By Michael Roddy
CANNES, France (Reuters) - "Mad Max: Fury Road" is a movie of singularities. "Furiosa Imperator" Charlize Theron is a woman missing a forearm, "Mad Max" Tom Hardy is a man of few words and the movie has basically one plot line -- stay on the road and keep fighting.
That may not sound like a recipe for the blockbuster of the summer. But the reboot of the 1980s dystopian franchise that powered Mel Gibson to stardom is expected to take $40 million at the U.S. box office for its opening weekend, starting on Friday.
After premiering in Los Angeles last week, it packed the biggest cinema of the Cannes International Film Festival on Thursday. An audience accustomed to arthouse films burst into applause for a chase scene involving steel-spike-studded attack vehicles that exploded like star fighters in "Star Wars".
Blink and you'll miss the opening that explains the world's post-apocalyptic state. But the original "Mad Max" films by director George Miller were never long on explanation for what turned the world into a wasteland, either.
Their selling point was showing how Mad Max would survive. He's back, looking even more resourceful, including performing a blood transfusion in the cab of a speeding, half-wrecked monster truck.
The original films were a smorgasbord for fans of demolition derbies. Miller, 70, has gone all out this time, with a fleet of hot rods scavenged from the wreck of the world that looks like Disney-Pixar's "Cars" animation on speed.
Two vintage Cadillacs bolted atop each other probably make the classiest ride. Heavy-metal fans will want the "battle of the bands" vehicle that features four "warboys" pounding drums and an electric guitarist whose instrument doubles as a flame thrower.
In the midst of this feast of high-production-value chase scenes, it's almost surprising to find that human life - a pregnant woman about to give birth, a shoot of a plant growing in an elderly woman's pocketbook - can survive.
But this is a life-affirming film. Theron's rogue Imperator breaks away from the malevolent warlord Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne) to ferry five of his "breeders" to a "green place", run by women.
Hardy's "Mad Max" becomes their ally, but only after Theron has shown herself his equal in survival skills. She is perhaps the strongest female screen protagonist since Sigourney Weaver's Ripley in Ridley Scott's "Alien" series.
It shows you the movie has a heart and soul, but it's actually a roller-coaster ride, with some of the most spectacular effects luckily never seen on a highway near you. Cannes cheered, so chapeau, Monsieur Miller.
(Michael Roddy is the Entertainment Editor for Reuters in Europe. The views expressed are his own)
(Writing by Michael Roddy; Editing by Larry King)