Credit: Warner Bros.
Blockbuster Beat by Matt Lynch Featured Film

Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga — George Miller

May 24, 2024

George Miller’s 2015 return to the Mad Max series he created all the way back in 1979, Fury Road, came a whopping 30 years after the previous installment, and was itself a seeming herculean effort that suffered endless delays, with many of those years spent stuck in development before the seas parted and the film somehow got made. It was nominated for Oscars and was generally (and correctly) heralded as a return to form for Miller, a once-in-a-blue-moon triumph of action filmmaking, and frankly one of the best movies that had come around in a very long time. Now, almost another decade later, Miller has returned with a prequel, which on paper sounds like a prima facie bad idea, right? Why would you — indeed, how could you? — want to do something like that?

We’re so lucky he did. Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga was supposedly written and to some extent developed at the same time as Fury Road, and aside from merely serving as an origin story for the title character first introduced in the last movie, it’s an essential companion piece; the two movies deepen and enrich each other. Taken together, it’s almost impossible to think of them as separate films rather than one grand post-apocalyptic epic, almost like Miller’s own version of Tarantino’s Kill Bills. You really can’t have one without the other.

We first meet Furiosa — who, incidentally, unlike most of the characters in this and the other Mad Maxes, is actually named that rather than earning the name as a badass war-moniker (Thanks, mom and dad!) — in her home, a “place of abundance” called The Green Place. Played as a child by Alyla Browne, she’s precocious, curious, adventurous, and she immediately gets into trouble when she’s spotted and then kidnapped by a band of motorcycle marauders. The mostly wordless opening 15 minutes of the film only hint at the virtuosity about to be displayed as Furiosa’s mother gives chase across the wastelands — both to rescue the girl and to make sure nobody is able to reveal the location of their territory. Eventually, though, Furiosa finds herself the young captive of warlord Dementus, played by Chris Hemsworth as a pompous but brutish and preening demon, complete with honking prosthetic nose and exaggerated accent. The remainder of the movie will be the story of how this young girl grows into the taciturn soldier Charlize Theron established in Fury Road.

It’s almost an hour into this monster when Anya Taylor-Joy takes over the lead role. Now in the service of another disgusting power-seeking dictator, Immortan Joe (Lachy Hulme). It’s easy to see why Miller cast her; it’s a role with very little spoken dialogue, Taylor-Joy’s huge, wide-set eyes doing all of her talking, and we watch as systematically all of the hope is taken out of them in service of revenge. It’s a truly tremendous, physical performance. Taylor-Joy has a tendency to make any character she plays seem a bit unnervingly alien, but here that affect is to the film’s advantage. In execution, it makes her scenes with Tom Burke as Praetorian Jack, one of Joe’s drivers who will eventually become a mentor and confidant, feel almost dreamlike. Hemsworth shouldn’t be underestimated here either; this isn’t just a bad guy version of Thor, but someone who seems convincingly, dangerously cruel and stupid.

And then there’s Miller, whose action is as crystalline as ever — a jaw-dropping mid-film truck chase is as good as if not better than anything in the previous film — and his use of the digital tools available to him now push this even more firmly into pure fantasy storytelling. We get to see the enormous but only previously mentioned GasTown and Bullet Farm, two huge and immaculately realized environments that are clearly stretching the boundaries of current tech. And the action sequences this time around are also more varied, not just trucks vs. cars in a straight line — a late set piece that takes place at the aforementioned Bullet Farm is a marvel of consistent, subliminal geography and sustained suspense. So whereas Fury Road could accurately be described as a two-hour chase scene, Furiosa is something entirely else. It spans years, is broken up into chapters, and the effect makes it almost seem as if the pristine narrative and formal economy of Fury Road was somehow a millstone that has given way to a delirious, extravagant, messy action opera. The most obvious praise to offer here has been observed of Miller films before, and it’s true once again: there’s simply nothing else like Furiosa, and the director is very obviously working on a whole other level.

DIRECTOR: George Miller;  CAST: Anya Taylor-Joy, Chris Hemsworth, Tom Burke, Alyla Browne;  DISTRIBUTOR: Warner Bros.;  IN THEATERS: May 24;  RUNTIME: 2 hr. 28 min.