"Don't get too close to anyone," Brad Pitt's Sergeant Don "Wardaddy" Collier warns wet new recruit Norman (Logan Lerman), as the latter begins his tour of duty at the arse end of the 20th century's most extreme exercise in population control. Given that Norman's about to spend the rest of his war wedged inside a sweaty metal box no bigger than a VW Beetle with four other men for whom soap and hot water are occasional luxuries, you'd be forgiven for thinking Pitt's cracking wise. After all, as we see, Norman can barely turn his head inside the titular tank without burying his face in Shia LaBeouf's moustache or Michael Peña's armpit.
But the gag, if it was ever intended, never lands. Because Fury is grim. War is hell and death is everywhere and there's no room inside Wardaddy's steel office for jokes, as Norman discovers when his first task is to remove the bits of his predecessor's face left sliding down the tank's inner walls after an enemy attack. The film is, not without reason, a gruelling way to spend 134 minutes: by the end you'll feel as pulverised by the experience as the poor dead bastard smooshed further into the mud by each steamrolling caterpillar track.
All of which would be fine - I don't mind coming out of a film feeling drained and miserable; God knows I've watched Moonraker often enough - if only Fury had something a bit more original to say. It's a men-on-a-mission movie, episodic in nature and thematically monotone, and as convincing as its leads and its combat scenes are, it never quite finds anything to surprise us with.
"Roads? Where we're going, we don't need roads. Because we've got a tank, which is capable of negotiating almost any solid terrain. I shouldn't have to explain that."
The cinematic equivalent of a Pixies song, Fury opts for a LOUDquietLOUD structure, alternating thundering, seat-shaking battle sequences with more contemplative character moments. The former are spectacular - the combination of practical effects, CGI and rib-rattling sound design is astonishing - while the latter are less successful, partly because it's hard to make out much of what's being mumbled and partly because all the characters slot neatly into predefined stereotypes: reluctant coward with his arc signposted from miles away; charismatic, harsh but fair leader; bible-basher; moron, and so on. And while it's fun to squeeze all those archetypes into a tin can and turn up the heat, Fury doesn't quite deliver the sense of edgy camaraderie you want it to. For all its impressive scenes of widescreen countryside-torching and town-demolishing, I'd have loved to have spent the entire running time cooped up inside the tank with no escape. This could have been some hardcore world war claustrocore, but alas, it wasn't to be.
Fury rumbles on, and so does its message, bellowed in your face throughout a near-interminable climax that stretches itself out to ridiculous length, primarily so it can shoehorn in a handful of requisite war movie clichés. But it fulfils its remit, which is to remind you that war is a big pile of shit and makes monsters of men, and it does so brutally and - for the most part - honestly. If you leave the cinema feeling lucky you didn't witness any of that first hand, then Brad Pitt and his team of inglorious bastards can consider their mission accomplished.