Saturday 25 May 2024

Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga (Movie Review)

The Mad Max franchise gets reignited once again as Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga races into cinemas this weekend. And as the title suggests, it is a film that centers upon the one-armed imperator from Mad Max: Fury Road, who many believed had effectively upstaged Max in his own movie. But now that she has a movie all to herself, does it give any additional insight into what makes the character tick or is it merely another excuse to have a bunch of road warriors battle it out across the beautiful desert backdrop of the Wasteland?

The film takes place several years before the events of Mad Max: Fury Road, in a post-apocalyptic future where warring factions battle for dwindling resources. It opens with a young Furiosa just before she gets abducted from her home in the Green Place, a place of abundance in an otherwise unforgiving land. But her mother doesn't give her up without a fight, even though it ultimately costs the older woman her life when they cross paths with the evil warlord, Dementus. Furiosa soon finds herself property of Immortan Joe of the Citadel and there she begins the process of working her way up the ranks of his War Boys, fueled by a quest for revenge and a desire to find her way back home.

After getting blown away by the sheer brilliance of Mad Max: Fury Road in 2015, I was pleased to learn that the franchise was going to receive another entry. So you can imagine my disappointment when I also learnt that this next entry would be taking the form of a prequel. Not that there is anything inherently wrong with prequels if done right. But I would have preferred something that moved the overall story forward, and that same sentiment encapsulates my feelings coming out of Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga.

The first thing that caught me off guard while watching the film was its pacing and overall length. The film doesn't remotely match the kinetic pace and energy that made Fury Road so great, nor does it attempt to as it instead focuses on fleshing out the backstory of its title character, as well as the world and lore that her story take place within. In addition to revisiting the Citadel, we actually get to see the other strongholds of Gastown and the Bullet Farm this time around. But in its attempt to show us more of the world the films take place in, the movie loses some of the mystic that made these places and the characters that inhabit them so memorable.

And speaking of characters, we get quite a number of new and returning faces, as well as one specific cameo I won't spoil here. Despite receiving top billing, I was surprised to see that Anya Taylor-Joy didn't actually make an appearance until nearly an hour into the film. And while I was initially skeptical that they had opted to recast the role of Furiosa with someone younger, she effectively channels the same stoic determination and overall badassery that Charlize Theron had brought to the role in Fury Road.

Chris Hemsworth likewise joins the pantheon of great Mad Max villains as Dementus, a man that more than lives up to his name over the course of the film. He was equal parts terrifying and charismatic, and always a joy to see whenever he was on screen. It was also nice seeing characters like Rictus Erectus, the Bullet Farmer, the People Eater, and of course Immortan Joe and his party of War Boys all make a return, although the knowledge of their ultimate fates in Fury Road make the reunion all the more bittersweet.

But I think where Furiosa truly succeeds is in its action sequences. George Miller had already outdone himself with Mad Max: Fury Road, a film that was shot largely using practical stunts with a sprinking of VFX, and a lot of that remains the same here. Just when I thought I'd seen all the cool ways that people could get thrown off motorcycles or chewed up by cars, the film doles out even more vehicular madness to show I ain't seen nothing yet. All of it was beautifully shot and appropriately epic, even if it doesn't quite outshine what came before.

Furiosa can be considered yet another benchmark for post-apocalyptic action movies. But while Fury Road had put nearly all action films before and after its release to shame, this one merely serves as a reminder of why George Miller, at 79 years old, is one of the very best directors still working within that specific subgenre. And even though the film takes a while to get going, and it sometimes struggles to justify its own existence, it ultimately satisfied my hunger for more Mad Max movies, at least until we get that proper sequel that's hopefully still in the works.