'Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga' review: George Miller's blazing action folktale might just have outdone 'Fury Road'

'Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga' review: George Miller's blazing action folktale might just have outdone 'Fury Road'
Durch: Mashable Erstellt am: Mai 15, 2024 anzeigen: 12

A bombastic wasteland folktale, George Miller's Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga is an ingenious, eye-popping prequel to his near-perfect action romp Mad Max: Fury Road. While it revisits several characters and locations we've already seen, it's also a wildly different beast, one that replaces its predecessor's mile-a-minute chase structure with a years-spanning story that elevates the series' operatic imagery to the level of biblical myth.

Furiosa is vicious and pulsating despite taking its time. Like the four prior Mad Max movies, it isn't concerned with the confines of continuity, though it still makes for a satisfying coda to Fury Road. The nuances Charlize Theron brought to her angel of vengeance are enhanced by the prequel's story beats, and complemented by the two different actresses playing the character, much the way Tom Hardy took over the part of Max from Mel Gibson. Alyla Browne and Anya Taylor-Joy embody her as an adolescent and a young adult, respectively, while telling the macabre tale of how she was separated from her tribe, and how she lost her arm.

Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures

Across the movie's nearly two and a half hours, the character builds herself anew in a world of metallic mayhem and surreal desert madness. The result is major: an emotionally raw, physically tactile Hollywood picture with veins pumped full of adrenaline and gasoline. It's one of the best, most complete, and most affecting Hollywood action films in several years — probably since Fury Road itself. In short: Mad Miller has done it again.

What is Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga about?

Miller delivers an audacious mission statement by opening in the fabled "Green Place," a paradise mentioned in Fury Road but never seen. He presents a lush, inviting refuge from the desert wasteland that's almost immediately defiled by a gang of skull-masked scavengers, in an action scene rife with under-cranked push-ins, imbuing the frame with hyperactive jitters reminiscent of Silent-era classics. Miller's vision is clear from the get-go: Furiosa is a new perspective on a familiar story, told with uncontainable energy.  

A precocious young Furiosa (Browne) tries to protect her home, but is swiftly kidnapped by these savage bikers, who hope to use her as living proof of this place of abundance when reporting back to their rulers. Browne plays Furiosa for nearly the first hour of the movie, and deserves as much credit as Taylor-Joy — who takes over as our heroine in the second half — for her resilient performance at the tender age of 12. However, the star of the movie's initial act is arguably Charlee Fraser as Mary Jabassa, Furiosa's mother, though it never answers the question of whether she's Furiosa's biological or even adopted mother, or whether "mother" is simply an honorific used by their clan, the matriarchal Vuvalini. They were, of course, referred to as "The Many Mothers" in Fury Road, so the real answer is that it doesn't matter. They share a bond of love, embodied by Mary's tireless bike chase across the unforgiving desert to retrieve Furiosa.

Where Fury Road felt like one long chase with occasional lulls, Furiosa immediately takes a different approach. Its introductory chase scene stops and starts at regular intervals, so that Mary can pause to gather equipment and exchange bike parts using the scraps left over by fallen scavengers. Each beat involves a moment of calculation — of taking something while leaving something else behind, micro-decisions that slowly inform the sequence as a whole. If Fury Road began with Furiosa having already made the most choice decision of her life — betraying the Immortan Joe by rescuing his captive wives — Furiosa is about the many decisions that led up to this moment, made by Furiosa herself, and by the small handful of people she came to trust.

Vehicles race through the desert in
Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures

The heroic Mary is outnumbered and outgunned by the bikers, who eventually kill her and take Furiosa to their warlord: the Great Dementus (a nasally Chris Hemsworth, firing on all cylinders). Given the tragedies he's faced, it turns out the ambitious bandit leader has a soft spot for Furiosa, so he makes her his ward, though he forces her to bear witness to his cruelty. His foes and followers alike are thrust into brutal war games — his own little open-air Thunderdomes, which usually end in dismemberment — further enhancing the idea that surviving the wasteland is a matter of cunning calculus.

