Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga Review | All Fury, All the Time

by Andrew Parker

Epic filmmaking and spectacle of the highest order, George Miller’s outstanding prequel to his most iconic series of films, Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga, is the type of sprawling narrative audiences aren’t accustomed to seeing these days. It’s the sort of relentless, yet intricately assembled work that feels like it should come with an intermission at the halfway point to give viewers a chance to catch their breath, but it’s even more astounding that Miller gives no quarter and still doesn’t wear people out. Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga might be a fine hair lesser than the previous high marks set by his unlikely multiple Oscar nominated smash Fury Road, but it further reinforces Miller’s status as one of the few true blockbuster level auteurs and a gifted storyteller when it comes to mainstream cinema. If Miller wasn’t on viewer’s Mount Rushmores for the greatest mainstream filmmakers of all time, he certainly should be after this.

Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga follows the early years of one of Fury Road’s chief protagonists, a battle hardened woman living in the post-apocalyptic desert wastelands, struggling to survive and serving the needs of despotic ruler Immortan Joe (Lachy Hulme). Miller begins by depicting Furiosa’s life as a child – played here by exceptional young performer Alyla Browne – who was kidnapped from her family and taken from a once thought mythical “land of abundance” and brought into the world of sleazy warlord-in-the-making Dementus (Chris Hemsworth), an eccentric, verbose madman with long term plans to dominate the resources in the lawless wasteland. As she grows older (played by Anya Taylor-Joy as a young adult), Furiosa becomes an indispensable fighter and mechanic caught between the worlds of Dementus and Immortan Joe, the latter of which would rather see her as a walking baby factor, but the former is someone she desperately wants to exact revenge upon. After surviving for so long in a harsh, cruel world of macho violence, Furiosa finds a sympathetic spirit in the form of a long haul trucker (Tom Burke) who’s willing to help her escape from her current situation.

Furiosa is the kind of film where calling it a saga actually fits. Miller’s latest differentiates itself from all of the other Mad Max entries before it by having a scope and breadth similar to that of an old school biblical epic. Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga owes more to the works of David Lean and Cecil B. DeMille than the sort of Ozploitation b-movies that birthed the franchise in the first place. Miller knows that his material’s themes about global collapse and increased inhumanity towards others is timely (with an opening line of dialogue that succinctly spells out what he wants to get across), and as such the emotional weight hits harder here than it did in Fury Road. With a grander scale and enlarged world to work with, Miller is able to craft a detailed look at a contemporary feeling vision of the future where those seeking power thrive on the abject misery of others. Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga is a surprisingly moving work centred around a broken person who quietly refuses to be subjugated any further.

The visuals and stunts – both physical and vehicular – will leave viewers in an awed state of speechlessness at their ingenuity and elaborate construction, and all of it is held together expertly by the returning team of Oscar winning editors Eliot Knapman and Margaret Sixel. Even when Miller is dispensing necessary dialogue or story exposition, the action rarely lets up, giving viewers the sort of elevated eye candy they’re expecting after Fury Road. There isn’t a skyline that isn’t ominously coloured, or an explosion that isn’t designed to blow the viewer through the back of the theatre with its booming sound design. It’s made to be viewed in a large format cinema where the viewer can be absolutely pummelled. 

But within all this controlled chaos lies the only real dent in Miller’s armour. A fair number of the stunts and high spots within these action sequences feel like Miller is simply running back things that worked well in Fury Road instead of coming up with some new things. Touches here and there feel like rehashes, but that doesn’t mean they don’t still work. There are also a few sequences and shots here and there where the visual effects have a some obvious imperfections and suggest they were bits that didn’t have as much time and energy put into them as the rest of the film. The fact that most of these visual glitches occur outside of the action sequences make them a bit more jarring than they might’ve been otherwise.

The story itself is a bit of a slow burn, but Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga is anything but that when taken as a whole. It’s a smart approach that allows Miller to keep style and substance in lockstep, and give his performers a chance to shine on an equal level to the visuals. Browne carries the early portions of the film, which is no small feat when one considers how physically demanding a character like Furiosa is to play, even at a young age. It’s even harder when Furiosa is essentially mute following the death of her mother, meaning almost all of Browne’s performance is based on physicality and facial expression alone. Her work pairs nicely with what Joy is able to showcase as older Furiosa, a woman of still few words and a lot more actions. Joy has always had a commanding presence on screen, and the role of Furiosa is almost tailor made for someone of her talent level. Hemsworth is clearly having a blast getting a chance to play a ruthless egotist hell bent on destruction, but there’s also a palpable sadness at the heart of Dementus that creeps into his performance at interesting times. Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga is also a wonderful showcase for Burke, one of the finest character actors working today who gets the chance to play someone with more of a conscience than anyone else around him (Furiosa included in that).

To reuse an old chestnut that applies perfectly here, Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga proves that Miller and his franchise still have plenty of gas left in the metaphorical tank. There’s enough storytelling and spectacle here to fuel a dozen blockbusters, and Miller still has the instincts to make sure that his own sense of cinematic overkill isn’t too much for the viewer to handle. Like the best filmmakers, Miller has cracked the code on how to keep an audience perfectly dialled into something that could’ve easily come across as dense or braindead in lesser hands. It’s the work of a true artist, and the fact that it doesn’t achieve the perfection that Fury Road did should in no way be held against it. There’s still nothing else quite like this out there.

Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga opens in theatres everywhere on Friday, May 24, 2024.

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