tue 25/06/2024

Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga review - just as mad without Max | reviews, news & interviews

Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga review - just as mad without Max

Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga review - just as mad without Max

George Miller’s latest dystopian dust-up in the desert

Learning to drive: Anya Taylor-Joy in 'Furiosa'Jasin Boland © 2024 Warner Bros.

In the way of Batman being overshadowed by his villains, in his last outing, Mad Max: Fury Road, the erstwhile hero of George Miller’s dystopian action series had to take a back seat (literally and metaphorically) to the shaven haired, one-armed, kick-ass powerhouse that was Furiosa. 

Apparently, Miller had plans for a Furiosa origin story even before he shot Fury Road, correctly predicting the popularity and immediate icon status of the character he’d created. With Anya Taylor-Joy taking on the role from Charlize Theron (true to the spirit of his filmmaking, Miller has eschewed the de-ageing option) the legendary director charges back into the desert for yet more sandy mayhem. 

After a 30-year wait for Fury Road, Miller perhaps achieved the apotheosis of his Mad Max vision: a stupendous blend of scale and ceaselessly inventive detail; the visceral, flesh and blood, in your face action; the characterful meeting of freaks, psychopaths and a smattering of survivors clinging to their humanity; so relentlessly immersive that you leave the cinema with the smell of gasoline in your nostrils. It was also a superb piece of world-building narrative, a place where power resides in the control of water, food, gas and bullets.

With Furiosa, I don’t get the sense that Miller is trying to mess with a successful formula, or even outdo himself, but merely to flesh out the narrative arc of his post-apocalyptic, mad as a hatter world. As a result, Fury Road remains the more complete, accomplished, surprising film, the one whose energy really doesn’t let you go;  as fun as this one is, there’s a sense of déjà vu and, ultimately, diminishing returns.In the previous film, Theron’s Furiosa character was intent on returning to the idyll of her childhood, the Green Place of Many Mothers, from which she was snatched as a child. Here, Miller starts with that abduction, of the already spirited, capable, 10-year-old (engaging played by Alyla Browne), by a gang of bikers who take her to the maniacal warlord Dementus (Chris Hemsworth, pictured above). 

The story follows the girl’s fortunes over the next 10 years or so: first as Dementus’s prisoner (in his twisted mind, she’s a surrogate daughter), then as she passes hands, as trade in a warped negotiation, to the ruler of The Citadel and chief villain of Fury Road, Immortan Joe (Lachy Hulme), escapes his paedophile clutches and grows up in the fortress until – now played by Anja-Joy – she’s ready to plot her escape. 

Running concurrently to Furiosa’s coming of age as a fiercely independent road warrior, is the power struggle between Joe and Dementus for control of The Wasteland, in particular its three centre of production and power: The Citadel, Gas Town and Bullet Farm. Leading his hundreds-strong biker horde from a motorised chariot, Dementus is the would-be conqueror, laying siege to Joe’s domain; while he is spontaneous and gung-ho, Joe is careful, more Machiavellian; and while one is a cross between Captain Hook and Patrick Bateman, a charismatic psychopath, the other, as we know, is closer to the physically deformed and deprived Baron Harkonnen from Dune. As characters, they’re a good match, with the ensuing chaos something that Furiosa tries to use to her advantage. 

Plot aside, it’s really just business as usual: numerous extended set pieces, most involving road pursuits across the dessert, inventively modified motorcycles, cars and flying machines, deaths of great variety and goriness, with those crazy young albino War Boys (pictured left) providing most of the fodder. The action is as well choreographed, framed and stunt executed as you’d expect, and very entertaining. But it can also be wearing, just as the never-ending fight scenes in John Wick can be at once impressive and eventually repetitive and boring. And, compared to Fury Road, where Furiosa was leading a group of women away from Joe’s clutches, there are no stakes here: there’s only Furiosa to care about, and we know that she survives to fight another day. 

This outing impresses most when it takes its foot off the gas. One of the most effective, thrilling, and visually stunning sequences involves the opening attempt to rescue the child Furiosa from the bikers; this pared-down action, one woman against three men across miles of desert, offers a different tone and pacing to the trademark road battles, and also makes the most of the stunning landscape. Elsewhere, an extremely long action sequence ends, abruptly, with a period of sustained, total silence; it's perhaps the most powerful moment in the film. 

Anya Taylor-Joy doesn’t enter the frame until an hour in. She makes a decent impact, especially suggesting the rage that has been building in Furiosa for years, and the indomitability; and her striking, expressive eyes come in useful for a character who doesn’t too say much. 

In contrast, Hemsworth talks a lot. It’s not just a funny performance, what with his twirly moustache, the teddy bear tied to his chest and rum turn of phrase (the girl’s tears taste “zesty”, while, pirate style, his promised reward to those he wants to control is to “double your grub”) but a clever one, presenting all of the sadism and absurdity of a megalomaniac. If anything, the film could have benefitted from much tighter plotting around his character. 

In contrast, Tom Burke, so good in intense British dramas like The Souvenir, is terribly underwhelming as Praetorian Jack, original driver of the War Rig that will eventually become Furiosa’s own, and a mentor to the newbie. Ironically, while the actor can have an intimidating physical presence in character drama, here he’s just too damn neat and tidy and uninspiring; on top of which Miller fails to find any spark between the actors. 

Given the changes in style and scale between the first two Mad Maxes and the third, then again to the fourth, if Miller is to stick to his franchise, it wouldn’t hurt next time around to take a slightly different road. 

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