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Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga — All tracks lead to Fury Road

Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga — All tracks lead to Fury Road
Anya Taylor-Joy takes over the role of Furiosa, first played by Charlize Theron, in Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga. (Image: Warner Bros Pictures)

Featuring a contender for best action scene of the year, if not decade, Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga is rock-solid blockbuster entertainment for adults. However, caged narratively by its prequel status, Furiosa isn’t as compelling as the adrenalin-charged masterpiece that is Mad Max: Fury Road.

The fundamental problem with prequels is that you’re boxed in narratively. Events of a known story have to be set up. So, in the case of Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga, the audience knows in the opening minutes of this parched, dystopian actioner that when the title character is abducted as a child from the lush Green Place by desert raiders, she won’t be finding her way home in this movie.

Why would you watch then? 

Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga answers several unexplored questions raised by 2015’s Mad Max: Fury Road, the multi-Oscar winner where the character of Furiosa was introduced and played by a ferociously determined Charlize Theron. Why was Furiosa not one of the cloistered wives of warlord Immortan Joe? How did she become Joe’s lone woman lieutenant and most respected commander? How did she lose her arm?

Nine years later, these topics, and more, are covered in the prequel Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga, with Anya Taylor-Joy stepping in to play the younger Furiosa. However, while it’s enjoyable to be back in filmmaker George Miller’s sand-blasted, sometimes surreal, universe – the director, writer and producer drives this fifth entry in the Mad Max franchise too – this “fill the gaps” instalment is not as compelling as its predecessor. 

Delving into the socio-political-economic context of a future where water, petrol and bullets are the primary currency is interesting, the film enters the three settlement seats of power. However, the plot doesn’t compare with a group of women trying to outrace the despot who kept them prisoner for breeding purposes. For the record, the prequel scampers away from the rape content without pretending it isn’t a reality.

Ultimately, Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga is good, but it is no Fury Road.

In fact, the new movie is typically most impactful when it brings back the elements that made its forerunner an instant genre classic, such as Fury Road’s signature acceleration camera zoom and pounding Junkie XL soundtrack. Mostly, Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga makes one want to rewatch Fury Road, which never dropped its revs. By comparison, Furiosa slips into a pattern of accelerating furiously and slamming on the brakes. 

Oddly straightforward and sane

Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga is at its best when it goes into action mode. (Image: Warner Bros Pictures)

Anya Taylor-Joy turns in a competent performance as an action hero in Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga. (Image: Warner Bros Pictures)

Filmmaker George Miller plunges audiences back into the dystopian Max Mad universe nine years after the release of Fury Road with prequel Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga. (Image: Warner Bros Pictures)

Chris Hemsworth revels in playing Dementus in Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga. (Image: Jasin Boland / Warner Bros Pictures)

In its defence, the film has decades to cover in its two-hour and 20-minute-plus runtime, but that often means skipping more intriguing chapters in Furiosa’s life, prompting fresh questions and reducing a whole war into a one-minute montage. Also, in ticking off boxes on its route from A to B, the new film is oddly straightforward and sane. The Mad Max films have always been boisterously unhinged, and that only really applies here to an incompressible scene involving a bomb activation code and nipple clamps.

Central to the above-mentioned scene is Chris Hemsworth, playing new character Dementus, leader of the Biker Horde. Just as Furiosa took centre stage in Mad Max: Fury Road instead of the title character, here Dementus often overshadows Furiosa, devouring every scene in which he appears, with Hemsworth partially disguised under a prosthetic nose and great big beard. Dementus is no hero, though. As Furiosa’s life-ruining nemesis, he is perhaps a commentary on flashy, flamboyant and relatively incompetent leaders who are no less dangerous for their failings. 

While Immortan Joe commands fanatical devotion from his followers, Dementus has set himself up as a saviour figure for his people. Sometimes generous, sometimes cruel, he’s more a self-obsessed feudal lord, riding around in a motorcycle chariot with jester and sage in tow, while he’s dressed in a parachute cape, with a child’s teddy bear strapped to his belt. Hemsworth clearly had fun, and his colourful, unconventionally evil villain acts as a foil for Taylor-Joy’s reticent lead character. 

On that note, the actress makes an extremely competent and convincing action hero; she may not have brawn but makes up for it with survival instinct and a crackshot aim.

When Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga is in action gear, the film is at its strongest. In fact, it includes a contender for best action scene of the year, if not the decade, where a fortified, manned tanker known as the War Rig is attacked by raiders during a supply run.

Featuring big “cash-in-transit robbery” energy, at no point do any of the vehicles and aircraft stop, and the lengthy sequence is coherent, meticulously choreographed and exciting at a visceral level. The same goes for the film’s other vehicular action beats, though they do spotlight the night-and-day contrast between the stunt work and practical effects, and their very unconvincing (and possibly unnecessary) CGI enhancements. The latter are distractingly janky at times.

There is a lot that is good about Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga. Judged on its own merits, it’s solid blockbuster entertainment for adults and works as standalone viewing.

Once again, you can’t fault the intricately conceived production design. But it is hard not to compare the film unfavourably to the masterpiece that is Mad Max: Fury Road. Even the feminist themes are more subdued this time around, with interactions between the female characters dialled way down. 

Movie fans should maybe watch Furiosa first, and then Fury Road, to save the best for last. DM

Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga has been in cinemas, including IMAX, from 24 May.

This article was first published on PFangirl

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