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REVIEW – Actions Speak Loudly in ‘Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga’

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It was long before my time when the original Mad Max debuted in 1979, so I don’t really know if George Miller was aiming for that George Lucas, Gene Roddenberry, Dan Aykroyd/Harold Ramis territory—the one with cinematic universes, novel adaptations, expanded worlds, and endless spin-offs and tie-ins—when he created Max Rockatansky. But whether Miller envisioned it or not, the franchise has endured. And for the most part, it has done so with stellar results with Miller at the helm for each installment, a la George Lucas’ run with the pre-Disney Star Wars films. In a similar sense, Mad Max is a universe that has its own design language, vocabulary, audio palette and aesthetic. Where things diverge is that the Mad Max films do not focus primarily on one character (or family) like the “Skywalker Saga,” but rather on the world, and how it shapes the heroes and villains across its terrain.

Enter Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga from Warner Bros. Pictures. Hot off the heels of the ground breaking and long awaited sequel Mad Max: Fury Road in 2015, George Miller returned to the studio, and the Australian Outback, to deliver quite possibly the strongest prequel cinema has seen in years. It’s a straight forward premise: kidnapped from The Green Place of Many Mothers, by the infamous Warlord Dementus (Chris Hemsworth) and his biker gang, young Furiosa (Anya-Taylor Joy) is taken across the vast landscapes of The Wasteland until they come across The Citadel, ruled by Immortan Joe (Lachy Hulme). As Dementus and Immortan Joe battle for control of the land, Furiosa makes a perilous journey home.

Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga, premieres May 24, 2024. Light spoilers below!

Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga Theatrical Poster
Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga Theatrical Poster

Official Synopsis:

Anya Taylor-Joy and Chris Hemsworth star in Academy Award-winning mastermind George Miller’s “Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga,” the much-anticipated return to the iconic dystopian world he created more than 30 years ago with the seminal “Mad Max” films. Miller now turns the page again with an all-new original, standalone action adventure that will reveal the origins of the powerhouse character from the multiple Oscar-winning global smash “Mad Max: Fury Road.” The new feature from Warner Bros. Pictures and Village Roadshow Pictures is produced by Miller and his longtime partner, Oscar-nominated producer Doug Mitchell (“Mad Max: Fury Road,” “Babe”), under their Australian-based Kennedy Miller Mitchell banner.

As the world fell, young Furiosa is snatched from the Green Place of Many Mothers and falls into the hands of a great Biker Horde led by the Warlord Dementus. Sweeping through the Wasteland, they come across the Citadel presided over by The Immortan Joe. While the two Tyrants war for dominance, Furiosa must survive many trials as she puts together the means to find her way home.

Taylor-Joy stars in the title role, and along with Hemsworth, the film also stars Alyla Browne and Tom Burke.

Miller penned the script with “Mad Max: Fury Road” co-writer Nico Lathouris. Miller’s behind-the-scenes creative team includes first assistant director PJ Voeten and second unit director and stunt coordinator Guy Norris, director of photography Simon Duggan (“Hacksaw Ridge,” “The Great Gatsby”), composer Tom Holkenborg, sound designer Robert Mackenzie, editor Eliot Knapman, visual effects supervisor Andrew Jackson and colorist Eric Whipp. The team also includes other longtime collaborators: production designer Colin Gibson, editor Margaret Sixel, sound mixer Ben Osmo, costume designer Jenny Beavan and makeup designer Lesley Vanderwalt, each of whom won an Oscar for their work on “Mad Max: Fury Road.”

Warner Bros. Pictures Presents, in Association with Village Roadshow Pictures, A Kennedy Miller Mitchell Production, A George Miller Film, “Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga.” The film will be distributed worldwide by Warner Bros. Pictures, in theaters only nationwide on May 24, 2024 and internationally beginning on 22 May, 2024.

(Center) Chris Hemsworth as Dementus in Warner Bros. Pictures’ action adventure “FURIOSA: A MAD MAX SAGA,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release.
(Center) Chris Hemsworth as Dementus in Warner Bros. Pictures’ action adventure “FURIOSA: A MAD MAX SAGA,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release.

REVIEW – A Visual Character Study on Revenge

If George Miller isn’t already heralded as a masterful storyteller—a subtly different skill set than directing—this is the opportune moment to attribute the accolade. It isn’t an easy task, or a commonly devised one, to make the villain of your previous film an anti-hero in your current one. But, somehow, Miller took the once despicable, semi-comedic villain Immortan Joe, and turned him into something of a badass and a completely formidable opponent for Hemsworth’s Dementus. The story notes range from discovery and exploration, fear and bravery, and, instability to security. There isn’t much redemption to be had, but given Furiosa’s unique circumstances, that isn’t the point. Furiosa’s intentions are singular: Revenge.

She’s a character who earns all her wins and muscles through all her struggles. Even the harshest critic and cynical viewer would be hard pressed to ask for a more worthy conclusion after the figurative hell Taylor-Joy’s character drives, dives, runs and fights through for the deftly paced two and a half hour runtime.

