In the climactic scene of “Fury,” Brad Pitt, playing a grimly determined tank commander, is hanging on to a turret machine gun and mowing down wave upon wave of Nazi troopers, as he and his four-man crew take on an entire enemy battalion. Amidst the smoke and blood, I had a sudden flashback to William Holden, hanging on to a smoking Gatling gun in the final scene of Sam Peckinpah’s “The Wild Bunch” (1969) — a similarly desperate act of resistance (with a similarly high body count, too).

Surely, I thought, director/writer David Ayer (best known for “Training Day” and the underrated “End of Watch”) must be a fan of Peckinpah’s Western, and sure enough, a little digging revealed that Ayer is the credited screenwriter on a proposed remake of “The Wild Bunch” starring Will Smith and helmed by the producer of the remake of “The Karate Kid,” Jerry Weintraub.

I shudder to think what a travesty that will be, but in a sense, Ayer got there first with “Fury,” taking the against-all-odds climax and ruthless, not-sure-if-we like-them-or-not characters of “The Wild Bunch” and throwing in the war-is-hell cynicism of Peckinpah’s own WWII film, “Cross of Iron.”

Director David Ayer
Run Time 134 minutes
Language English, German (subtitled in Japanese)
Opens Nov. 28

Pitt plays Sgt. Don “Wardaddy” Collier, a tank commander who’s a sonuvabitch but dedicated to keeping his men alive. His crew are your typical WWII mix of various American stereotypes — Jon Bernthal as a shiftless hillbilly, Shia LaBeouf as the bible-quoting Christian, and Michael Pena as the token ethnic. Rounding out the mix is Norman (Logan Lerman, as fresh-faced as he was in “The Perks of Being a Wallflower”), a young clerk who has never seen combat and is mistakenly assigned to the tank. In their attempt to harden him up into an amoral killer, the other men discover their own lost humanity.

If that sounds a bit maudlin, it is, but it’s mixed in with such hard-edged combat that you’ll welcome the relief. Collier’s Sherman tank, nicknamed “Fury,” has to take on massively armored German Tiger tanks, hidden anti-tank guns, mines, and Volkssturm teenagers (pressed into military service by the Reich) firing Panzerfausts, a kind of vintage handheld rocket launcher. Death is sudden and horrific.

More troubling is a scene which is essentially about battlefield rape by the G.I.s, though the film seems to see it another way: A woman at gunpoint may not mind sleeping with the least threatening choice on offer.

“Fury” is not a film about glory, and while many have compared it to “Saving Private Ryan” for the savage intensity of its battle scenes, there is no sense of a greater cause or noble ideal. One shot, lifted from an iconic period photo, shows a corpse run over by so many tanks that it has become squashed into the mud, and that pretty much sets the film’s tone.

As Sgt. Collier explains to Norman, “this war will end soon . . . but before it does a lot more people have to die.” Bleak stuff.

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