck driven by Imperator Furiosa, a gladiator with a mechanical arm. What Joe doesn't know is that she's stolen his harem.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "MAD MAX: FURY ROAD")

KEAYS-BYRNE: (As Immortan Joe) I want them back. They're my property.

MONDELLO: So from there on, the movie is pretty much a two-hour dash for freedom - folks roaring away, other folks roaring after them.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "MAD MAX: FURY ROAD")

CHARLIZE THERON: (As Imperator Furiosa) Go.

MONDELLO: Furiosa, played by Charlize Theron with the requisite furiosity, more or less owns "Fury Road," but she lets Tom Hardy's Max and Nick Hoult's war boy tag along.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "MAD MAX: FURY ROAD")

NICK HOULT: (As Nux) What a lovely day.

MONDELLO: Director George Miller gives them the face time and gives the folks chasing them the cool rides - Jeeps that look like porcupines, what appears to be a '59 Cadillac mounting another '59 Cadillac mounting a monster truck. Also, a rig with an electric guitarist strapped to the front, the guitar belching fire. All of them, plus aboriginal motorcyclists, racing across a Namibian desert that sometimes looks like it belongs in a John Ford Western, other times in an oil painting by J.M.W Turner of hell, all to get to what Furiosa calls the green place, green being so unfamiliar in this dystopian future that one character's never learned the word tree.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "MAD MAX: FURY ROAD")

TOM HARDY: (As Max) How do you know this place even exists?

THERON: (As Imperator Furiosa) I was born there.

HARDY: (As Max) So why'd you leave?

THERON: (As Imperator Furiosa) I didn't. I was taken as a child - stolen.

MONDELLO: This conversation represents a rare pause in the action that lets you breathe, which is good, and that lets you ponder the logic of the "Mad Max" universe, which is less good - a world where water is precious and gorgeous women splash around with a hose in the desert, where gas is treasured and everyone drives souped-up muscle cars that on a good day might get a few hundred feet to the gallon. Not that any of that really matters, with Miller cranking up giddy, high-octane stunts for performers and real rigs rather than computer effects. Those pole riders swaying high above the action - hired from Cirque du Soleil, don't you know - there to help make "Fury Road" a gorgeous, scrap metal demolition derby of a popcorn picture. "Furious 7" is just lucky it opened last month. I'm Bob Mondello. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.