Eventually, Dementus passes through the Citadel from Fury Road, where Furiosa ends up in hiding as one of the Immortan's cultist War Boys — at which point a fierce and unwavering Taylor-Joy takes the character's reins, fleshing her out through stern, determined silence (Furiosa has no more than a few dozen lines). Stuck between a rock and a hard place, she's left with little choice but to serve the Immortan (played by Lachy Hulme, who replaces the late Hugh Keays-Byrne) in order to keep her long-term promise of returning home without anyone learning about the Green Place. All the while, she also plots her reprisal against Dementus, who enters into an uneasy business proposition with the Immortan. Her objectives of revenge and return occasionally align, but they eventually clash in ways that force her to make even more difficult decisions.

Much of the aforementioned plot can be gleaned from the trailers — that Furiosa is a prequel means she will inevitably end up the Immortan's right hand, his "Imperator" — but the movie's bygone conclusions never rob it of its ferocity. Instead, Miller enters into a sadistic game of expectations by playing with narrative point of view.

Furiosa is a fable narrated from the future.

Like the tribal children's "Tells" in Beyond Thunderdome, and the Feral Kid revealing himself to be narrator of Mad Max 2, Furiosa follows the series' adherence to oral tradition in the form of an elderly shaman (George Shevtsov) imprisoned by Dementus. Tattooed head to toe with stories, this "History Man" — a concept mentioned in Fury Road and detailed in its tie-in comics — is charged with recording and retelling events he witnesses firsthand, including Furiosa's arrival as a young girl, and her eventual revenge quest against her captors.

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That the film is composed of the History Man's recollections leads to a number of intriguing narrative developments. It feels especially unpredictable despite its prequel status, since Furiosa doesn't have the same in-world "storyteller" as Fury Road, which was narrated by Max himself. One brief cameo in particular jumbles the timelines enough to magnify this discrepancy. The story of Furiosa is the visual embodiment of whispers and oral legends — likely told and retold until details become foggy — resulting in numerous narrative possibilities. 

Chris Hemsworth as Dementus in
Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures

For instance: The map to the Green Place is tattooed on Furiosa's left arm, and given her strict instructions to never let anyone know of its location, it's hard not to wonder what (if any) part this might play in her eventual maiming before she dons her iconic claw prosthetic. Her mother’s sacrifice, in this way, ripples throughout the film in the form of a question: What is Furiosa willing to leave behind? Several action scenes and character beats place her arm in the path of danger, teasing the "how" and "why" of her dismemberment until they become disconcerting probabilities looming over the story. It's a masterstroke on par with the Final Destination series, with a pre-ordained outcome designed to keep viewers wincing in their seats.

Just as nerve-racking is the movie's most surprising development: Furiosa's romantic camaraderie with the Immortan's trusted "Praetorian" Jack (Tom Burke), a quietly magnetic war rig driver — the position Furiosa would eventually hold. There's a palpable chemistry between the star-crossed duo, forged amid propulsive action and buoyed by their mutual recognition of loneliness. Jack is the only person in whom she confides, and in return, he promises to teach her the skills she needs to return home safely, while asking nothing in return. In a film where the villain, Dementus, demands a frigid nihilism from his acolytes, the warmth Furiosa finds in the darkest of circumstances feels especially precious.

This secret romance — told through glances and held breaths, and set against sprawling landscapes — is beautiful to witness. It's also beautifully tragic. That there's no mention of her companion in Fury Road makes their romance doomed to fail for one reason or another, whether by death or betrayal. Given how deftly Miller endears us to Jack's principled stoicism, it's hard to say which outcome would be more painful.

However, the biggest reason these narrative developments strike such a major chord is that they also lay the groundwork for spectacular action filmmaking that rivals anything in the series.

