The carnage is more interesting than the characters.
I wish I'd gotten to watch Fury without knowing it was written and directed by David Ayer. I like to think I would've been able to identify his handiwork without this information.
At the outset, Fury feels like a bold approach to a brothers-in-arms soldier story. The opening finds the five-man crew of a U.S. Sherman tank nicknamed "Fury" in a hell of a mess: The tank is broken, and they're alone in the middle of a German battlefield in April of 1945. One member of the team is already dead, and the odds of survival look bleak for the others. Instead of rallying together, the soldiers seem barely able to tolerate one another. The tank's commander, Sgt. "Wardaddy" Collier (Brad Pitt), doesn't just berate his men; he literally kicks the crap out of them. Throughout much of the film's first half, the contempt among the men is palpable, especially when their departed comrade is replaced by combat virgin Pvt. Norman Ellison (Logan Lerman).
As the writer-director of End of Watch and Sabotage, Ayer has focused on men who have to trust one another with their lives, even when someone's moral compass is busted. Ayer has a knack for making gritty violence feel real, and he is great at creating viscerally intense moments. This is certainly true in Fury. But Ayer isn't nearly as successful at finding reality in the film's characters.
Ayer eventually turns to the relationship between Collier and Ellison, in which Collier becomes a mentor to the terrified rookie. There's a certain daring to the complexity Ayer tries to give Collier, and Pitt pitches his performance in a way that evokes his cocky commander character from Inglourious Basterds while also deepening it. Yet none of the characters make a lasting impact as Fury builds to a climactic suicide mission.
Plenty of viewers should find Fury's two hours of high tension genuinely potent. Whether showing the life-and-limb threats of battlefield engagements or presenting a scene in which Collier's men psychologically terrorize a pair of German women, Ayer reminds us that war is indeed hell. But this message won't pack a punch if you've grown weary of seeing him say the same thing in previous films.