Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga

June 26, 2024
4 mins read

Words by Harry Moore

         After being stolen from her home, a young woman comes of age in a savage, post-apocalyptic wasteland and becomes caught amid two dueling warlords as she attempts to chart her way home. Director George Miller returns to the mad world he created to tell an epic tale about vengeance and power in a lawless land. It has been nine years since Miller and his crew ventured into the Australian outback and gifted the world “Mad Max: Fury Road,” which was universally lauded as an instant classic and is viewed as one of this century’s defining works of cinema. It is almost impossible to be hyperbolic about the excellence of “Fury Road,” it is a film that excels at every level — from the technical side with its audacious editing and cinematography to the sublimely creative costume and production designs to the simple but inventive story and memorable characters, who are brought to life by a perfectly utilized ensemble cast. Tom Hardy took over the eponymous role, but “Fury Road” really belongs to Charlize Theron’s Furiosa, an immediately iconic character who sits amongst the likes of Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley and Linda Hamilton’s Sarah Connor as one of the great action heroines of cinema. Furiosa will most likely be remembered as Theron’s signature role, it is a truly great piece of character creation that would inspire Miller to journey further into the wasteland and Furiosa’s bloodstained past. For the younger Furiosa, Anya Taylor-Joy stepped into the part and does an admirable job of bringing her own sensibility to the character while remaining indebted to Theron’s work. It is often a thankless task to take on a character who has already been defined by another actor, but Taylor-Joy is a capable enough performer that she disappears into Furiosa and shows a more vulnerable side to the character than the older version we have seen previously. However, much like “Fury Road,” this film is a two-hander between Taylor-Joy’s Furiosa and Dementus, the warlord leader of a biker horde, who is played by Chris Hemsworth, giving an uninhibited career-best performance, leaning into a thick outback twang and filling every scene with an unpredictable energy.

The list of prequels to great movies that manage to surpass, or even match, the original is a short one. It may just be Sergio Leone’s “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly” and half of “The Godfather Part II.” Which is to say, telling the backstory of a film as undeniable as “Mad Max: Fury Road” was always going to be a tall order, yet Miller and his team largely meet it. “Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga” walks its own path as opposed to taking on a losing game of one-upmanship against “Fury Road.” Where that film is a propulsive race to the finish line that can be followed along through its visuals alone, “Furiosa” is much more sweeping and meditative by comparison.

The opening act largely follows Dementus: The film opens with him and his minions kidnapping Furiosa as a child and killing her mother (Charlee Fraser) in a lean and tense sequence that is very different from the bombastic carnage of “Fury Road.” Dementus then leads his followers to The Citadel which is governed by the tyrannical Immortan Joe (Lachy Hulme), as we saw in “Fury Road,” causing war to break out between Dementus’ gang and Joe’s fanatical war boys, which escalates into a multi-year long conflict, during which Furiosa grows into a skilled warrior. Some sequences feel indebted to or at least reverential to the action in “Fury Road,” but Miller is largely trying to do something a little different in “Furiosa.” Where that film is focused on operatic mayhem and carnage, which can be found in “Furiosa,” the newest film is a comparatively more grounded offering that is often about surviving and overcoming trauma, that concludes in quiet conversation instead of explosive violence.

The “Mad Max” series has quietly been among the most influential film creations of the last 50 years with its vision of a post-apocalyptic world being used as an aesthetic shorthand for a fallen civilization now governed by chaos. The series’ iconography of desert wastelands, heavy metal-inspired vehicles and flamboyantly dressed cannibal gangs have been referenced and iterated on in many other dystopian works. Still, it has always remained something of a niche interest for moviegoers, even the rapturously received “Fury Road” was just a nominal success at the box office. “Furiosa” is an incredibly ambitious effort in the series; its large scope encompasses a decade-spanning story and a range of characters, allowing Miller to explore his anarchic hellscape at a scale that he had previously been unable to. The film shows us new settings that had only been referenced in “Fury Road” like the fabled Green Place and the accurately named Bullet Farm and Gas Town in all their glory. We also delve deeper into the machinations of The Citadel and Immortan Joe’s leadership methods. “Furiosa” dives headfirst into the greater lore and intricacies of this world in a manner that will delight the hardcore fans but potentially put off more general audiences. But the indulgence in the wasteland is a great benefit to the film at large, giving license to show new regions and hordes that allows for the creative designers to let their imaginations go wild to bring this world to the screen.

“Mad Max: Fury Road” is an irreplicable film that stands alongside the best works in the medium, yet “Furiosa” is a triumphant piece of filmmaking on its own terms and manages to retroactively deepen and improve “Fury Road,” adding greater weight to Furiosa’s journey in that film. George Miller has shown once again why he is amongst the greatest action directors of all time and is second to none when it comes to creating uniquely unforgettable imagery. “Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga” is a showstopping epic that demands to be witnessed on the biggest screen possible. 

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