Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga

Enlisting Anya Taylor-Joy and Chris Hemsworth on a prequel to 'Fury Road', George Miller has made another 'Mad Max' franchise marvel.
Sarah Ward
Published on May 16, 2024


To Valhalla, George Miller went: when Mad Max: Fury Road thundered across and shone upon the silver screen in 2015, and it did both, it gave cinema one of the greatest action movies ever made. It has taken nine years for the Australian filmmaker to back up one of the 21st century's masterpieces with another stunt-filled drive through his dystopian franchise — a realm that now dates back 45 years, with Mad Max first envisaging a hellscape Down Under in 1979 — and he's achieved the immensely enviable. Fury Road and Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga's white-hued, silver-lipped war boys pray to gain entry to a mythological dreamscape just once, but Miller keeps returning again and again (only 1985's Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome, in a now five-film series that also includes 1981's Mad Max 2, is anything less than heavenly). 

"The question is: do you have what it takes to make it epic?" Miller has Chris Hemsworth (Thor: Love and Thunder) ask in Furiosa as biker-horde leader Dementus, he of the post-apocalyptic Thor-meets-Roman gladiator look and chariot-by-motorcycle mode of transport. Returning to all things Mad Max after an affecting detour to 2022's djinn fable Three Thousand Years of Longing, the writer/director might've been posing himself the same query — and he resoundingly answers in the affirmative. An origin story-spinning prequel has rarely felt as essential as this unearthing of its namesake's history, which Fury Road hinted at when it introduced Furiosa (then played by Charlize Theron, Fast X) and made her the movie's hero above and beyond Mad Max (Tom Hardy, Venom: Let There Be Carnage). Discovering the full Furiosa tale felt imperative then, too, and with good reason: Miller had already planned the figure's own film to flesh out her background before her celluloid debut, and that she existed well past her interactions with Max was always as apparent as the steely glare that said everything without words.

Now with both Anya Taylor-Joy (The Super Mario Bros Movie) and Alyla Browne (The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart) playing the lead, Furiosa is an act of seeing how sands shift. Time, terrors and tragedy sweep through Furiosa's life, moulding her into Fury Road's formidable figure — and the grains blasted around by the years, and the trials and tribulations, assist with the shaping. As exceptional as Theron was, owning her time in the role and the film that she was in, Miller was smart to recast with Taylor-Joy rather than deploying digital de-ageing. His new Furiosa doesn't mimic her predecessor, but evolves into her take on the character, including via fierce and anxious eye emoting beneath slicks of grease in a frequently wordless performance. Browne is also excellent, and equally as determined. Furiosa has chosen all of its key talents wisely; in a showcase turn, Hemsworth peacocks and drips evil like he's never had so much fun on screen, while Tom Burke (Living) is commandingly stoic as Praetorian Jack, a war rig pilot and a thoughtful mentor.

When Browne begins the film as Furiosa, The Green Place of Many Mothers and the Vuvalini, its matriarchal custodians, are the character's safe haven and guiding forces — blissfully so. But she's resourceful, knowing to sever the fuel line on the bike of roving scavengers to stop them from finding her home. The girl that audiences already know will become an Imperator under The Citadel warlord Immortan Joe (Three Thousand Years of Longing's Lachy Hulme, taking over from the now-late Hugh Keays-Byrne) — and will then secret away his captive wives, each treated as little more than human breeding stock — can't stop the raiders from snatching her up, however. Their hope: impressing the volatile Dementus, who rides across the desert with a teddy bear strapped to him, with living proof that more than the wasteland's dust and savagery exists. 

Furiosa's world-building first hour spends its time with its protagonist as a plucky pre-teen trying to escape back to her mother Mary Jabassa (Charlee Fraser, Anyone But You) — who is in swift pursuit — and then internalising the trauma of becoming her captor's adoptee as he plots dominance guided by sheer arrogance, entitlement, cruelty and buffoonery (Hemsworth wears his bluster as well as he does red capes, which he amusingly isn't done with in this move away from Marvel). She's still a girl when Dementus and his gang arrive at The Citadel, where she's traded into Immortan Joe's care. Fifteen years pass in Miller and Fury Road co-scribe Nick Lathouris' new narrative, but Taylor-Joy's step into Furiosa's shoes leaves the character no less enterprising and consumed by anger at a world where everything that she loves has been taken from her. Max Rockatansky was a vigilante, after all — and, as shot in Australia for the first time since Beyond Thunderdome, Miller is still making a vengeance story here. 

"We are the already dead, Little D, you and me," Dementus will tell Furiosa later. This remains a movie where speeding along dirt roads in the vehicular equivalents of Frankenstein's monster — tinkered together road trains ferrying arms from the Bullet Farm and petrol from Gas Town — is an eye-popping high-octane spectacle, but it's also one where pain, grief and, yes, fury run deep. With Aussie accents everywhere, and a sunburnt country that's inching closer to reflecting reality every day baking parched sights into the Simon Duggan (Disenchanted)-lensed frames, Furiosa doesn't forget that it's in a franchise about ecocide, what humanity robs from itself by committing it and what it takes to endure afterwards. Fury Road didn't, either, but by adding more room between the on-the-road chaos, its prequel buzzes and thrums with the urgency and immediacy of survival, and also lets the weight of Furiosa's plight land. 

With Oscar-winning editor Margaret Sixel (Happy Feet) and costume designer Jenny Beavan (Cruella) both back — the first working with Eliot Knapman (a second assistant editor last time) and whipping up action sequences as frenetic as ever, the second in vintage form — Miller has top-notch help etching stunning sights into cinema history again. Although Furiosa isn't just one long pedal-to-the-metal display, it's still filled with them. A mid-movie 15-minute setpiece is as tremendous as Mad Max flicks get. While CGI leaves bigger tyre marks this time, there's an apt air to the glossier look versus Fury Road's lived-in aesthetics, reflecting Furiosa's journey. The wasteland and its horrors greet her afresh in this film, but they're as caked on as mud when she's an Imperator. It also feels fitting that Furiosa arrives, finally, in a year that sand has already stretched across screens as far as could be seen in Dune: Part Two, and also revenge has fuelled Love Lies Bleeding and Monkey Man and Boy Kills World. Making the vast, primal and eternal feel vivid and shiny and new keeps proving Miller's 00s-era Mad Max wheelhouse — and what a treat, what a lovely treat, it makes for viewers.


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