Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga (2024) Review

Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga (2024)
Director: George Miller
Screenwriters: George Miller, Nico Lathouris
Starring: Anya Taylor-Joy, Alyla Browne, Chris Hemsworth, Tom Burke

“[George Miller] is my God, and the saga that he tells is my Bible.” These are the words spoken by renowned Japanese video game designer Hideo Kojima shortly after watching the latest film from Mad Max creator George Miller, Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga. If cinema truly is a religion, the movie theatre a church, and George Miller a god – does that make Furiosa a miracle? Or is the latest in the Mad Max series a test of faith for even Miller’s most loyal followers?

Faith has always played a particularly large role in the world of Mad Max, with the rulers of the in-universe wasteland using scavengers’ beliefs to their advantage. Acting like the leaders of some kind of post-apocalyptic cult, they use the belief of their followers to maintain control; keeping their followers in line with promises of a better life, allowing hope to strengthen their cause. The War Boys, for example, believe that an honourable death in battle will lead them to the gates of Valhalla. Even without the religious overtones, it is belief that that is the driving factor for many characters in the world of Mad Max. For Furiosa, the star of Mad Max: Fury Road and the central focus of this prequel, that is returning home to the fabled Green Place, where Furiosa was raised by the female collective known as the Many Mothers. 

Furiousa: A Mad Max Saga shows us many of the events that were recounted by Furiosa in Miller’s previous mega-hit Mad Max: Fury Road. It opens with Furiosa’s abduction from the Green Place by a biker horde led by Chris Hemsworth’s Dementus, who is as deliciously disturbed as he sounds. Pursued by Furiosa’s equally ferocious mother (Charlee Fraser killing it in only her second on-screen role), Miller carefully constructs an opening sequence that summarises much of what we should expect from the rest of the film: badass characters, well-directed action scenes, and… lacklustre CGI?

When Mad Max: Fury Road was released in 2015, it truly felt like lightning in a bottle. Now, nine years removed, it is clear that Fury Road was the type of movie that we simply don’t get anymore. A once in a once-in-a-generation type of picture. Much of the reason for this was down to the action sequences and the outstanding stunt direction that Miller and company brought to life and projected onto the big screen, yes, but an even bigger part of it was just how much of it was done practically. You could hear the roar of the engines, feel every explosion, and all but smell the gasoline. Everything in front of us felt real, like you could reach out and touch it. With Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga, that is not the case.

Sure, Fury Road had its fair share of visual effects – you could hardly make a film like that without them – but they were used sparingly and used well to the point that differentiating what was real and what was fake was damn near impossible; a true feat of action cinema. 

Whereas filmmakers like Edgar Wright have gone so far as to say “even though I understand what it takes to make a film, I still don’t understand how Dr. George Miller does it,” the answer doesn’t feel quite as complex when so much of it looks fake and unconvincing. 

This is not to overlook the hard work of everyone involved in making the film. Particularly George Miller, stunt designers Guy and Harlan Norris, fight choreographer Richard Norton, cinematographer Simon Duggan, and editors Eliot Knapman and Margaret Sixel. The abundance of VFX is not entirely a bad thing – it is certainly a hell of a lot safer for everybody involved – but when we’ve seen what Miller and his crew can pull off in-camera, it feels like a disappointing return. This is not helped in the end credits of the film where Fury Road clips are played throughout, essentially giving us a side-by-side comparison of the two movies. The difference is night and day.

Furiosa always faced an uphill battle as a prequel to its predecessor. Capturing that same undeniable energy of Fury Road all the while trying to be something different was always going to be a difficult task. The problem then comes in the form of Miller serving us with substandard versions of pre-established characters and moments that we know and love from the world of Mad Max. Anya Taylor-Joy struggles to carry the weight of the movie alone, and though she replicates the speech patterns of Theron’s Furiosa nearly perfectly, her struggle to navigate the varying emotional levels of the character leaves a lot to be desired. Tom Burke’s character Praetorian Jack is essentially a rip-off of Max Rockatansky (down to the leather jacket, shoulder pad, and sawn-off shotgun) though it must be said that Burke (known for playing Orson Welles in Mank and co-leading The Souvenir) does his best with the questionable character. Worst of all, the action sequences that the Mad Max movies have become known for simply aren’t up to scratch. 

Thankfully, Furiosa does bring with it some new additions to the world of Mad Max. Taking a step away from the MCU, Chris Hemsworth steps into the wasteland for one of his best roles yet. Playing the twisted leader Dementus, Hemsworth’s natural charm and charisma make him a believable leader, but one whose volatile actions make him a leader to fear. The crazed look in his eye is just the tip of the iceberg.

Alyla Browne, who plays the younger version of Furiosa, is also a standout of the film. Leading the movie for the first hour or so, Browne impressively carries the weight of the picture before handing it off to Anya Taylor-Joy. Considering her age and lack of big-screen experience, it is an impressive feat that should have earned her a much higher billing.

The structure of the story plays a big part in the two lead performances of Furiosa coming out the way they did. Furiosa is a movie of two halves, with Browne getting the first half and Anya Taylor-Joy getting the second. The first half is delivered with a much slower pace. Longer sequences, giving major scenes the time they deserve, and allowing us as viewers to understand and appreciate the toll that these events are taking on the young Furiosa. Furthermore, we understand the strength that has always existed within the character, where it came from, and how it has grown over time. Things ramp up very quickly once we transition to the older Furiosa, with the pacing moving much more briskly; major developments in the character and the world are given much less time and several years of her life pass in the blink of an eye. Whereas the first half gave us more than enough time to care, the second half doesn’t give us anywhere near enough, moving on from moments before we have even had the chance to let it sink in or to make sense of it all.

There is so much story to fit into Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga that even a two-and-a-half-hour runtime couldn’t possibly fit it all in. Simply put, the biggest issue with the latest in the Mad Max saga is that it believes bigger is better. As if Beyond Thunderdome hadn’t already taught George Miller that this isn’t always the case.

Mad Max has always worked best when things are kept simple. The world-building and the action may be epic in scale, but the story and the characters are subdued; delivered in a subtle manner which allows our imaginations to go crazy. It is in this aspect that Furiosa fails. Set pieces are bigger, the runtime is longer, and so much is told about Furiosa’s past that there is very little left to the imagination at all. Miller directs the picture well enough, and the hard work of the director and his crew must not be overlooked, but that doesn’t always equate to a great film. All in all, Furiosa seems to be missing one key ingredient that makes the Mad Max movies work, charm.

If George Miller really is God and films like Road Warrior and Fury Road are his miracles, then Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga feels like a punishment for our sins, whatever they may be.

Score: 13/24

Rating: 2 out of 5.

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