Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga review — A detour off Fury Road

Directed by George Miller | Written by Miller and Nick Lathouris | 148 min | ▲▲▲△△ | In Cinemas 

I made time this week to rewatch Mad Max: Fury Road, one of the few films I’ve seen in the 21st Century that announced itself from the start as a stone cold classic. There just wasn’t any doubt this reboot of the Mad Max franchise was something new and incredibly exciting.

To provide just a little fresh perspective I watched the Black & Chrome edition, a black and white variant that director George Miller released after the success of the original, full-colour version.

There are moments where the black and white edition brings a gothic horror to the proceedings, especially in the opening segments at the Citadel, but it loses things in the wasteland — all the fantastic blue period just looks muddy and not much is gained in the chase sequences, which are 80% of the movie.

So, best stick with the masterpiece as is.

Furiosa is a prequel, which had me a bit worried — on principle I’m not a fan of these kinds of brand extensions — we have a handful of examples that work well, many more don’t. Beyond that, my expectations were medium. There’s simply no way George Miller could recreate the magic that made Fury Road so special. Some fairly obvious CGI gloss in the trailers was also not encouraging.

Furiosa carries a different aesthetic than the earlier film, and that look is very much about using more computer generated imagery in more purposeful and less subtle ways. Miller leans into it, he lights exterior shots that make them look artificial. I was unconvinced the first 25 minutes of the film were made outside a studio, which is a huge departure from Fury Road. This isn’t accidental or due to shoddy technicians, Miller has chosen to do this. I was reminded the film he made in between his two recent Maxes was 3000 Years Of Longing, a modern fable also trading in that weird look.

I won’t lie, it took me out of the movie. Less so when Miller uses real vehicles doing real stunts in Broken Hill, Australia, but plenty of other times. The message is plain as the fake nose on Chris Hemsworth’s face: this is a filmmaker telling us his story is myth, an epic automotive western, so we’re not to consider it “realistic.” It’s a step toward the mad chaos and surreality of Terry Gilliam, for better or worse.

What we get is the backstory of Fury Road‘s compelling protagonist (the one that upset all the bros back in 2015 hoping the guy in the title would be the lead and not a key supporting character). She was played by Charlize Theron, here as a kid by Alyla Browne and later by Anya Taylor-Joy, who does a fantastic job channelling Theron’s intensity, swagger, and tone of voice.

She’s kidnapped by bad dudes on motorbikes from her home in the Green Place, a hidden community in the jungle, and taken by a warlord named Dementus (Hemsworth, easily the movie’s MVP). Her mother (Charlee Fraser, Anyone But You) gives chase but isn’t able to free her daughter.

The narrative jumps forward, again and again, with only the length of Furiosa’s hair and the actor playing her, along with the greying of Dementus’ beard, providing a sense of how far we’ve come. Furiosa finds herself in the company of another warlord, Immortan Joe (Lachy Hulme) and his warboys, along with a few other characters familiar from Fury Road — Rictus Erectus, The Bullet Farmer, and The People Eater — as well as a number of new ones with delightful handles like Scrotus, The Organic Mechanic, Toe Jam, Smeg, and The Octoboss.

We visit locations we’d previously seen at a distance — The Bullet Farm and Gastown. The sets, costumes and machinery — especially the motorcycles this time — coalesce Miller’s cinematic vision. There’s always some small detail to take in and enjoy. We also get a sympathetic character amongst the grotesques — Praetorian Jack (Tom Burke) — who Furiosa grows to trust, even though the possibility of romance is entirely undercooked.

Despite the extended running time and the opportunity to provide depth to Furiosa’s backstory, Furiosa stays resolutely shallow. Hemsworth’s character ends up with the broadest arc and the most defined philosophy — he’s a twisted mirror to Max, a road warrior born from hate and vengeance who embraces nihilism. He helps give the film a much-needed political kick — the danger of the cult of personality — and he delivers all the best lines.

Fury Road was locomotive and singular, and where it provided backstory or character detail there was just enough for us to piece together the broader world. Here the plot offers explicit event but ends up somehow less engaging. It provides more scale and breadth but gets baggy when we’re not in action mode.

The action, however, is still pretty impressive. Miller and his collaborators have changed the very language of action movies in 2015, and here try to extend that vocabulary with new machines doing new things, A scene with a tanker truck and attackers coming down from the sky is especially cool, particularly how it concludes, in a storm of black cloth. That’s what makes the film worth seeing, and why it’s also a shame it doesn’t have a lot more to offer.

Furiosa finally falls into the pothole of so many prequels, which is it leads us right to where we expect — the start of the previously established canon. Furiosa errs by being what it is, a revisiting of existing material done with spirit, but not nearly the originality.

About the author

flawintheiris

Carsten Knox is a massive, cheese-eating nerd. In the day he works as a journalist in Halifax, Nova Scotia. At night he stares out at the rain-slick streets, watches movies, and writes about what he's seeing.

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