‘Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga’ Review: Witness Fiery Excellence

Aaron Neuwirth reviews Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga, director George Miller's masterful epic prequel, charting the origin and journey of warrior woman Furiosa and those in her path.
User Rating: 10

Is it possible to top a game-changer? By every metric, “mastermind” George Miller’s Mad Max: Fury Road was a success. A box office hit, winner of multiple Oscars, the number one film on the most critics lists for 2015, let alone voted one of the best films of the past decade. Could a prequel successfully rise out of such a tall shadow? The answer is yes. Having already developed this story in preparation for his fourth Mad Max film, Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga is of a piece with its chronological successor, yet a different sort of beast. It may trade in the straightforward, economical storytelling that made for an incredible chase film, but Furiosa still maintains Miller’s innovative approach to action, a fully realized take on a post-apocalyptic wasteland, and his punk rock attitude toward filmmaking. This movie delivers another opportunity to witness a creative madman at the height of his powers.

As one can tell, this story focuses on Furiosa (played here by Alyla Browne as a child and Anya Taylor-Joy as an adult). We first came to know her in Fury Road, as portrayed by Charlize Theron. That was a fully-formed character essentially reaching the end of her journey. Furiosa serves as a five-part epic prequel, tracking the character’s early years from when she was kidnapped from her home (the Green Place) as a child to the events that shaped her into the strong-willed, resourceful warrior woman hellbent on gaining freedom and revenge.

See Also: ‘John Wick: Chapter 4’ Review: Masterful Mayhem

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The fury in her comes from time spent with Chris Hemsworth’s Dementus, a twisted yet charismatic leader of a biker horde. He’s responsible for the death of Furiosa’s mother (Charlee Fraser). After some time spent together, we eventually see the two somewhat unknowingly engaged in a cat-and-mouse game once Furiosa finds herself in a position to go after her target. At the same time, Dementus is engaged in his own battle for supremacy, as he wants the land controlled by the abominable Immortan Joe (Lachy Hulme stepping in for the late Hugh Keays-Byrne). The audience may think they know who will end up getting what they want, but there’s also the matter of how and whether they can make it epic.

That’s certainly the challenge Miller set upon himself here. While fitted with new lead performers, he ostensibly brought back everyone else in terms of both cast and crew. While the production is a thing of beauty that I can describe in greater detail in a bit, working off a script by Miller and Nico Lathouris, I have a lot of appreciation for not only the storytelling on display here but how it enhances the world first developed in Fury Road. Yes, that may be the fourth Mad Max film, but in terms of creating a running continuity built around who Furiosa is interacting with, this film expands upon characters first introduced in the 2015 blockbuster and does even more to embrace the world-building that comes with revisiting various settings and concepts.

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What makes this one of the best prequels I’ve ever seen is how essential everything feels. There’s joy in having a certain familiarity with references to the previous entry (that’s allowed), but Furiosa never feels as though it’s trying to revel in nostalgic callbacks or cute easter eggs. There’s a purpose to everything on display, which is especially impressive for a 148-minute feature with hardly any fat. When it comes to dialogue, characters say what’s needed and nothing more. Sure, Dementus is the sort of character who likes the sound of his own voice, but this movie understands how to tell a story without losing focus or feeling as though it needs to dump information on the viewer. It’s not quite the modern equivalent of a silent film in the way Fury Road was either, but there’s a good argument that this is the best-written script for a Mad Max universe film yet.

Much of that can be evidenced through the characters. This may be an over-the-top world full of mutated freaks, war boys, and other sub-human curiosities, but Furiosa and Dementus are at the core of this thing, and they are terrific here. As Furiosa, Taylor-Joy is putting in a lot of physical effort to embody the spirit of an iconic character. Not unlike her eventual ally, Max Rockatansky, Furiosa is a woman of few words but conveys so much through her eyes and body language. In the few moments of actual release, having a sense of how her power contrasts with her vulnerability adds even more layers when thinking of how much she wants to resist the evil men she’s had to deal with despite being a natural when playing on their terms.