I’ll be the first to admit, when I saw that Chris Hemsworth was cast as one of the leads—and then the trailers revealed his signature one-liners and physical comedy—I was worried we were going to get a film with Hemsworth playing himself or, worse, Thor 4. I’m more than happy to report that this isn’t the case. Although Hemsworth’s brand of humor appears throughout the film, it’s curated in a way that adds personality to the self-absorbed, eccentric character of Dementus, instead of distracting from the overall experience. Lachy Hulme does an outstanding job taking the reigns from Immortan Joe’s original actor, Hugh Keays-Byrne, coming off as both imposing and inquisitive. Immortan Joe gives everyone in his immediate circle—including his daft, muscle-bound sons Scrotus (Josh Helman) and Erectus (Nathan Jones)—their moments to shine, while retaining a strong sense of leadership. Again, it’s not an easy task to make a villain one of the respectable ones, but the collaboration between Hulme and Miller works wonders.

Anya Taylor-Joy as Furiosa in Warner Bros. Pictures’ action adventure “FURIOSA: A MAD MAX SAGA,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release.
Anya Taylor-Joy as Furiosa in Warner Bros. Pictures’ action adventure “FURIOSA: A MAD MAX SAGA,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release.

Of course, there’s the woman of the hour herself, Anya Taylor-Joy, as Imperator Furiosa. As it stands, Taylor-Joy already has a top tier catalog of films under her belt, and is one of those actors with enough presence that she’s believable in even the most outlandish situations. She exudes an unspoken emotional strength and physicality that you can’t help but cheer for her success and survival in a world as chaotic as Mad Max’s.

Taking over from a long hailed, veteran actor like Charlize Theron, who graced the screen first as Furiosa in Fury Road, is filling some very large shoes. Miller was smart to start viewers with Furiosa at an early age and then age her up, as it feels like we settle into seeing Taylor-Joy in the role, just as she herself settles into performing it; playing into the self-discovery and rebirth story arcs all at once. Tom Burke’s Praetorian Jack is a good addition to the cast, checking off the required romantic interest role, but also doubling as motivation for Furiosa upon their journey together. He’s stoic and principled, without much in the way of personality, but given the dumpster-fire of an apocalyptic world they live in, he’s more than easy to root for.

Recently, in an interview with The Telegraph, Miller revealed that Taylor-Joy only had some 30-odd lines of dialogue across the entire film—likewise for most of the other characters. “The problem with dialogue is that it tends to slow things down,” Miller said to The Telegraph. While some people are inevitably going to wish there was more vocal exposition from the characters, his brand of filmmaking works with that philosophy. Every visual artist has the goal of telling story as succinctly as possible, so as to be able to relay so much emotion, physical direction, and expression, that if you were to watch a movie or show on mute, you’d be able to understand every beat from start to finish.

Miller gets incredibly close here. His cinematography is staged in ways that are, at times, almost painterly, with echos of renaissance imagery in the lighting and posing, but also drip with the swagger of a certified Hollywood summer action flick. Scale and scope is everything, and in a film populated with vast deserts and sea after sea of warriors, it’s easy to get sucked into the drama. There’s nothing particularly complicated about the story, even with Miller’s in-world terminologies and titles thrown around at light speed, but some scenes can be cluttered to the point of confusion with the countless action sequences of bodies flying, falling and rag-dolling across the screen.

Chris Hemsworth in Warner Bros. Pictures’ action adventure “FURIOSA: A MAD MAX SAGA,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release.
Chris Hemsworth in Warner Bros. Pictures’ action adventure “FURIOSA: A MAD MAX SAGA,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release.

Speaking of the landscape and effects, Miller seems to have backed down from the practical approach this time around. CGI abounds, and sometimes it needs more help than it gets, with character physics being a touch wonky at times, and backgrounds having an artificial feel of depth and focus to them that didn’t happen as much, if at all, in Fury Road. It’s possible that this is a result of filming constraints during the pandemic, or maybe it’s just a creative decision based on the types of environments Miller wanted to showcase this time; regardless, it doesn’t particularly help or hurt the overall story.

Junkie XL (the moniker of esteemed Dutch film composer Tom Holkenborg) has been on a roll lately, scoring everything from Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire to Sonic The Hedgehog 2. I always like when a composer finds a particular genre and sticks to it—in his case, sci-fi and fantasy—because they can really understand what they’re trying to emote. And while his score is much more subtle this time around than Fury Road (and much more orchestral), it’s the emotional cues and leitmotif’s that color the scenes as they need to be, every time. This is important because, as we know, Miller isn’t a fan of dialogue, so it’s a wise choice to have Holkenborg, who specializes in a distinct orchestral-synth rock hybrid.

Furiosa isn’t the kind of movie that leaves you with some moral message or lesson to reflect back on when it’s done. Instead, it’s a brutal and intense character study of a woman who battled monsters but never became a monster, despite the evils she’s seen.

PROS:

  • Epic in scale, Fury Road’s signature practical fighting action sequence style returns
  • Intensely emotional, never sacrificing the weight of a scene for humor
  • Not weighed down in unnecessary dialogue
  • Each character is brimming with personality
  • Chris Hemsworth plays an impressive and unlikable villain, retraining his charm while scaling back on the one-liners and physical comedy

CONS:

  • While the runtime is concise, some people might have issues with the drawn out pacing of each act

RATING – 4/5 Pocky

Pocky Rating 4
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Elijah Isaiah Johnson is a writer/illustrator/animator. His most recently published works include the Amazon best-seller Nightmare Detective, Noir is the New Black, the Comixology Indie best-selling series Leaders of the Free World, The Formula and much more.

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