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Furiosa- A Mad Max Saga.jpg

Can 'Furiosa' Live Up to the Perfection of 'Mad Max: Fury Road'?

By Jason Adams | Film | May 25, 2024 |

By Jason Adams | Film | May 25, 2024 |

Furiosa- A Mad Max Saga.jpg

The maestro of cinematic mayhem George Miller has been zig-zagging his crazy camera across the wasteland of his own making for a full 45 years now, the original Mad Max film having premiered in Australia in April of 1979. And he shows no signs of slowing down that roll with Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga, the fifth and supposedly not-at-all-final film in the franchise, which is slamming full speed into screens this weekend. The most sprawling entry in the series to date (in both story and length), Furiosa is indeed big and it’s loud and it’s epic as hell … but it’s also (no I really don’t want to type this either!) a bit of a let-down.

Perhaps this was inevitable in retrospect, coming as it does off of what just might be the greatest action movie ever made. 2015’s Mad Max: Fury Road was an immediate masterpiece. Relentless, visionary, like nothing else before it (including the three previous Mad Max movies), Fury Road introduced us to an entire motorcade of outrageous characters. Ones that Miller and his actors somehow managed to make us care about, and profoundly, in between all of the film’s blazing sound and fury. Nothing but a single chase scene, one time across the desert and one time back again, and the film is perfect. Full stop.

Charlize Theron in particular, with a shaved head, greased-up forehead, and robot arm, weathered an endless nightmare shoot in Namibia to produce a movie icon for the ages in her Imperator Furiosa. The feminine yang to Tom Hardy’s rebooted Max, she brought life into the desert—heart and soul and compassion where the myth of the solitary loner had previously thrived. You believed she carried “the green place” within her, and that in her wake life could and would find a way. Even if she had to murder every son of a bitch who stood in her path in order to make that happen. And all of that with only the smallest dollops of dialogue and backstory provided. “I was taken as a child” was all we needed. Theron’s eyes said the rest.

Miller had already written Furiosa’s backstory out in luxurious detail before filming a frame of Fury Road, though, and you can’t blame him for wanting to tell the story that this prequel tells—hell, you can’t blame any of us for wanting to head back out into the wasteland with Furiosa for two and a half hours into this mad mad mad world of Miller’s making. It’s one of a kind, and it remains so, and it seems criminal even as I skirt my way around it to complain about “more of the same” when Miller continues to be such a singular filmmaker. And yet! Here we are. And something in Furiosa still left me wanting.

The film begins with us flash-backed to Furiosa as a young girl (played by a terrific Alyla Browne), who’s having a nice peaceful time of it in the very same “green place” that the adult version of the character would spend the entirety of Fury Road trying and failing to return to. An Edenic world of waterfalls and fruit trees nestled in the belly of a rock formation, we’re scarcely four minutes into the picture before lil’ Furiosa’s being ripped from the comfort of this womb. Three invaders on motorbikes snatch her up and speed off across the desert, intent on using the girl as blush-cheeked proof of a hidden nirvana for the thirsty assholes back at their camp.

Furiosa’s mother and another of the Vuvalini (those being the “many mothers” that we met as kick-ass elderly women in Fury Road) make chase after the kidnappers, and—in one of the film’s many thrilling chase sequences-it becomes a sort of deadly game of tag, with a hog-tied Furiosa getting passed from one biker to the next as the women successfully mow them down. But, woe of prequels everywhere, we already know well enough the women’s efforts will be for naught. And before long Furiosa finds herself in the camp’s clutches, being stared down like a tasty blood sausage by a rubber-nosed Chris Hemsworth as the gang’s leader Dementus, spraying all the thunder-spit that Thor studiously avoided. (Which is to say that Hemsworth is having one hell of a time.)

Broken up into chapters that detail the important passages of Furiosa’s life, it was perhaps the only wise choice available to Miller, given the earlier film’s success and perfection—to make this a film that feels the opposite of that one’s non-stop thrill-ride. The word “Saga” in Furiosa’s subtitle feels in retrospect less about placing the film in context of the entire franchise than it does about contextualizing this film within itself. Furiosa itself is a saga. It yearns for the sweep of detailing an entire life.

The problem ends up being that a lot of what Miller and co-writer Nick Lathouris came up with detail-wise was either inferred well enough already by Fury Road, and so it ends up feeling redundant or fan-service-y, or it comes out weirdly half-baked. Which is to say, getting to my point, that there’s a massive plot-hole throbbing smack-dab at the center of Furiosa. One that the film needlessly fumbles until it becomes cripplingly distracting to this reviewer across its winding second half.

See, before long Furiosa becomes a pawn between Dementus and a slightly younger but no less deranged-looking Immortan Joe (the villain of Fury Road fame, here played by Lachy Hulme). Joe’s sitch is much the same as it was in the earlier film—he already reigns over the Citadel’s water supply with his army of chrome-loving War Boys, and he’s got a bank vault full of wives buried deep in his mountain tasked with birthing him an heir. Dementus wants some of what Joe’s got—namely water and power. While Joe sees the healthy young girl standing at Dementus’ side and, shades of Ally McBeal, gets visions of healthy babies dancing in his head.

Furiosa’s transactional status as a girl (and eventually a breeder once Anya Taylor-Joy smoothly slides into the role) in the world that Miller created is integral to our understanding of it. The wasteland of men, newsflash, isn’t a great place for women! So you’ll excuse me for becoming flummoxed by the film when, at about its midpoint, it seems to throw its hands in the air and stop caring about or explaining anything with regards to that. The biggest question that this prequel had set in front of it isn’t actually the loss of Furiosa’s arm—it’s just how the hell does Furiosa change her status from Joe’s slave to Joe’s trusted driver? And the movie just kind of… jumps right past that?

Granted, there are several steps to the process, ones that involve years passing and Furiosa getting her Yentl on among the Citadel’s working class. But each one of those steps only serves to underline the arc’s incoherence. This portion of the film is positively Swiss-cheese-ian in its approach to character behaviors—are Joe and everyone else not supposed to know it’s Furiosa in disguise? Or do they know and suddenly, for some reason, not care? The script’s insistence on ignoring the sleek blonde elephant in the room stalls its momentum—suddenly no one’s actions seem comprehensible. You keep waiting for a shoe to drop that never does.

If Furiosa wants to insist it, unlike Fury Road, is indeed a Saga—a study of how its character became—then it needed to pay some more mind to its steps. But across its second half, the film just becomes Fury Road multiplied—instead of the simple back-and-forth of Fury Road’s construction, here we start ricocheting within a triangle of destinations (the Citadel and the previously-mentioned-but-unseen Gastown and Bullet Farm) with very little attention paid to why. We lose our grip. Everyone suddenly feels like ants scattered across a map, twisting in the wind.

And so, for all of the many profound pleasures that there are forever embedded in watching George Miller visualize his personal brand of mayhem on a scale beyond imagining, something in Furiosa really ends up feeling lacking. The pieces are all there, but they don’t quite snap into place. The thing that’s made watching Miller work such a seat-of-your-pants thrill has always been the control of his chaos. There might be dust-storm tornadoes shooting out lightning while a dozen characters caught up in it scream gibberish at one another, but George Miller made you understand it all dammit. Furiosa, for all of its grandly staged entertainment, feels like the wheel slipped.