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Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga (A Movie Review)


Starring Anya Taylor-Joy, Chris Hemsworth, Tom Burke, Alyla Browne, George Shevtsov, Lachy Hulme, John Howard, Angus Sampson, Charlee Fraser, Elsa Pataky, Nathan Jones, Josh Helman, David Field, Rahel Romahn, David Collins, Goran Kleut, CJ. Bloomfield, Matuse, Ian Roberts, Guy Spence Quaden Bayles, Daniel Webber, Jacob Tomuri and Rob Jones.

Written by George Miller and Nico Lathouris.

Directed by George Miller.

Distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures. 148 minutes. Rated R.

Australian writer/director George Miller’s entire career has been defined by Mad Max. Since 1979 he has made five films about the post-apocalyptic wars of his imagination. And, sure, he’s even occasionally had non-Max hits and misses as a director – The Witches of Eastwick, Lorenzo’s Oil, the Babe movies, the Happy Feet movies, and most recently, Three Thousand Years of Longing. 

However, it is the Mad Max films that people connect to his name. What is not remembered so much is that the first Mad Max film in 1979 was barely noticed. It wasn’t until the sequel, The Road Warrior (it was not called Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior, like it is today, it had a totally different name because they figured the Mad Max title would not be a real lure to audiences) that people started to notice the series and the relatively unknown lead actor Mel Gibson became a big star. And with good reason, The Road Warrior was likely the best film in the franchise.

After The Road Warrior became a big hit, people went back and sought out the original Mad Max, which was pretty good, but not as good as its sequel. Then came a big budget but somewhat disappointing third film called Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, which is now mostly memorable for a lively supporting villain turn by music star Tina Turner (in her one major film starring appearance), as well as the hit singles she provided for the soundtrack, “We Don’t Need Another Hero (Thunderdome)” and “One of the Living.”

After the relative disappointment of Thunderdome, the series was put on ice for about 30 years. Honestly, when Miller decided to return to the series after all of that time, a lot had changed. First of all, series star Mel Gibson was probably too old to play the role again, not to mention the fact that he had been in the middle of countless controversies over the years and had essentially been canceled from the Hollywood A-list, not without cause.

Therefore, Miller recast the role of Max, bringing in Tom Hardy, who had a lot of experience in acting with a face shield from his role as Bane in The Dark Knight Rises. And while Hardy’s portrayal of the character was different and somewhat broader than Gibson’s had been, it worked out for the story.

However, at least as important to his new story was a kick-ass female character, named Furiosa and played with quiet, violent intensity by Charlize Theron. This was the character which captured the public’s imagination and made Mad Max: Fury Road a critical and popular smash. (It has been called by some people the best adventure film of all time, which I think is a stretch, but it was very good and probably on the same quality level as Road Warrior.)

Like I said, Furiosa is the fifth film in the Mad Max saga, although it is the first one in which Max never actually appears or is even mentioned, except in the title. I mean, I get why Max is not around, in Fury Road they show Max and Furiosa meeting for the first time, so there is no cause for him to be there in a film looking at her history. Still, is it really a Mad Max film without Mad Max?

The new film is a prequel, telling the back story of the character of Furiosa, now played by Alyla Browne (as a girl) and Anya Taylor-Joy (as a young woman). In fact, Taylor-Joy, the top credited star, doesn’t even appear on camera until over an hour into the movie.

More to the point, is Furiosa a continuation of the improvement shown by Fury Road, or another step backward like Thunderdome? Well, Furiosa is better than Thunderdome, but not as good as Fury Road. It is way too long – it runs nearly a half hour longer than Fury Road did and about an hour longer than any of the earlier films. And frankly, for a series known for its constant motion, the pacing is all over the place, and the action periodically slowed down to a crawl.

Still, there is more that is good in Furiosa than there is bad. There are some spectacular battle scenes and stunt work – which of course is the true calling card of this franchise. Taylor-Joy makes for an interesting, if slightly inscrutable heroine. Still the actors who make the biggest impact are Chris Hemsworth – having a ball playing the bad guy – and Tom Burke as a fellow freedom fighter who takes Furiosa under his wings. Also, Alyla Browne plays young Furiosa for the first hour of the film with real pathos and depth.

It is rather clever the way that Furiosa clears up some of the mysteries from Fury Road, showing the “green place” and how Furiosa was taken from there, how she ended up in the service of Immortan Joe and how she became a road warrior. In fact, Furiosa ends pretty much where Fury Road begins. And, in case we’ve forgotten over the last eight years, the end credits show clips from the earlier film.

It's far from the best film ever, or even in this series. (Again, that would be The Road Warrior with Fury Road close behind.) Still, it’s mostly a gas to watch and has enough wild action going to keep audiences sated until the next Mad Max saga.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2024 All rights reserved. Posted: May 23, 2024.


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