Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga (2024)

Mad Max: Fury Road is not just a movie for me, it is without a doubt one of my favorite movies of all time, and watching any moment of this 2015 masterpiece elicits pure, unrestrained joy, a feeling of elevation pure and simple. It’s the kind of euphoric response we all look for with art and, tragically, find too rarely, and for me, Fury Road is my divine experience. Even after having watched the movie over a dozen times, I can still slip it on and feel the same rising excitement, amusement, and happiness like it was all happening for the first time. I was a fan of director George Miller’s other wild post-apocalyptic entries, but Fury Road was different, as also evidenced by the fact that it nabbed six Oscars that year and was also nominated for Best Director for Miller and Best Picture. The totality of this artistic achievement seems certainly impossible to replicate. Over decades of development, Miller and his many collaborators fashioned plenty of material about life in the deserted Wasteland and its colorful characters battling for survival among the scavenged scraps of humanity, so there was always more room for more stories. That’s what brings us to Furiosa, the prequel explaining the back-story that turned a child prisoner into the ferocious one-armed Imperator of Immortan Joe. As a Fury Road super fan, I was hoping against hope to feel a little bit of that same unique artistic high again.

Young Furiosa (Anna Taylor-Joy) is kidnapped from her mother and sold into slavery. Her main tormentor, Dementus (Chris Hemsworth), is the head of a marauding biker gang. Furiosa spends years rising through Immortan Joe’s ranks to gain her vengeance.

This is not Fury Road, to its benefit, and Furiosa is inexorably linked to Fury Road, which is also a mixed blessing. I kept telling myself, “It’s not Fury Road, and nothing can be, so don’t hold it to that standard.” Furiosa is not Fury Road. It’s slower, longer, and more plot heavy, taking its time to build around the edges of the world we were introduced to in 2015. Miller spends much of those two-plus hours filling in the missing pieces and histories of the other communities, like Gastown and the Bullet Farm, as well as the factional war between the different warlords and their territories. We also get an opening set in the much-heralded Green Place before it becomes the spoiled swamps. We get to see the construction of the war rig over time (it’s so shiny and chrome before collecting all that grime and singing). It fills out the wider world of Fury Road as well as the character connections and conflicts, so for those fans who felt Fury Road was lacking in its world building and overall plotting (the oft-spoken complaint that the movie is all about a woman turning left), this new movie might prove more appealing.

For me, dear reader, it made me reflect how Fury Road just hits the ground running and doesn’t let up, providing clues to the larger dystopian world that it lets you piece together, and I did. It was sufficient for me to get a sense of this world and its ongoing relationships and conflicts. What was implied in Fury Road is explicit in Furiosa, although there’s still plenty elided, like when we’re shown the 40-Day Wasteland War but only as a quick montage of violent images. In some ways, it reminds me of a director’s cut where the added material feels a tad secondary by nature, adding some better context and shaping but making you question whether that context was needed. Because the movie is tied to the events of Fury Road it can’t help but exist in its mighty shadow, ending in a very Rogue One fashion as it immediately sets up the story to be handed off, with clips from Fury Road playing throughout the end credits. I’m glad it wasn’t merely trying to replicate the same kind of entertainment as Fury Road, but I can’t help but feel slightly disappointed with Furiosa as it feels a bit overlong, unfocused, and extraneous.

Miller’s dystopia is crazy and unique and the mayhem is energetic and enchanting, so I’ll happily spend two more hours in this gonzo Aussie universe, and while the highs might not be as uniformly high as my experience with Fury Road, there’s still a significant entertainment value in returning to this extraordinary world. Is there anything that comes close to the sheer glory of the action of Fury Road? Well, no. The action sequences are solid with a few nifty moments of sustained imagination and intensity, like the war rig’s first run that combats against raiders floating around their targeted prize in parachutes. I felt similar rousing feelings of discovery and immersion. The Bullet Farm attack has some great moving pieces that culminates in the biggest destruction of the movie. The action is still fun and morbidly cheeky, even if the effects used feel a little more cleanly green screen prevalent this time atop the moving vehicles. Fury Road is a monumental achievement and testament to the lasting appeal of practical in-camera effects, but it heavily used computer generated effects too, primarily for cleaning up the wire work as well as enhancing and replacing backgrounds. So the inclusion of computer effects in Furiosa isn’t new for the franchise, but it feels more noticeable and thus mildly distracting. It’s all intentionally smaller-scaled even as it’s looking at a wider scope of its weird universe.

The most interesting part of Furiosa is its primary villain, a wannabe fascist gang leader who proves repeatedly to be incompetent. Dementus has great presence, large and imposing and being drawn by a literal chariot of motorcycles. Hemsworth (Thor: Love and Thunder) is great and clearly having a ball, but what I loved even more about this villainous rogue is how hilariously bad he is at management. He’s the feared leader of a gang angling for respect and power, but he’s incapable of being more than posturing and sloganeering, and his huckster carny voice only solidifies this shading. He’s an unpredictable character, an agent of chaos, and he even undermines the established order of Immortan Joe and the other warlords who disdain him. I enjoyed little character touches like he keeps changing his moniker, going from Dr. Dementus to the Red Dementus (after being too close to a flare gun explosion). I appreciated that the final confrontation is also the talkiest scene in the entire movie, allowing both members ample time to state their perspectives, animosity, and fascination with one another (“No shame in hate. It’s one of the greatest forces of nature”). However, this climactic showdown 140 minutes in the making could have been even more impactful had the sprawling script not shelved Dementus for so long. This character drops out for long stretches of the movie and his absence is dearly missed.

Originally, Miller intended to have Charlize Theron reprise her role as Furiosa by using cutting-edge de-aging computer effects, but after seeing 2019’s The Irishman he reconsidered (good call, George). In steps wide-eyed Anna Taylor Joy, who acquits herself fine, though doesn’t show up as the (younger) adult Furiosa for maybe forty-five minutes. This version of Furiosa speaks very minimally, so much of her intensity must be delivered through her eyes, so why not hire an actress with such striking and large eyes? The whites of her eyes are so notable that it reminded me of cartoons where we see floating white eyeballs whenever it’s unrepentantly dark. She also sounds exceptionally close to Theron’s voice at a few spots that it made me do a double-take.

Furiosa lacks the streamlined beauty of Fury Road, its immediacy and visceral energy that radiates from being dropped into the madness and keeping things in propulsive motion. It was also Miller’s first trip back to the Wasteland since 1985’s Beyond Thunderdome, so it was a 30-year leap for Miller to expand his crazy artistic vision onto an even broader modern canvas. Each one of the Mad Max films have existed on a mythical plane, eschewing ongoing continuity and treating Max like a drifter coming into a strange new world and aiding people in need. This is the first Mad Max movie, also minus Max, that attempts to connect to one of the other movies, and in doing so it’s less about creating its own identity than modifying an established identity. It’s different but also lesser. This is a longer and slower movie, but it’s also got fun action and zany humor and visual decadence. There is far more plot and world building, but it’s also only mildly interesting and too attenuated, feeling like fat cut off from the non-stop action movie sizzle that is Fury Road. I can declare Furiosa as a good movie and also a mild disappointment as well, but that’s coming from a Fury Road super fan. Perhaps I am merely coming to terms with my expectations being overinflated, to try and stubbornly catch that magic feeling once again. Witness me and celebrate Miller’s latest as it also makes me celebrate Fury Road even more.

Nate’s Grade: B

This review originally ran on Nate’s own review site Nathanzoebl. Check it out for hundreds of excellent reviews!

(Visited 26 times, 1 visits today)