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Hemsworth is equally up to creating a memorable character, and once again shows (much like in Bad Times at the El Royale) that he’s perfectly adept at taking on an unsavory villainous performance that he easily spices up thanks to his inherent charisma. Fitted with a big nose, a cape, a stuffed bear, leather, and a chariot guided by three motorcycles, it’s a credit to the film that he never feels hammy. There’s a brain to this wild man, and Furiosa grants Dementus the opportunity to show what makes him tick. We get plenty of reasoning for how a man like this could become the leader of such a large horde and equally make it clear that it’s a shaky truce at best with those riding with him.

Of course, when we’re not dealing with the sneaky levels of nuance featured in this film, we are settling in with the incredible ride that is the action on display here. It’s important to note that this is not Mad Max: Fury Road, a film designed to play out as a near-non-stop car chase. However, Furiosa does not lack incredible spectacle either. Filmed all over the Australian deserts, once again, we have multi-level vehicular mayhem featuring a wide assortment of uniquely designed vehicles reflecting the crazy dystopian future society these characters live in.

The stunts featured are fantastic, and even with a higher reliance on visual effects to accomplish certain ideas, Miller is very much the kind of director who knows how to use what’s needed to service what he’s after appropriately (never mind how clear he was that for all the stunt work seen in Fury Road, every shot in that film was digitally-enhanced in some way as well). That said, the wild, practical designs for these fast-moving machines and the details that have made them battle-ready are a true sight to behold.

This is a nice way to talk about Tom Burke for a bit. He plays Praetorian Jack, a high-ranking lieutenant for Immortan Joe. He essentially teaches Furiosa all she needs to know about driving a massive war rig while taking on deadly raiders. In a film with only so much room to stretch within its established continuity, Burke does fine work blending in with this world while adding some clear direction for Furiosa. Also great is how these two work together, which feels like a ballet of sorts as the two navigate their bodies around a massive machine traveling at high speeds to take down enemies coming in via motorcycles, cars, and gliders.

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Now, with these various characters that create a heavily masculine atmosphere that Furiosa must commit herself to, does this movie have the same feminist verve Fury Road was able to tap into? It’s a credit to Miller’s collaborative spirit that while he works so hard to deliver on minimalist ideas by way of maximalist filmmaking, there’s a clear angle that he sees as how to respect his characters. Being a film focused on Furiosa’s journey, there’s a strong balance in watching her show how capable she is, regardless of gender, while still leaning on what makes her stand out and why she would go on to rescue the imprisoned wives of Immortan Joe. Meanwhile, Miller never feels the need to overtly sexualize any of his characters, let alone delve into threats or actions that would demean the characters in unsavory ways. If anything, it speaks, again, to the writing of who these people are and what they are truly after, rather than settle for generic villainy.

Creating radical new action sequences and delivering a compelling story focused on a character you know is not going to complete their journey within this timespan, it’s beyond impressive that Miller, at 79, hardly feels like he’s run out of guzzolene. I can’t speak to what he has planned next, but these films show the kind of vigor and ambition directors just getting out of film school ideally want to show off in their projects. With Furiosa, it’s just a continuation of the sort of brilliance the Oscar-nominated filmmaker has been able to deliver time and time again, whether it’s his signature franchise, a story about a pig in the city, or the memoirs of a Djinn. Whatever the future holds for Miller, I just know he’s done right by Furiosa, as there’s plenty on display for audiences to be in awe and, more importantly, remember her.

Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga opens in theaters and IMAX on May 24, 2024.

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10
Perfect
Written by
Aaron Neuwirth is a movie fanatic and Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic from Orange County, California. He’s a member of the African American Film Critics Association, the Hollywood Critics Association, the Online Film Critics Society, and the Black Film Critics Circle. As an outgoing person who is always thrilled to discuss movies, he’s also a podcaster who has put far too many hours into published audio content associated with film and television. His work has been published at Variety, We Live Entertainment, Why So Blu, The Young Folks, Firstshowing.net, Screen Rant, and Hi-Def Ninja.

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