Operatic Furiosa Is Bigger, But Not Better, Than Fury Road. That's Still More Than Enough | CBC News

Entertainment·REVIEW

George Miller’s latest instalment in the Mad Max series is heavily dependent upon its predecessor, Fury Road — but still claims the title as one of the best prequels of all time.

George Miller’s Mad Max: Fury Road prequel isn’t perfect — but it is fantastic

Jackson Weaver · CBC News

· Posted: May 24, 2024 4:00 AM EDT | Last Updated: May 24

Anya Taylor-Joy as Furiosa in the action adventure Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga. The film relies heavily on Fury Road, but still qualifies as one of the best prequels of all time. (Warner Bros. Pictures)Even in the face of the murder, explosions, subterranean cannibals and more murder, writer and director George Miller says Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga is a hopeful movie — one with a question it intended to answer. 

“Are we doomed to keep fighting wars, and [to] have aggression against each other? Are we? Or is there hope?” he asked CBC.

It’s a pretty lofty ambition for a franchise essentially built on explosions, mutated pustules and a guy named Toecutter. 

But utilizing his beautifully weird, legend-obsessed writing style, Furiosa is a fantastic evolution of Miller’s vision. It is an operatic expansion of the storytelling potential of Mad Max’s “western on wheels” — the now five-part cinematic universe based around a marauding stranger eking out an existence in a V-8 worshipping world falling apart after a nuclear holocaust. 

And while stuffed with nearly as much dieselpunk coolness as its direct predecessor, Fury Road, Miller leans way into the hero’s journey, testing the limits of how much complexity an obsessively action-oriented movie can get away with. 

WATCH | Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga is all about hope, George Miller says:

Is Furiosa apocalyptic? Actually, it’s all about hope, Mad Max creator saysDirector George Miller created the world of Mad Max over four decades ago. Despite its setting, he told CBC News that Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga is all about humanity.

Furiosa bears similarities to virtually all post-apocalyptic stories: a wafer-thin warning of what seems like an ever-present Armageddon, with a message to maintain our humanity even in the darkest of times. That convincing — if somewhat simple — cliche gets tangled up with a story that’s more disjointed than the prior film’s clear trajectory barrelling straight across the desert. 

Combine that with fewer innovations like war boys or guitar-strapped Doof Warriors, Furiosa does operate less like a Godfather II, and more a Lion King 1 ½ — an in-between prequel intended more to shore up the narrative roof of Fury Road than build on top of it.

With those relative shortcomings in mind, it makes it especially useful that Furiosa also happens to be one of the best prequels of all time. 

Of course, all that would’ve been impossible without Miller’s new star. As the first Mad Max film to dive into Australia’s post-apocalyptic wasteland without the titular Max Rockatansky at its helm, Furiosa follows its new title character — played this time mostly by The Queen’s Gambit star Anya Taylor-Joy — on an odyssey that is, at least spiritually, connected to that other protagonist.

Taylor-Joy, left, appears with director George Miller on the set of Furiosa. (Jasin Boland/Warner Bros. Pictures)After Furiosa’s introduction in Fury Road (portrayed by Charlize Theron), here, Taylor-Joy gets her crack at the rogue warrior bent on escaping a warlord back to the home she was stolen from. 

The story spans from her early days as a fiery, willful youth. But growing up in one of the last green spaces the Australian outback has left to offer, the young Furiosa is quickly kidnapped by a roving biker gang.

From there, she begins a journey that vastly stretches the time-constraints of a typical Mad Max saga. First brought to the parachute-clad, teddy-bear toting gang’s leader Dr. Dementus (Chris Hemsworth), Furiosa is quickly caught up in a power struggle. As Dementus’s crew stumbles on the Citadel, a massive enclave run by Fury Road’s antagonist, Immortan Joe, a skirmish turns into a stalemate, then turns into a war — one that plays out over years, as Furiosa grows, hides and develops a frightening desire for vengeance and yearning for home.

The performances here are particularly impressive. Though Taylor-Joy is given no more than three dozen lines, her presence and fiery stares more than hold the whole thing together.

Meanwhile, Hemsworth reprises a delightfully terrifying villainy not seen since his turn in Bad Times at the El Royale. In a near-Shakespearean monologue about the nature of vengeance and survival toward the end of the film, he transforms into a sort of meld between The Walking Dead’s Negan and The Dark Knight’s Joker.

Chris Hemsworth appears as Dr. Dementus in Furiosa. Hemsworth’s performance is one of the standout elements of Miller’s newest Mad Max installment. (Jasin Boland/Warner Bros. Pictures)At the same time, Furiosa nearly matches the intensity of the action in Fury Road: one 15-minute war-rig chase scene apparently took over 70 days to film, and feels almost like at any moment you could fly off the side of the truck yourself. 

But the film itself is doing so much more than others in the franchise — both to its credit and its detriment. While a general hatred of dialogue worked well for the straightforward Fury Road, it can make Furiosa hard to follow at times.  

Ping-ponging through the events of someone’s life, while chasing after her evolving worldview and shifting goals and simultaneously following a growing political schism is something that might lend itself more to theatre. Instead, Furiosa leaves audiences trying to make sense out of a shrub on a cliff face slowly growing through a discarded wig. 

And though Miller’s message is clear, its oft-repeated theme (seen in everything from 2012, to War of the Worlds, The Road, A Quiet Place, Silent Night, The Walking Dead and a whole bargain bin full of others) undercuts the franchise’s value. There have always been messages of hope and redemption — and warnings of climate disaster — in the telling of Mad Max, but here Miller opts for the same parable that makes many post-apocalyptic stories near unwatchable.

Furiosa’s characters are perpetually asked how much of their humanity they’ll sacrifice to stay alive. And the overt answer it gives is convincing, but already so overdone it hardly feels worth including. 

For all that Furiosa injects into the Fury Road formula in an effort to say something more intriguing, perhaps it should just stick to the driving. 

Given that it so clearly exists in tandem with, and relies so heavily on Fury Road that it ends with a post credit collage of that film, Furiosa can’t be called perfect. But given the high bar of that comparison, and the incredible achievements it manages, it’s still a hell of a good time.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jackson Weaver is a senior writer for CBC Entertainment News. You can reach him at jackson.weaver@cbc.ca, or follow him on Twitter at @jacksonwweaver

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