'Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga' Offers Furious Fun for Action Fans | Movie+TV Reviews | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

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'Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga' Offers Furious Fun for Action Fans


Published May 29, 2024 at 10:00 a.m.

Anya Taylor-Joy plays a younger version of the kick-ass heroine made famous by Charlize Theron in this visually stunning prequel. - COURTESY OF WARNER BROS. PICTURES
  • Courtesy Of Warner Bros. Pictures
  • Anya Taylor-Joy plays a younger version of the kick-ass heroine made famous by Charlize Theron in this visually stunning prequel.

Everybody's talking about the new Mad Max movie, but not for the right reasons. Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga is a prequel to 2015's Mad Max: Fury Road directed by George Miller, who originated the dystopian action series 45 years ago. Headlines trumpet that the movie won the Memorial Day weekend box office with a take of $32 million — the lowest-grossing film to win that key slot since 1995. It's a major disappointment for the industry, especially after another recent big-budget release, The Fall Guy, flopped in theaters.

On social media, many bemoan the lure of streaming, where The Fall Guy is already available three weeks after its theatrical release. These days, the question we ask ourselves about a movie is not "Is it worth seeing?" but "Is it worth leaving the comforts of my home for?"

The deal

While we fret over such rarefied matters, a little girl named Furiosa (Alyla Browne) counts herself lucky to enjoy a homestead with water and vegetation. Her clan inhabits a "Green Place" surrounded by the Australian desert during a post-peak oil apocalypse — a wasteland ruled by brutal gangs.

After one of those gangs kidnaps Furiosa, hoping to make her lead them to the "place of abundance," her mom (Charlee Fraser) dies attempting to rescue her. The child becomes a pet of sadistic warlord Dr. Dementus (Chris Hemsworth) and then lands in the Citadel, the cliff-dwelling death cult ruled by Immortan Joe (Lachy Hulme). To escape the fate of being used for breeding, Furiosa (now played by Anya Taylor-Joy) disguises herself as a boy and becomes a crack mechanic, accompanying Praetorian Jack (Tom Burke) on his dangerous supply runs in the War Rig.

As Dementus and Immortan Joe vie violently for power, Furiosa fights to survive and guard the secret of the star map she's tattooed on her arm — a map of her way home.

Will you like it?

For all the benefits of streaming, it deprives you of the chance to hear an audience break into spontaneous applause when the end credits roll. There were only a handful of people at my Furiosa screening, but applaud they did — a testimony to the enduring power of Miller's action spectacles.

Unlike most franchise flicks these days, the Mad Max movies don't have enough mythology to pose a barrier to casual entry. Granted, it doesn't hurt to know that Charlize Theron played an older Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road, where she formed a testy alliance with Tom Hardy's Max. The character's status as a road warrior icon with a feminist agenda explains the existence of this prequel, in which Max himself appears only in a wordless cameo.

But the Mad Max movies aren't about characters — except in the sense of larger-than-life figures such as Dementus, who wins the Batman villain prize here for most colorful getup and persona. (Released from his Marvel Cinematic Universe duties, Hemsworth chews the scenery as gleefully as any wasteland cannibal gnawing on a femur.) Nobody here has a motivation more complex than vengeance, maternal love, survival or boredom. The dialogue offers an amusing floridness — Jack compliments Furiosa on having "a purposeful savagery about you" — without delving far into anyone's interiority.

No, these movies aren't primarily about people thinking or feeling or engaging in political intrigue (à la the Dune films). They're about people driving motorcycle-powered chariots and attacking via parachutes and grappling hooks and scaling the undersides of speeding big rigs and turning their enemies into fireballs and just generally doing awesome action stuff. Miller has a gift for making all this inventive mayhem legible — "plausible" would be the wrong word — that elevates him above most modern blockbuster filmmakers. Every scene is so complex and artfully choreographed, with stunts, composition and visual effects working in harmony, that it's a little like watching the world's bloodiest circus artists.

With set piece after set piece, Furiosa is as dogged as Dementus in his pursuit of power; it rarely lets us rest. Everybody on screen is visibly traumatized by their way of life, and watching the movie is a little traumatizing, too — or exhilarating, depending on your tolerance for dystopian warfare.

Taylor-Joy is a strong presence, but the dearth of other female characters removes one of the elements that made Fury Road such a welcome departure.

I found myself eagerly awaiting Dementus' appearances because at least he has a sick sense of humor about these endless battles for dominance of oil, water and ammunition.

For lovers of action cinema, Furiosa is absolutely worth seeing on the big screen. Just try to put aside the fact that, in a world already riven by climate change, this series is starting to feel disturbingly close to home.

If you like this, try...

Mad Max (1979; Max, Peacock, rentable): The film that started it all was a B movie partially inspired by the oil crisis of the early 1970s. It's the only series entry to focus on the breakdown of society rather than the aftermath.

Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior (1981; Max, rentable): Most Americans weren't aware of the Mad Max saga until its sequel, set entirely in the postapocalyptic landscape, became a mainstream hit and turned Mel Gibson into a star.

Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome (1985; Max, rentable): This very '80s third entry, starring Tina Turner alongside Gibson, is the only film in the series to have a PG-13 rating and spawn a hit song. After that, Max went underground for 30 years and returned in the form of Hardy.

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