Fury‘s greatest strength and most profound weakness are the same: It’s a typical war movie. The familiar tropes are all there, the hardscrabble-but-caring commander, the bible-thumping war lover, the green recruit, a back-against-the-wall fight to end all fights. The plot and themes of Fury are familiar, even comforting.
But what Fury does do right is use this familiarity as a template, a framework for the cast to work from, instead of that sameness being all there is to the film. Big names like Brad Pitt and Shia LeBeouf mix with familiar faces John Bernthal and Michael Pena, as well as relative newcomer Logan Lerman, to add meat to the skeleton. Pitt never overplays his hand as the commander who cares deeply for his charges, and slowly reveals a darker side, a person who has become a bit addicted to the fight. Shia LeBeouf might be the least annoying bible thumper in cinematic (or human) history, and Bernthal’s portrayal of the dimwitted Coon-Ass is another example of his tremendous ability as an actor. Pena adds energy and – when needed – intensity, and Lerman rounds it out well as the new kid who knows he is in way over his head.
The other aspect that sets Fury apart is the combat scenes. Tank warfare has never been this visceral and vital. The big combat scene is fine, but the earlier scenes – such as infantry crouching behind American tanks as they slowly advance across a wide open field – are where writer-director David Ayer (the man behind the upcoming Suicide Squad film) gets to show off. It’s a thrill to watch.