Movie Review: Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga

Twenty-five years after Star Wars: The Phantom Menace popularised the term “prequel,” has there still not been a great film in that category? George Miller is the latest filmmaker to try with Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga, his much-anticipated prologue to the genre-redefining masterpiece that is Mad Max: Fury Road. But even as he and his team produce unique visuals and action set pieces that stand head and shoulders above the rest of the blockbuster crowd, Miller and co. are still hamstrung by the inherent weaknesses of the prequel form.

Furiosa begins years before the events of Fury Road — in other words, like all prequels, it takes place before the story you love, with only a few characters you remember and whose fates are already assured. In this case, the advantage is that this all helps Furiosa feel as important a character to this fictional universe as Max Rockatansky, whose varied characterisations from one Mad Max movie to the next have built him into a larger-than-life mythic figure worthy of folktales and campfire stories.

But since Miller and co-writer Nico Lathouris (returning from Fury Road) are trying to simultaneously tell a new Furiosa story and a recognisable one in line with the previous film, the character is most interesting when she’s younger and more unknown to us. As the movie progresses and star Anya Taylor-Joy’s performance recedes more into a straight impression of Charlize Theron, the film loses juice. It’s almost a disappointment when she shaves off her surprisingly long locks to look more like the person we expect to see.

But Taylor-Joy doesn’t even appear in Furiosa for about an hour. Until then, the character is portrayed by teenage actress Alyla Browne, who previously played a younger version of Tilda Swinton in Miller’s underrated and underseen 2022 romantic fantasy film Three Thousand Years of Longing.

With her shock of ginger hair and wide expressive eyes, Browne looks very different from the Furiosa you remember. We even meet her initially in the fabled Green Place of Many Mothers, which was only briefly glimpsed in Fury Road after its abundance of trees had already wasted away beneath untold pollution. Not even Furiosa got to stay too long in paradise. After the young girl is abducted by barbarian bikers and whisked away to the wasteland, Browne makes a compelling point-of-view performer for our reintroduction to Miller’s post-apocalyptic hell world. She’s no helpless damsel either, managing to kill one of her captors in a hilariously brutal fashion. True to the spirit of Mad Max, she only needs a chain and a tyre.

This is around when Dementus, the new villain played by Chris Hemsworth, enters the scene. After the decade Hemsworth just spent as the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s resident thunder god, it would be nice to say that he demonstrates more range by delivering a villainous performance for the ages. Alas, the character has a little too much distracting business going on. He talks too much, especially by Mad Max villain standards, and yells even more than that.

The idea, apparently, is to rattle your expectations around the familiar faces from Fury Road by throwing a chaos agent into the mix. But though Dementus adds texture to the world in some ways, answering questions you may not even realise you had (ahh, so that’s where the bikers come from and how they operate! That’s how economically interlinked the Citadel is with Gastown and the Bullet Farm…), his storyline ultimately detracts from the power of Fury Road.

That film’s villain, Immortan Joe, is here too, now played by Lachy Hulme in place of the late, great Hugh Keays-Byrne. But since all of the major checklist items you’re expecting to see from Furiosa’s backstory (her kidnapping, the loss of her arm, the formation of her ultimate plan to escape) now stem solely from Dementus, it’s hard to see what her problem even is with Immortan Joe. All the horror and oppression implied by Theron’s red-eyed delivery of “remember me??” as she ripped Joe’s face off and toppled a tyrant in Fury Road now seems way more abstract and less personal. That’s the danger of prequels!

There are other franchise temptations that not even Miller can resist. For at least half of Furiosa’s running time, you’re tempted to wonder if the director finally figured out how to tell a Mad Max story without Max, where so many attempts at doing “Batman without Batman” have failed… but then Tom Burke shows up. His character is named Praetorian Jack, but with his black leather jacket and sad-eyed charisma, he inevitably brings up memories of the male hero previously played by Mel Gibson and Tom Hardy. Ah, well.

At this point, it should be clear that Furiosa does not quite measure up to Fury Road — but what does? Miller’s 2015 film now clearly stands as one of the singular cinematic achievements of the 21st century, its simple structure (a cast of characters who drive in a straight line and then turn around and go back the way they came) overlaid with powerful political resonance and some of the most complicated and rewarding action scenes ever committed to screen. Furiosa can’t possibly be as mind-blowing as its predecessor, but it does allow us to spend a little more time in this world and Miller’s mind. No other working action filmmaker sees the world the way he does.

Furiosa has car chases, biker hordes, and flaming death, but the small moments of beauty you won’t find anywhere else are almost more impressive. As Furiosa stands against an assault from Dementus and his minions, there are a few seconds of Taylor-Joy standing against an iron gate, with fire flowing all around her — beautiful! When the army of motorbikes first approaches Immortan Joe’s Citadel, the camera lingers on a lizard crawling out the eyehole of a human skull — just before they’re both crushed underneath the uncaring tyres. After Furiosa cuts off her hair for the first time, the subsequent passing of several years is creatively conveyed by a time-lapse of that mass of hair on the branch that caught it, accumulating dust and twigs and the other detritus of nature. Even in the wasteland, it can always be a lovely day.



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Boluwatife Adesina is a media writer and the helmer of the Downtown Review page. He’s probably in a cinema near you.

About Author / Boluwatife Adesina

Boluwatife Adesina is a media writer and the helmer of the Downtown Review page. He’s probably in a cinema near you.

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