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Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga

Anya Taylor-Joy in George Miller’s Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga (2024)

Does George Miller’s Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga measure up to the almost impossibly high bar raised by Mad Max: Fury Road? For most reviewers, the answer is a resounding yes—but there are a few outliers.

When Fury Road screened in Cannes on the day it opened around the world in 2015, it was instantly recognized as an action classic, and five years later, it made a strong showing on several lists of the best films of the decade. Steven Soderbergh is one of the film’s most enthusiastic champions. “I don’t understand how [Miller] does that, I really don’t, and it’s my job to understand it,” he told the Hollywood Reporter’s Gavin J. Blair in 2017. “I don’t understand two things: I don’t understand how they’re not still shooting that film and I don’t understand how hundreds of people aren’t dead.”

As Miller has told several interviewers, the story came to him in a dream on a flight from Los Angeles to Sydney. Back in the 1970s, he was an ER doctor in Sydney, and the injuries sustained by victims of car crashes made an impression. With future producer Byron Kennedy and first-time screenwriter James McCausland, he created Max Rockatansky, a cop patrolling the dystopian barren roads of southeastern Australia. Mel Gibson played him in the lean and mean Mad Max (1979), the ferociously propulsive The Road Warrior (1981), and the almost comically loud and boisterous Mad Max Beyond the Thunderdome (1985), costarring Tina Turner.

Tom Hardy took the role in Fury Road, but in the dream that came to Miller on that long flight, Max is all but sidelined by Imperator Furiosa, a one-armed lieutenant driving a War Rig for Immortan Joe, the dictatorial leader of the Citadel rising from the sands of a postapocalyptic desert. When Furiosa drives off with Joe’s five wives, the chase is on. To convince Charlize Theron to play her, Miller showed her the back story he’d written, the story now told in Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga, with Alyla Browne as the much younger Furiosa and Anya Taylor-Joy as the only slightly younger Imperator.

The New York Times’s Kyle Buchanan, who expanded on his vivid oral history of the famously troubled production of Fury Road in his 2022 book, Blood, Sweat & Chrome, asks Miller if that film’s success made for smoother going on Furiosa. “It definitely made it easier,” Miller tells him. “It didn’t make it effortless.” Buchanan notes that a “bevy of natural disasters, including floods and the coronavirus, pushed the production’s budget to $233 million, making it the most expensive movie ever shot in Australia. At every point in its making, Miller was faced with challenges as outsized as the fantasy world he labored to create.”

Preteen Furiosa is stolen away from the Green Place, a verdant oasis kept secret by the women who run it. The kidnappers are led by Dementus (Chris Hemsworth), who rides a chariot pulled by three motorcycles. “Hemsworth gives the flashiest and most indelible performance” in Furiosa, finds Vanity Fair’s Richard Lawson, and the Guardian’s Peter Bradshaw suggests that “Hemsworth comes very close to pinching the whole film.”

“It takes a while to get used to Taylor-Joy as Furiosa, partly because Theron originated the character with such a distinct mixture of raw anger and deep-boned melancholy,” writes Manohla Dargis in the New York Times. “Taylor-Joy’s Furiosa may look too physically slight to handle the Armageddon, but that sense of vulnerability of course serves the story . . . Hers is a lonely burden and, as the story and the fighting continue, it gives Furiosa a surprising emotional heaviness which can make this exciting, kinetic movie feel terribly sad.

For the Hollywood Reporter’s David Rooney, while Fury Road “had grit, gravitas and turbo-charged propulsion that wouldn’t quit, this fifth installment in the dystopian saga grinds on in fits and starts, with little tension or fluidity in a narrative whose shapelessness is heightened by its pretentious chapter structure.” And for Time’s Stephanie Zacharek, “despite its many, many action sequences, and a symphonic cacophony of motorbikes vrooming in the sand, the movie, divided into chapters with droney titles like ‘Lessons from the Wasteland,’ evolves into a slog that’s working hard to persuade us we’re having a good time.”

Furiosa “rarely feels dangerous,” writes Joshua Rothkopf in the Los Angeles Times. “Too much of its blood and fire is the work of computers, and for the first time, that work is obvious. There’s something very un-Mad Max about this; the tactility of the earlier films fed into the realness of potentially surviving the fall of civilization, even if that meant coming face to face with a tyrannical Tina Turner.”

But for the Telegraph’s Robbie Collin, this is “cinema at its most soul-pricklingly primal. It’s the sort of film that makes you feel like the past century of Hollywood might have been a detour, and the machine has now been hauled back on course.” Furiosa “may handle differently to its predecessor, but it’s clearly been tuned by the same engineers. After the pared-down drag racer, here comes the juggernaut.”

Miller has “created a symphonic, five-part, decades-spanning revenge saga so immense and self-possessed that it refuses to be seen as the mere extension of another movie, even though it manages to deepen the impact of Fury Road at every turn,” writes IndieWire’s David Ehrlich. Furiosa “doesn’t feel like an overture for the vehicular carnage of Fury Road so much as it retroactively makes Fury Road feel like a coda for the epic tale Miller tells here.”

“What Miller & Co. are going for here,” writes Rolling Stone’s David Fear, “is something akin to a hyperventilating character study—and one that doesn’t make those two elements contradictory. That they manage to pull it off makes the achievement doubly impressive. What this memory-lane trip down the most furious of roads lacks in the shock of the new, it more than makes up for in expanding this particular cinematic universe. More importantly, it gives you a better sense of its main character’s place in it.”

“Civilization, or something like it, coheres over the course of the Mad Max films through brute force as in less enlightened times,” writes Mark Asch at InsideHook, and “it’s through this context, in which rulers maintain harems as a symbol of power and a source of new blood bonds, and accept offerings of child brides for the sake of alliances, that Furiosa’s female fury takes on a fairly primal weight.”

Talking to Kenneth Turan in the Los Angeles Times, Miller recalled the time he thought he was through with Max after the first movie. But then the reviews came in from around the world, and he realized that “inadvertently we’d stepped into an archetype, the kind of allegory American Westerns were for so many years. The Japanese saw him as a samurai, the Scandinavians as a lone Viking, the French called it ‘a Western on wheels.’ That led me to not only how to tell stories but also to the why. Once you have that world in your head, even when you’re trying not to, you keep coming back.”

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