George Miller's directing is as impeccable as ever.

Furiosa isn't the ceaseless action climax Fury Road was, nor does it try to be. Some of the latter's visual techniques became mainstream talking points in ways editing and framing rarely do — the much-discussed aesthetic approach of center-framing to ensure viewers can track the action during quick cuts, for example — but Miller, cinematographer Simon Duggan, and editors Eliot Knapman and Margaret Sixel shoot and assemble Furiosa in service of an entirely different action mindset.

The film is much more deliberately paced than its predecessor, with more breathing room during and between its action scenes, which allows a riveting intensity to seep through the corners of the frame. While part of a larger whole, each set piece also feels like a desperate final grasp. Furiosa uses the entirety of its widescreen, 2.39:1 aspect ratio to create remarkable dioramas, be it static or in motion, and whether the frame is littered with hundreds of extras or just a handful of characters. Compared to its predecessor, this fluidity of composition is permitted by shots that are framed wider and hold longer, as they build to nail-biting crescendos.  

In the movie's quieter, darker moments, this aesthetic approach yields a number of jaw-dropping tableaus reminiscent of religious iconography — from crucifixions and witch trials to demonic imagery (not to mention, a mother named Mary) — alongside character portraits enveloped by sand, fog, and flame. The result is an expressionistic hellscape that embraces Miller’s digital facade. It's as epic as the fiery sandstorm in Fury Road, but with a stunning degree of visual and emotional intimacy — the kind even a filmmaker like Miller has seldom accomplished. This is especially true when the movie reaches its darkly introspective denouement, which wrestles between the futility and catharsis of retribution. It can be argued that Furiosa is Miller's most well-rounded work to date, even before one takes his signature into account: inventive, madcap action that feels dangerous to watch, as limbs and bodies fly across the screen, and War Boys continue to sacrifice themselves in incendiary fashion.

Chris Hemsworth as Dementus in
Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures

One chase scene in particular is shockingly effective, despite its unfortunate resemblance to recent real-world events. It involves a brand-new war rig — a silver, tank-like truck whose painstaking construction we see — in an action sequence so audaciously conceived that its spectacle unfolds not just laterally, but vertically, in a manner best left unspoiled. It's hard not to feel like you're levitating once it begins, but things only get crazier once the vehicle's full destructive potential is unveiled. It's one of a few times the movie fully satiates the desire for more Fury Road-esque action, seamlessly switching gears over an extended period between wide-screen spectacle and anxiety-inducing drama filmed up-close. 

Fury Road was a straight shot back and forth, but Furiosa diverges from its linear path as much as possible, with chases up and down sharp mountainsides and around the curved edges of enormous canyons. All the while, Miller draws on the grandiose Technicolor works of William Wyler — Ben Hur in particular. Not only does Dementus ride a chariot led by a trio of bikes, but like Wyler's approach to his famous horse race, Furiosa's soundscape uses a combination of Tom Holkenborg's blaring score, monstrous revving engines, and a rocky, earthy ambience to create a seat-shattering experience.

The film has no shortage of typically Mad Max concepts: villains with ridiculous names like "Toe Jam," "Scrotus,” and "The Octoboss" adorned with everything from horned helmets to swimming goggles, riding rusted scrap vehicles that feel like mad science experiments. But what makes it especially reminiscent of Miller's filmography is how adroitly he outdoes himself in nearly every department. It's the reason he's so adept at crafting sequels, from Babe to Mad Max and even Happy Feet, and his first prequel is no exception. It not only rivals Fury Road but surpasses it in several ways, especially as a soul-stirring character drama steeped in loss and anger, a potency it translates into motion and momentum.

An explosive revenge epic rife with turns both poetic and surprising, Furiosa is a magnificent, pulse-pounding achievement unlike anything you'll see this year.

Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga was reviewed out of the Cannes Film Festival; the movie will open in theaters on May 24.

Topics Film

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