With the full force of a supercharged V8 Pursuit Special, Mad Max: Fury Road demolishes all other summer blockbusters beneath its merciless wheels. This is a symphony of dust, metal, fire, and blood, an immediate action movie masterpiece which proves that reviving old franchises is sometimes an absolutely capital idea. Original series writer and director George Miller (who it should be noted is 70 years old) and his crew have put most other American thrill filmmakers to absolute shame.

As the movie opens, post-apocalyptic wasteland survivalist Max (Tom Hardy) is abducted by War Boys of the Citadel, a dystopia ruled by the diseased, scabby fist of King Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne). Not long after, Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron), one of Joe’s lieutenants, frees his five “wives” from their captivity, planning to escort them to a promised “Green Place.” A livid Joe leads a massive hunting party after Furiosa, with Max dragged along with War Boy Nux (Nicholas Hoult). Max escapes captivity in short order and, after some initial tension, joins with Furiosa and the wives in their flight. A prolonged chase ensues across the wastes, mud flats, canyons, and dunes of the vast desert.

Really, the whole movie is one extended chase. The intensity ebbs and flows, but never fully subsides. And when it flows, it is as a surging river of delight. Despite sometimes involving dozens of different cars, each action scene clearly and efficiently establishes where everyone and everything is. The editing is fast-paced but never frantic, cut to maximize momentum while still making each event coherent. This has been said time and again, but that’s because it’s true: Too much modern action buries what’s happening beneath senseless camera work and rapid-fire editing. Fury Road is having none of that. That visual economy extends to character development, which is usually left to significant juxtapositions and motions from the actors, rather than protracted exposition. By the time certain characters actually are talking about themselves, the film’s earned the viewer’s investment in what they have to say.

What they say is simple and not at all new, but delivered with incredible power. It’s come as a surprise to many, but Fury Road is the most lady-friendly action movie in quite some time. Despite Max being the one with his name in the title, this is really the story of Furiosa and the wives, who quest to break free of patriarchal reins and live their own lives. Max is just along for the ride, occasionally being helpful. Women get to be present in the world of this film as their own agents. It’s easily exemplified in the contrasting personalities of the five wives, often described by their names (one is Capable, another is the Knowing, etc etc). They’re all played by models (Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Zoe Kravitz, Riley Keough, Abbey Lee, and Courtney Eaton), but each one gets their own moments to demonstrate some usefulness or emotion. They’re pushed to act and not simply be present, and all rise to the occasion.

In a cinematic blockbuster landscape of samey jumpsuits and military gear awash in muted gunmetal, the world-building and production design in Fury Road is such a breath of fresh air as to nearly be dizzying. A whole fleet of insane modified vehicles ridden by equally insanely costumed and made-up characters thunders through this movie. Immortan Joe’s war party includes a rig specifically dedicated to providing accompanying music, featuring four massive drums and a tower of speakers blaring the stylings of cackling guitarist wielding a flame-spewing fender. His minions include a gout-ridden man with a metal nose and nipple clamps and a general who wears clothing made wholly of bullets (he even has bullets for teeth). It’s the artwork from heavy metal albums and underground comics brought to enthusiastic life. Co-writer Brendan McCarthy is a veteran comics artist, having worked on titles like 2000 AD, and Shira Lockman, Jacinta Leong, and their massive art department have realized the script’s vivid imagination with aplomb.

All this elevates Mad Max: Fury Road to a near-mythic feel. This is a film that vibrates giddiness into your bones even when no one’s punching or running over someone else. The vehicular mayhem is mostly practical work, bolstered with CGI in exactly the right places. And whenever CGI does take over, it’s in the service of awe, such as when the chase enters a titanic, Biblical dust hurricane. A rollicking two-hour blast with moments of genuine emotion, this is the kind of action movie we don’t deserve. But we should be ever so thankful we have it.