Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga Review: Fury Road Looms Over Anya Taylor-Joy and Chris Hemsworth

The fifth Mad Max movie tells Furiosa’s story and makes you want to re-watch Fury Road.
Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga Review: Fury Road Looms Over Anya Taylor-Joy and Chris Hemsworth

Director: George Miller

Writers: George Miller, Nick Lathouris

Cast: Anya Taylor-Joy, Alyla Browne, Chris Hemsworth, Tom Burke, Charlee Fraser

Duration: 148 mins

Available in: Theatres

Twice in George Miller’s Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga (2024), the film’s protagonist finds herself faced with a wild-eyed crone who lives in a tunnel under the Citadel, surrounded by maggot-infested dead bodies. “You’ll find peace here,” the old woman promises, her eyes as bright as Furiosa’s as she tries to convince Miller’s heroine to feed off the dead. Not much can unsettle Furiosa, but the crone does. She inspires fear and Furiosa scrambles to escape this place of rotting half-life with such desperation that she’d rather embrace demented madness than the “peace” offered by the old woman. It’s tempting to read this brief moment from Furiosa as a parallel to the choices Miller has made as a director. Once a doctor and then a filmmaker, Miller’s career is one that defies stereotyping and sparkles with originality. It’s not every day that you come across a filmography that includes great children’s films like Babe: Pig in the City (1998) and Happy Feet (2006), along with the Mad Max movies and an ungainly but densely sensual love story between a djinn and a professor (Three Thousand Years of Longing, 2022). Clearly, Miller, like Furiosa, has been determined to not feed off the past — until, ironically, Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga.

Divided into five parts, Furiosa is a prequel to Mad Max: Fury Road (2015), which introduced us to the impossibly beautiful, one-armed gladiator, Imperator Furiosa (played to perfection by Charlize Theron). Although her name is not in the title, Fury Road is as much Furiosa’s film as it is Max’s since it is her decision to go up against her boss Immortan Joe (Lachy Hulme) that unleashes magnificent chaos. There are hints in Fury Road about Furiosa’s past, of her memories of growing up among many mothers in The Green Place before she was abducted and shackled to the world of greedy men. Miller’s fifth Mad Max film returns to the post-apocalypse Wasteland and fleshes out Furiosa’s backstory. 

Anya Taylor-Joy in Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga
Anya Taylor-Joy in Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga

Step One: Swap Max and Furiosa

Fury Road casts a long shadow over Furiosa. This time, Furiosa is the Max-like character, failing to save those she holds dear and going on terrible journeys across the Wasteland. While Anya Taylor-Joy is on the poster, it’s Alyla Browne as the young Furiosa who shines and holds the film together in its first hour, towering over Dementus (Chris Hemsworth and a prosthetic nose) and other hulking men. If Max was a Christ-like figure in Fury Road with his life-giving blood and crucifixion pose, Furiosa in this prequel is both Lilith and Eve, unwilling to accept boundaries as she plucks forbidden fruit off a tree and surviving impossible odds to become one who inspires terror in the men who once saw her as prey.    

Praetorian Jack (Tom Burke) plays the part that Furiosa did in Fury Road, becoming the grown-up Furiosa’s one ally in the Wasteland. Characters like Immortan Joe and his clan of grotesque, diseased men return, as do motifs and storytelling devices from Fury Road, like the muzzled captive (it was Max in Fury Road; this time, it’s Furiosa) and the blinding sandstorm that swarms the world in red dust. Callbacks can be a clever way to establish a world through visual short codes and they need not necessarily signal a shrunken imagination. To quote Dementus, “The question is, do you have it in you to make it epic?” 

A still from Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga
A still from Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga

As far as Miller and Furiosa are concerned, the answer is yes and no. There are some stunning scenes of (digitally enhanced) natural beauty in Furiosa, which counterbalance the gleeful perversity and ugliness of men like Dementus. Miller films sand dunes to fabulous effect, showing how they can be as monumental as mountains, but also light enough to be transformed by wind; a shifting landscape that moves to its own rhythm, offering help to those who respect it while besting those who see themselves as all-conquering alphas. Early in the film, we see Furiosa’s mother Mary (Charlee Fraser) use the sand with calculated grace, knowing when to trust the dune to take the her weight and lead her to her chosen destination; and when the sand will cover her tracks. Mary may be from The Green Place, but she is a warrior and she knows how to adapt — skills she passes on to her daughter Furiosa, along with a peach pit. One of the most memorable scenes in Furiosa is a short time lapse that Miller uses to show passage of time through what happens to the peach pit when it is carelessly thrown out. 

That seed is a reminder of Furiosa’s legacy and it also pushes her to develop the kind of resilience that nature shows against human onslaught. Ultimately, in the final scenes of Furiosa, the peach pit bears fruit in a way that is both triumphant and horrifying.

A still from Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga
A still from Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga

Back to Fury Road

Miller gave us some of the most spectacular action scenes in Fury Road, and although there has not been anything since in world cinema to top the brilliance of the masked guitarist whose electric guitar screams as Immortan Joe’s war party rages towards its chosen prey, Furiosa does have a few glorious stunts. The director is at his best when he builds up to Furiosa losing her arm — it’s more than a limb. She’s drawn a star map on her forearm that she hopes will guide her home — expertly blending the shock of gory horror with a sense of awe-struck admiration for Furiosa. There is also one immaculately-choreographed chase scene and an adrenaline-rush of an ambush, both of which see Jack at the wheel and Furiosa saving the day.

Yet for all the brilliant spectacle in Furiosa, it is ultimately a pale imitation of Fury Road and a film that falls back on gimmicks to disguise its lack of originality. Taylor-Joy is competent as Furiosa, but she doesn’t pack the emotional punch that Browne does with her performance of the young Furiosa and neither can she command the charisma Theron did in the same role. Hemsworth’s Dementus isn’t menacing enough, despite the infamous nose. The hair and make-up departments’ attempts to turn the actor’s god-like visuals into something Wasteland-esque are valiant, but for ugliness to feel transformative, it must hinge as much on performance as on prosthetics. Even at his worst, Dementus feels like a sidekick to the immense brutality of Immortan Joe with his mask of yellowed teeth that makes you register only its predatory snarl and not the weakness it hides (Immortan Joe can’t breathe on his own). Lurking in Furiosa are scattered moments of flamboyant sadism that teeter unsettlingly close to torture porn, revelling in cruelty and pain, like when Dementus’s nipples are ripped out or when Mary is being ‘interrogated’.

Furiosa ends with scenes from Fury Road, which are a clear sign that if anyone is feeling more nostalgic for the 2015 film than the audience, it’s Miller himself. For future generations, Furiosa stands as the film to watch before going down Fury Road and to that end, Miller’s latest is a satisfying one-time watch. It’s a neat introduction to the Mad Max universe, but without the promise of Fury Road ahead, there’s little in Furiosa that feels memorable. “Remember me?” Furiosa asks Dementus in one scene and he replies, whispering in tones of fondness and awe, “You fabulous thing!” It’s easy to imagine Miller reacting in much the same way as he spliced scenes from Fury Road into the end credits of Furiosa

Related Stories

No stories found.