Movie Review – Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga

Principal Cast : Anya Taylor Joy, Chris Hemsworth, Tom Burke, Lachy Hulme, Nathan Jones, Josh Helman, John Howard, Angus Sampson, George Shevstov, Charlee Fraser, Quaden Bayles, Alyla Browne, Daniel Webber, Jacob Tomuri, Elsa Pataky, David Collins, Goran D Kleut, Matuse, Ian Roberts, Robert Jones, Lee Perry, Richard Norton, Shane Dundas.
Synopsis: The origin story of renegade warrior Furiosa before her encounter and teamup with Mad Max.


The long awaited sequel/prequel to George Miller’s bonkers apocalyptic sci-fi action masterpiece Mad Max: Fury Road, this time centered around the character of Imperator Furiosa, is a near-instant classic of the genre, easily the equal to its predecessor, and arguably the most technically accomplished film to release so far this year. Hyperbole aside, Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga is wonderful fun, a revisiting of Miller’s insanity writ large on the big screen as he plunges us back into the dusty, violent, operatic world of a post-apocalyptic hellscape that is the central Australian continent, where tribes of scavengers exist to scour the land of any and all resources, and a lone girl abducted from her family must find her way through the carnage to seek revenge on the man who kidnapped her.

A young girl, Furiosa (Alyla Browne and Anya Taylor-Joy at various stages of the character’s age) is abducted from her idyllic paradise by a marauding band of violent henchmen for the roguish Dementus (Chris Hemsworth, sporting a terrific and terrible nasal prothesis), the leader of an enormous gang of motorcyle-riding  savages who seek power and glory. Dementus has designs on capturing the Citadel, which is run by the masked Immortan Joe (Lachy Hulme) and his sons, Rictus Erectus (Nathan Jones) and Scrotus (Josh Helman); as she grows up under Immortan’s violent rule, she becomes his Imperator, a driver of the War Rig, an enormous armoured truck travelling between Bullet Town, where armaments are supplied, and Gas Town, where fuel for the various vehicles is provided, alongside Praetorian Jack (Tom Burke); in seeking her vengeance upon Dementus for stealing her childhood, Furiosa concocts a plan to bring both warring parties together in a showdown that will change the course of her life.

Few would argue that Fury Road, released in 2015 and nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards, is a white-hot masterpiece not only of sci-fi but action filmmaking generally. It would take a pretty brave director to try and equal or one-up that feat, but Aussie filmmaker George Miller is perhaps just crazy enough to attempt it and succeed, for succeed Miller has. Furiosa is an astounding cinematic triumph, a visually sublime, effortlessly weird, batshit crazy opus that returns us to the Fury Road aesthetic with near impossible precision, delivering soaring musical accompaniment to mirror the concussive, evocative imagery. Although not without some minor flaws, at least in terms of story, Furiosa is an angry red firebrand of a film, filled with wanton violence, bizarre characters and the franchise’s trademark over-the-top production design, and instantly forms a perfect couplet with Fury Road that deliver incredible excitement and rousing entertainment packaged within a seemingly all-too-short two-and-a-half hour movie. And where you’d think Miller and his production team might shortcut the story to retread that which has gone before, allow me to assuage this concern by confirming one simple fact: Furiosa is definitely not the sequel you might expect compared to Fury Road, but it is a wholly original thing that fits hand-in-glove with Miller’s earlier film.

Written by Miller and returning Mad Max associate Nico Lathouris, Furiosa feels more grounded in its primary female role than Fury Road did with Max Rockatansky, with the character of Furiosa allowed width to explore her origins and dramatic arc as the story progresses. Although I found the trajectory of Furiosa’s emotional arc lacking somewhat, both Alyla Browne and Anya Taylor-Joy deliver ferociously fierce portrayals of the title character that – thanks to sublime vfx face mapping – is absolutely seamless to watch; you literally believe she’s growing up right before your very eyes. Taylor-Joy delivers the more authentic climax of Furiosa’s journey through the movie, in keeping with a matured character plot, and concerns about her replacing Charlize Theron in the role prove unfounded from the get. The fact that Furiosa concludes with a lead-in to the beginning of Fury Road doesn’t even make mention of the change of look, you just roll with it. Chris Hemsworth’s annoyingly disfigured face is granted much screen-time here, sporting a preposterous prosthetic nose and bedraggled hair, and although the character of Dementus is nowhere near as charismatic on-screen as, say, Immortan Joe, Hemsworth milks the cruelty and black humour from the part superbly. If I had one significant criticism of the film, as it relates to Furiosa, is that her relationship with the inhabitants of the Citadel, the residence of Immortan Joe introduced in Fury Road, and in particular with Immortan’s “wives”, isn’t quite strong enough to lead us into the “great escape” narrative of Fury Road in which Furiosa’s mission is to escape with them across the desert to safety. I felt this gap in Furiosa’s narrative weakens the link between this film and the other, but it’s a minor quibble and likely most won’t notice it.

