Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga

Back in 2015, the Mad Max franchise got a fast and furious revitalization with the universally-lauded Mad Max: Fury Road, which introduced the fearless Imperator Furiosa, portrayed by Charlize Theron. To fill out his Mad Max universe a bit more, mastermind George Miller has returned to direct Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga, a prequel that doesn’t necessarily improve its predecessor but at least gives us an excuse to revisit this vivid and distinctive cinematic landscape. For some, the film will come across as a sampler platter that cobbles together aspects of the franchise to make a decent enough meal. For others, this could be seen as the most accessible chapter in the series and might be an unexpected favorite for those who haven’t spent much time in this world yet. For me, it’s an improvement on Fury Road but still falls short of the mark of greatness.

Filling in for Charlize Theron, Anya Taylor-Joy and Alyla Browne play younger versions of the Furiosa we knew from Fury Road. We first meet her in the heart of the Green Place, an oasis in the otherwise barren wasteland of post-apocalyptic Australia. When a biker gang from the outside world stumbles upon their paradise, Furiosa is kidnapped and taken back to the gang’s leader Dementus (Chris Hemsworth) as a bargaining chip to find the Green Place once more. That plan doesn’t come to fruition, so he later trades her to warlord and Citadel leader Immortan Joe (Lachy Hulme) in exchange for control over an oil refinery called Gastown. The agreement between Dementus and Joe doesn’t take long to sour, leading Furiosa and fellow Citadel soldier Praetorian Jack (Tom Burke) to lead an assault on Gastown and reclaim it for the Citadel.

Where Fury Road was essentially a two hour-long chase with brief interjections of character development, Furiosa is more conventional in terms of its narrative arc. It’s still an action movie through and through but there are more scenes that are dialogue-driven and meant to dig in deeper with their characters. Ironically, Furiosa is a very tight-lipped character and even fakes being mute for a section of the film, which leads one to wonder why Miller thought this was the best character to put at the center of a spin-off. Fortunately, Anya Taylor-Joy is able to tell much of Furiosa’s backstory with her expressive face and impressive physicality. As good an actress as Charlize Theron is, I’m glad they didn’t try to cast her again and de-age her with CG effects. Taylor-Joy does a tremendous job filling some presumably sand-filled combat boots.

As with Fury Road, the main selling point of Furiosa is the impeccably coordinated action setpieces involving overpowered automobiles and the madmen who crawl in and out of them at top speeds. Perhaps I was even more taken with them this time around because there’s more breathing room around them. The film is split up into 5 chapters and the middle section, titled “The Stowaway”, is 30 minutes of stellar action choreography that benefits from being preceded by scenes of more subdued tension. Set around the Citadel’s “War Rig” tanker as it’s being ambushed by raiders en route, the extended sequence features one ingenious moment of kinetic precision after another. Attacks not only come from the ground all around the War Rig but also from the sky, thanks to parasailing bandits who latch onto the tanker.

On paper, Furiosa could be considered a disappointment in terms of what a prequel should do. It doesn’t really expand on the mythology of this world, nor does it give us a much better sense of who Furiosa was before the events of Fury Road. It’s also about 30 minutes longer than its 2015 companion and, at times, feels its length. And yet, the movie delivers simply because the world that George Miller has created is so spectacularly different from anything else out there in the cinematic realm. The characters are so bizarre, the setting is immaculately rendered and the timbre of the action is a gleeful lunacy that no other director can convincingly replicate. Furiosa might be frustrating for those who consider Fury Road an instant classic but I found the balance of action and story worked even better than I expected.

Score – 3.5/5

New movies coming this weekend:
Coming to theaters is Ezra, a dramedy starring Bobby Cannavale and Rose Byrne about a stand-up comedian who goes on a life-changing cross-country road trip with his autistic son.
Also playing only in theaters is In A Violent Nature, a slasher starring Ry Barrett and Andrea Pavlovic which follows a mute killer who targets a group of teenagers in the Ontario wilderness, with the events observed largely from the killer’s perspective.
Streaming on Max is The Great Lillian Hall, a drama starring Jessica Lange and Kathy Bates about a beloved Broadway actress who begins to forget her lines and must reckon with the sacrifices she made for her career.

Reprinted by permission of Whatzup