Film Review: “Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga” – A Full-Throated Banshee’s Cry

By Nicole Veneto

The Mad Max series is one of the few franchises in history that’s only gotten better with age, likely because George Miller has refined and tinkered with his distinctive vision via each new development in filmmaking technology.

Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga, directed by George Miller. Screening at Coolidge Corner Cinema.

Anya Taylor-Joy is the darkest of angels in Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga. Photo: Warner Brothers

Precious few theatrical experiences have ever matched the surprising euphoria of seeing 2015’s Mad Max: Fury Road. At the time, I had basically no familiarity with either the decades-long-dormant franchise George Miller was resurrecting or his ambitious capabilities as a director (can’t say I was much of a Babe: Pig in the City kid). I sat in the very front row with my head cranked back at a 45-degree angle. Fury Road overwhelmed the senses: it was louder and larger than life, to the point that I felt I was being dragged along by the undercarriage of the war rig barreling through the Wastelands. It’s not often you know you’re witnessing a masterpiece as you’re watching it, but Fury Road came at a moment when we all believed this level of madcap blockbuster filmmaking was a thing of the past. It’s a movie that probably shouldn’t even exist, and it’s nothing short of a miracle that it does (and that nobody died making it).

Essential to Fury Road’s greatness is that its titular protagonist takes a backseat to Charlize Theron’s Imperator Furiosa, the most badass action heroine since Linda Hamilton’s Sarah Connor pumped a shotgun with one ripped arm in Terminator 2. It’s thus a smart move on Miller’s part not to follow up Fury Road with a chronological sequel focused on Tom Hardy’s Max, but to give even more space to the legend of Furiosa with a prequel in the form of a Western-style bildungsroman. Nearly a decade in the making, Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga is an altogether different beast than Fury Road, trading the previous entry’s lean and mean car chase for a multichapter hero’s journey, a quest smeared in dirt and powered by adrenaline. Fury Road remains the greatest action movie of the last decade (if not this century), but Furiosa is more than a worthy successor — it’s goddamn excellent in its own right.

Abducted from the matriarchal Green Place of Many Mothers, young Furiosa (Alyla Browne) is spirited away from the Vuvalini tribe and her magnificent mother (Charlee Fraser). She is living proof to the warlord Dementus (Chris Hemsworth) that there’s a hidden land of abundance. As the theatrical and power hungry leader of the Biker Horde, Dementus has his sights set on ruling the entirety of the Wasteland, bringing him and little Furiosa up against Immortan Joe (Lachy Hulme, taking over for the late Hugh Keays-Byrne) and his Citadel of War Boys. Years pass, and Furiosa (Anya Taylor-Joy) quietly bides her time in the Citadel as an apprentice to Praetorian Jack (Tom Burke), the head of Joe’s military forces tasked with driving the war rig to and from Gas Town and the Bullet Farm, by now under Dementus’s control. With the Wasteland veering toward an all-out war of attrition, Furiosa gears up for her chance at vengeance against the man who stole everything from her, even if it means never being able to return home again.

Taylor-Joy had some massive boots to fill after Theron’s instantly iconic turn, but she rises to the occasion with the grace of an established movie star and the viciousness of an animal willing to gnaw its own limbs off rather than be shackled. Some hay has been made over Taylor-Joy’s 30 lines of dialogue: some publications are insinuating it’s misogyny not to give the actress as much to say as Tom Hardy’s equally reticent Max. The fact is that Furiosa’s sworn secrecy — to protect the location of the Green Place — doubles as a tactical silence designed to help her navigate the violently patriarchal power matrix of the Wasteland. Also, the feral ferocity in Taylor-Joy’s wide eyes brings to mind Meiko Kaji’s famous glare in the Female Prisoner Scorpion series — this is a look that conveys more than words ever could. On the opposite end of the spectrum is Hemsworth’s Dementus, a man who speaks with the unearned bravado of a sadistic Disney villain at any and every opportunity. Miller perfectly draws on Hemsworth’s comedic chops without pushing him over the edge toward demoralizing farce. (The way the Russos and Taika Waititi did with Thor.) It’s one of Hemsworth’s best performances to date. The final reveal of his fate in the closing moments is so karmically just I squealed with sickening delight.

Anya Taylor-Joy taking aim in Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga. Photo: Warner Brothers

Although Furiosa recreates Fury Road’s contrasting color palette of vivid desert oranges and cool blue night hues, Miller leans further into the digital aesthetic many of his New Hollywood–adjacent contemporaries have embraced in their twilight years. Helmed by The Great Gatsby cinematographer Simon Duggan, Furiosa often looks like something straight out of a Hideo Kojima video game (unsurprising, considering Miller plays a character in the upcoming Death Stranding 2). Miller and Duggan make the most out of every square inch of the screen, framing shots like vast Renaissance paintings to lend Furiosa’s trials and tribulations a mythic quality. The misbelief that Fury Road’s high-octane stunts were solely achieved without the help of CGI (they weren’t) explains why some had an adverse reaction to Furiosa’s initial trailer. But Miller’s use of digital trickery is just one of many professional tools in his arsenal. Furiosa more than delivers on the sort of death-defying stunt work that wowed audiences back in 2015: one particular sequence took 78 days and almost 200 stunt personnel to complete. Whereas most contemporary Hollywood blockbusters can’t manage even one decent action set piece, Furiosa boasts so many that I eventually lost count.

It’s a testament to Miller’s skill as a director that even at 79, he’s pulling off the sort of cinematic spectacle younger filmmakers with double Furiosa’s $168 million budget could never come close to achieving. The Mad Max series is one of the few franchises in history that’s only gotten better with age, likely because Miller has refined and tinkered with his distinctive vision via each new development in filmmaking technology. Admittedly, Fury Road still ranks as my personal best entry in Miller’s nearly 50-year-old series. Still, Furiosa is nothing to scoff at, even if it’s burdened with living up to one of the greatest feats in motion picture history. Soaked in blood, sweat, and oil, it is a film of truly epic proportions that boasts some of the most striking visuals you’ll see all year. (The climactic shot revealing how Furiosa loses her arm might rank among the hardest Miller has ever gone in his career.) If the question is whether or not the mad Aussie still has it in him to make it epic, then Furiosa answers with a full-throated banshee’s cry that the man’s still got guzzoline running through his veins.

What a lovely, lovely day!

Nicole Veneto graduated from Brandeis University with an MA in Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, concentrating on feminist media studies. Her writing has been featured in MAI Feminism & Visual Culture, Film Matters Magazine, and Boston University’s Hoochie Reader. She’s the co-host of the podcast Marvelous! Or, the Death of Cinema. You can follow her on Letterboxd and her podcast on Twitter @MarvelousDeath.

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