Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga is an insane action epic

Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga is an insane action epic

Having been written before Mad Max: Fury Road even went into production, Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga manages to avoid many of the pitfalls inherent to prequelization. While it does indeed feel like a middle chapter, which is precisely what it is, it also feels more like a complete tale than so many prequels, all of which stumble when forced to build characters from the top down rather than from the bottom up. Case in point here is the titular Furiosa, previously played with a hardcore edge by the great Charlize Theron in Fury Road, and here by multiple young women, but most notably Anya Taylor-Joy, who despite her A-list status, has carved out a niche in contemporary genre cinema. 

It’s a perfect casting choice. There are no gaps between her and Theron’s performances. It’s very easy to believe that they are one and the same character. Suspension (that’s a car word!) of disbelief is extremely easy to navigate(also a car word). And it’s a good thing too, because Furiosa ends quite literally at the moment Fury Road’s story begins. But whereas most films in the franchise cover a short period of time, Furiosa occurs over decades, chronicling our hero’s initial kidnapping from her home (Fury Road’s “Green Place”) all the way up to her eventual escape from Immortan Joe’s citadel. Chris Hemsworth’s Dementus asks our hero in a moment I shan’t spoil (and which is featured a la carte in the film’s trailers): “do you have it in you to make it epic?”

George Miller offers a resounding “FUCK YES.”

This is likely followed by a bunch of revving engine noises. 

Way back when Mad Max was just a trilogy, the capper was Beyond Thunderdome, a respectable misfire that features some of the franchise’s best material, but which is hindered by a turgid middle act that saps the film of the energy we had come to expect from the series. It’s easy to see what Miller and the gang were going for here.  After two movies that are essentially feature length chases, he very clearly wanted to (fuel) inject some more story meat into the proceedings and couldn’t quite nail it. A second attempt is made with Furiosa, and it’s a grand success. It’s the most story-heavy entry of all, and every second of it is exciting as hell. For a film that approaches 2.5 hours, it’s paced perfectly. 

The film begins in Furiosa’s home land. It’s the one place of relatively utopian abundance in the entire Wasteland, and as such, its existence must be kept a secret from any outsiders. This is why, while venturing beyond its boundaries one fateful day, Furiosa’s mother sacrifices herself so that her young daughter can escape the grasp of Dementus (Chris Hemsworth, EATING) and make her way home without being tracked. Mom’s efforts are half successful. The Green Place’s whereabouts are protected, but Furiosa is nonetheless taken hostage by the horde of evil bikers. 

Within the Wasteland there are three main outposts: Gasland (where the gas is), The Bullet Farm (where the bullets is), and the Citadel (where Immortant Joe and his War Boys is). Dementus is a nomad who seeks to find a footing within this triumvirate of explosive settings, chiefly by threatening his own brand of chaos until he gets it. As he tries and tries again to put sugar in Immortant Joe’s proverbial gas tank (car shit!), Furiosa aligns herself with whichever entities will get her one step closer to freedom and home. 

There’s a fine line to be walked here, story-wise, and it’s one that George Miller and Nick Lathouris’ script manages adeptly. The fact of the matter is that in the world of the Wasteland, there are no good guys to speak of, so as Furiosa ascends the ranks and swaps loyalties, it’s important not to frame any team as inherently good, even if it’s who we’re rooting for at the moment. There are three tools employed to make this easy for the viewer. First and foremost is pure carnage. When there are no good guys, any player becomes expendable. This allows for an anything goes approach to the expected vehicular mayhem. We root for Furiosa’s cohorts, but it doesn’t particularly sting when any individual gets crushed under some comically large wheels (which happens a LOT). Secondly, Miller is such a master action craftsman that he’s able to juggle small dramatic/action beats within a larger action sequence. It’s in these pockets where story is injected, and characters are given miniature arcs that allow certain individuals to be framed in positive and negative ways, regardless of their overall allegiances. Finally, and best of all, Miller/Lathouris introduce Praetorian Jack (Tom Burke), a sort of Bobo Max who, like Furiosa, is going along to get along. He’s one of the few Wasteland denizens with some humanity left in him, which allows for he and Furiosa to become a team of their own, despite being contracted by very bad people. 

It’s through Jack/Burke that Taylor-Joy is given an angle from which to really exhibit her character-building chops. Furiosa is a largely silent character, and while Taylor-Joy is able to work wonders with her profoundly expressive face (it’s incredible how much work she does without any dialogue), once she opens up to Jack and becomes a more vocal character, she truly shines. Hers might be the best performance in the whole series. No love lost to Chris Hemsworth, who is having the MOST fun being a disgusting monster. 

I think all three are awards-worthy performances, jussayin. 

Each entry in the Mad Max series is typically framed as a fable, passed down orally to whoever will listen, and Furiosa, with its wealth of story, fits this better than all the rest. But this isn’t to say that it skimps on action. The action we expect is here in droves, and every sequence is a jaw-dropper. At the screening I attended there was a little bit of grumbling at what some saw as too much digital enhancement, but even with the addition of more CG elements, none are at the expense of stunt-forward, practical action. In fact, any digital trickery is only there to enhance what is already happening in-camera. Frankly, there’s no filmmaker on the planet operating on the same frequency as George Miller. He knows how to make grit and grime look gorgeous. He knows how to make a brawl poetic; how to make cars, trucks, and dune buggies zipping down a dirt road look like the chariots of the gods. 

And even if you don’t love the final result, you’ve gotta respect the level of imagination. Who comes up with this stuff?!?!? 

As a middle chapter, the film has to cruise to its endpoint as opposed to finishing on a gigantic action piece, which is the one area where this suffers the pitfalls of being a prequel.  But the good news is that Mad Max: Fury Road IS the big closing action sequence.  So just head home from the theater and watch that. You’ll want to.

I won’t say that Furiosa is better than Fury Road, but the sheer existence of Furiosa makes Fury Road better. 

A side note since I don’t know where to include it in the body of my review: Something that became clear to me after watching the entire series back to back over the past week is that the nuts and bolts details of the Wasteland’s logistics may crumble under scrutiny, but the human element is strong and insightful, even if a bit heightened. What I mean to say is that it’s a fool’s errand to question where the gas comes from, or the metal for their forgeries, etc. But we must recognize that in a post-apocalyptic world of COURSE there’d be a bunch of leather daddies who use cars as status symbols and women as milk and baby producers. It makes the MOST sense.

Directed by George Miller

Written by George Miller, Nick Lathouris

Starring Anya Taylor-Joy, Chris Hemsworth, Tom Burke, Lachy Hulme

Rated R, 148 glorious minutes