Charlize Theron in Mad Max: Fury Road.

George Miller has been trying to follow up Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome for 30 years. He was all set to go with Mel Gibson in a fourth movie before setbacks.

Then, of course, Mr. Gibson said some very bad words, making him virtually unmarketable due to his temper and his generally poor outlook on things. So here we are, 30 years since Tina Turner put on that goofy wig and sang that lame song for Thunderdome. After a bunch of films involving talking animals (Babe: Pig in the City, Happy Feet), Miller is back in his post-apocalyptic world, messing around with fast rigs on desert landscapes. He also has a new Max—that being Tom Hardy. Charlize Theron is also along for the ride.

The results are a blast: Max Max: Fury Road is probably the franchise best when it comes to action. However, I prefer Gibson over Hardy for his Max portrayal. Hardy is good, but Gibson is the original and best Max—even if he is a total asshole.

The film starts off with a shot reminiscent of The Road Warrior (aka Mad Max 2)—and then it goes berserk. Max gets himself captured by a really disgusting-looking, villainous ruler named Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne) and finds himself hanging upside down and providing blood for a pale, bald minion of Joe’s, Nux (Nicholas Hoult).

Theron then shows up, head shaven, as Imperator Furiosa, a one-time loyal of Immortan Joe; she tricks him and kidnaps his wives, intent upon taking them to some sort of green promised land. When Joe figures out she’s making a run for it, his soldiers (who look a little like the cave creatures from The Descent) take off after her. This includes Nux—with Max strapped to the front of his car and wearing a face mask that reminds of his Bane getup in The Dark Knight Rises.

As far as plot goes, that’s about it. Theron and the wives try to drive really fast, and those pursuing her drive really fast, too. Along the way, they pick up a few other characters, and some folks get mulched under car wheels. You get the picture.

What makes Miller’s latest a cut above the rest is a major reliance on practical effects for the stunts. Sure, CGI shows up (and when it does, it’s very well done), but much of what we see is stunt people doing crazy, crazy things in front of cameras.

The folks who developed the look of this movie—from its terrific cinematography, to its costuming, to its incredible stunt work—all deserve praise and extra beers. The pounding soundtrack and the editing help make this a true pulse-racer. No matter how frantic the action gets, there’s a certain visual clarity to everything. It’s easy on the eyes, even when the edits are rapid.

Theron brings a nice bit of gravitas to this blockbuster. Sporting a CGI mechanical arm, face paint and a permanently stern expression, she is one badass rebel. While Hardy is fine in the Max role, the really great performance in this film comes from Theron.

Hardy actually spends much of the movie silent, especially in the early going. He looks great, even when he’s playing the part of a blood bag. Hoult actually manages to be quite moving under all of his makeup as the kamikaze who has a change of heart.

This is supposed to be the first film in a new trilogy, but it should be noted that Pitch Perfect 2 kicked its ass at the box office, so it isn’t exactly setting the world on fire. Let’s hope that critical praise and word of mouth result in a healthy worldwide run for Mad Max: Fury Road. I want more.

Mad Max: Fury Road is playing at theaters across the valley.