Furiosa’s wider supporting cast is practically a who’s-who of Australian screen talent, from Lachy Hulme replacing the late Hugh Keays-Byrne as Immortan Joe and as a secondary role of a one-eyed henchman of Dementus, through to Angus Sampson returning as the Organic Mechanic (the “doctor” of the movie, and last seen cutting the umbilical cord of Rose Huntington-Whiteley’s stillborn child in Fury Road), Nathan Jones, Josh Helman (who played a War Boy in Fury Road, now recast as Immortan Joe’s hitherto unseen other son, Scrotus, a name that drew quite the cackle from my viewing audience), and even the Umbilical Brothers’ comedy duo in David Collins and Shane Dundas, among others. Hemsworth’s wife Elsa Pataky also pops up in a couple of different minor roles, John Howard returns as The People Eater, and George Shevstov makes for prestige listening as the History Man, an elder of Dementus’ gang who can read, write, and remember the old ways before the world turned to crap. British actor Tom Burke sports a fabulous Aussie accent as the Mad Max-adjacent role of Praetorian Jack, a mentor to Furiosa driving the War Rig and to whom she owes a great debt in her quest for revenge. If anyone has any qualms about looking an absolute fool or wondering what kind of film they’re in, nobody shows it – this is full-throttle absurdity as often as Miller with permit and the cast go for broke with each role, no matter how small, because even the kookiest, creepiest, most insane thought process behind costume, makeup or character choice appears to have just been thrown into this film.

One of the Mad Max franchise’s big selling points has always been the vehicles driven on-screen, a scabrous design aesthetic turning once valuable cars, trucks, bikes and implements into a melange of heavily armoured, turbo-powered war machines that coast across the desert landscape’s carpetlike surface, snarling and growling as they do so. The vehicles in this film all sound ferocious, a conscious audio choice designed to pump up the violent nature of the world in which Furiosa is set. The deep gutteral road of the War Rig, the pitchy zing of numerous War Boy motorbikes, the rocket-like whistle of Furiosa’s pursuit vehicle – each vehicle here has a distinct and independent sound design and it’s a testament to the mixers that everything feels like it sits within the world of the film without being obnoxiously overpresent. Tom Holkenborg’s thunderous score pulsates and pummels the viewer throughout the protracted and innumerable action sequences, resulting in a harmonious cacophony facilitating the aural orgy of violence George Miller concocts here. The film’s visual effects, both practical and digital, are terrific – obviously Miller has used in-camera stunts and practical effects where humanly possible, with still a vast number of CG effect requirements allowing the tableau of Furiosa to mirror the established grittiness of Fury Road with ease. While I would argue the film has less flashy visuals than Fury Road, the realism and textural bumpiness of Furiosa’s sandblasted landscapes and terrifying harshness become almost supporting characters in this story themselves; Furiosa herself almost feels like a progenitor to Dune’s Paul Atreides in many ways, a prophetic messianic figure destined to collapse a society (or at least change it) within an inhospitable society as unforgiving as it is sociopathic.

Unsurprisingly, Furiosa is also quite funny, with a number of instances of black humour and nightshade-hued pathos glimmering from beyond the façade of the film’s apocalyptic miasma. Not just the sight of Chris Hemsworth hamming it up as large and loud as he can, but a number of kooky gags and jaw-dropping reveals made our screening audience gasp and clap in response: Furiosa hits perfectly at an emotional and visceral level, and I would say it might be a corpse who doesn’t find at least some enjoyment in this film. I mean, it’s not laugh out loud comedy, by any means, but there are a number of comedic beats – and several desperately tragic ones as well – that draw the audience into the world of the film and plant a foot firmly on their neck to keep them watching. Miller understands what makes this kind of absurdity work, from the weird characters and insane names, to the frantic urgency of his overcranked action beats, and he plays the viewer like a fiddle with moments of “holy shit” horror mixed with “oh lawdy” preposterousness that just works. I can’t understand it, but it just does. As Australian as you can get, the humour of Mad Max is inside the mind of George Miller and it is glorious.

Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga is visual dynamite and a sublime accompaniment to its legendary predecessor. With few exceptions it’s a near-perfect action film, a beautiful sci-fi film, and a thunderously entertaining piece of pop-culture that I would estimate to be on-par with Fury Road in terms of emotional investment and practical stunt work. The vehicle designs and stunts are of the highest order (seriously, how long do we have to wait before the Academy comes around to acknowledging this important sector of the filmmaking community?) and Miller’s effusive direction, simplified writing and eye for the absurd more than provide for a fantastic film experience. Okay, if you weren’t sold on Mad Max with Fury Road, Furiosa won’t convert you because it’s pretty much exactly the same kind of movie, but if – like me and many, many others – you loved Fury Road, then this prequel will absolutely kick your ass. Future re-watches will allow deeper consideration to its status of a flat-out masterpiece but at first blush it’s very hard not to be caught up in its wonderful, violent, kooky charm. Highly recommended.

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